By Kelcie Paulis, Chickenlandia Presidential Advisor
With so many different breeds of chickens out there, it can feel daunting to choose which ones are the right fit for your first flock. Each breed has its own unique set of characteristics, and, similar to dogs, has been bred for specific traits for generations. Some breeds are higher maintenance, some are easier to tame, while others have more skittish, free-spirited tendencies. There are chickens that have great egg production, while others are mostly there to look cute. Choosing the right breeds for your situation can make a big difference with how your chicken-keeping experience goes. I have raised many chicken breeds throughout my life and would like to share with you my top breed recommendations for beginners.
Barred Plymouth Rock
The Barred Plymouth Rock is a classic backyard chicken with striking black & white plumage. “Barred” refers to their color variety and “Plymouth Rock” is their breed, but they are often referred to simply as Barred Rocks (Plymouth Rocks do come in several color varieties but are less commonly available). Barred Rocks are an American breed, originating from Massachusetts in the nineteenth century. There are a few simple reasons that they quickly became one of the most widely kept chicken breeds, first in the United States, and then across the pond as well. Barred Rocks are known for their good egg production of large brown eggs at an average of 200 per year. Their health hardiness and resistance to both cold and heat make them suitable for many environments. They are also early feathering, which makes chicks a little quicker to develop their protective layer of feathers.
Barred Plymouth Rocks have a single comb, and clean, featherless legs. I always think of Barred Rocks as the “Easy Management” Chicken. While they are not known for being broody too often, they do make excellent mother hens when encouraged to set and are usually quite trustworthy when raising their own chicks. But these aren’t their only redeeming qualities. Barred Rocks are generally a docile breed, great for families, children, and backyard living. Their mellow temperament makes them exceptionally tameable and responsive to human interactions. They are naturally curious, making them good foragers and free rangers. Barred Plymouth Rocks are a good fit for almost any scenario.
Ohhh, those blue and green-tinted eggs! Many of you probably picture a whole array of egg colors when you imagine collecting a basket full from your backyard birds. And with the majority of chicken breeds laying classic brown or white eggs, it’s those pretty blue and green tints that add some color to the carton. Easter Eggers are the most widely available and beginner-friendly colored egg layers. Often marketed as “Ameraucanas”, they don’t quite qualify as a “true” breed because of the crossing of varieties among hatcheries. This means the Easter Egger’s plumage comes in a wide variety of colors and markings, with no set true color varieties.
With their Ameraucana or Araucana lineage, Easter Eggers sport the same adorable cheek tuffs and beards, giving their faces an extra bit of character. Easter Eggers have been around for a long time and have continued to gain popularity. They are known for being curious and friendly, are great egg layers (averaging 200 eggs per year), seldom go broody, and are both cold and heat-hardy. Easter Eggers are active birds who enjoy free-ranging, but also tolerate the confinement of backyard coops. I would consider them among the most low-maintenance chickens for beginners. They may not be purebred, but these “mutts” will win over your heart.
Orpingtons were developed in England (Orpington, Kent, to be exact) during the late nineteenth century. Although they were bred to be dual-purpose (good for both eggs and meat), throughout the years they have gained the most popularity in backyard flocks and poultry shows. Orpingtons come in many color varieties, but Buff is the most popular and commonly available.
Buff Orpingtons are the quintessential plump, curvy barnyard hen. Their stately bodies are heavily coated with feathers, making them oh so fluffy in appearance. They have clean, featherless legs and a single comb. Their fabulous skirt of dense feathers makes them extra cold-hardy. As for laying ability, you can expect an average of 175 large, brown eggs per year. Buff Orpingtons are known for having docile and friendly dispositions, making them well suited for families & children. In addition to all these attributes, Buff Orpingtons have a reputation for going broody and making excellent mothers. These large birds do tend to be “lazier” than other breeds, preferring the feeder over foraging. All will be forgiven once you witness their fluffy butts come running for a treat!
While Black Australorps are the most recently developed breed on this list, they might just be the most well-rounded. In the early 1900s, Orpingtons were imported to Australia in an effort to create a bird well suited for Australia’s unique climate. They were bred with Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Minorcas, & Langshans to help improve egg production and gain other desired traits such as hardiness in both cold and hot climates. The result was one of the best backyard egg layers out there (Australorps lay large light brown eggs, at a rate of 250+ per year), with stunning iridescent black plumage. Australorps are inquisitive and curious birds who enjoy free ranging and foraging, but also tolerate confinement well. They have a shyer demeanor than their Orpington cousins, but are not skittish and settle in quickly amongst humans. Their calm tendencies make them an excellent choice for backyard flocks and families.
So what do you think? Will any of these breeds make it into your flock? Let me know in the comments! And of course, if you need more help with your beginner flock, check out our popular online course for beginners and intermediate chicken keepers here.