Chickens can be roughly categorized into layers (egg producers), meat breeds, show breeds and hybrid (crosses between two breeds). These aren’t absolutes, and most of these breeds are considered dual-purpose, for example Rhode Island Reds can be considered both layers and meat chickens. There are usually trade offs with each of the breeds, so there isn’t a “perfect breed” – although anyone with chickens will insist their breed is the perfect one!
Bantams are smaller versions of a typical chicken, usually between 1/5th to 1/4 of the usual size. They exist for most of the well known breeds. The produce dramatically smaller eggs and less meat.
Leghorns are super layers, and the white eggs that are common throughout North America come from this breed. As I mentioned in a previous post, All About Eggs, they are considered to have unpleasant personalities and usually aren’t recommended for your first chickens.
In its prime, a Leghorn can produce 280 eggs a year.
These dual purpose birds can produce 190 eggs a year. They were original considered a meat breed, and still can produce good amount of meat. They are hardy, and endure cold temperatures better than other breeds. They are also good foragers, so they are worth considering as free range chickens.
Another dual purpose bird, these are considered good “farm chickens”, with certain strains being better for eggs or for meat. They have a docile temperament and tame easily. They will go broody, which refers to hens that will take care of a clutch of eggs – sitting on them and keeping them warm until they hatch and are therefore considered good mothers.
They can produce almost as many eggs as a Leghorn.
Rhode Island Red
Yet another dual purpose bird, Rhode Island Reds can produce 260 eggs a year. It is often considered the best brown egg layer of the dual purpose breeds, and is a good choice for the small flock owner. They are a hardy breed, and in addition to tolerating cold climates better than other breeds, they are also quite resistant to marginal diets and poor housing conditions.
Our flock is made up of 3 Rhode Island Red hens and we’ve been delighted with them.
Also called the “Easter egg chicken”, this breed from Chile produces beautiful shades of blue and green eggs which are cherished by consumers, selling for a premium. They are a hardy breed and are the source of all other breeds which produces these colorful eggs.
An Australian breed, world wide interest was peaked with this breed when they broke the world record for egg production – 309.5 eggs in a year in 1857. Since then, they have broken world records repeatedly, most recently achieving an astounding 364 eggs in 365 days from a single hen. Careful light management was necessary for this feat, so backyard chicken owners of this breed shouldn’t expect to match it. In spite of their high egg production, they are considered to have a meaty body and can be considered one of the best dual purpose birds.
The mother of a good friend of mine from Australia currently raises Silkies (see below) and she plans to get some Australorp in the future, after they were recommended to her by her permaculture teacher.
The “Leghorn” of meat production, billions of “broiler” bird are raised annually. Though there are a variety of strains, many of which would no longer be considered cornish-cross, they all have been extremely focused on fast growth, having a large amount of meat on them, and having a high feed conversion ratio (how much muscle mass they put on based on feed consumed).
There have been issues, where many activists complain the birds have been bred to an unhealthy specialization.
New Hampshire Red
A dual purpose bird that is selected more often for meat production than egg laying, usually being “dressed” (aka slaughtered or killed) as a broiler (6 to 8 week old chicks that weight around 2.5 lbs) or roaster (8 month old chickens weighing 3.5 to 5 lbs).
This breed is descended from the Rhode Island Reds detailed above, and were adapted through selective breeding to be better suited to meat production.
Sex Link Hybrids
Golden Comet or Golden Sexlink or Black Star
These chickens are the result of cross breeding between two other established breeds. The big advantage of doing so, is that a very visible characteristic is attached to the sex gene. This makes differentiating between hens and roosters very easy – they look totally different – and allows the owner to keep the gender they want, probably the hens, and not the other.
As an example, Golden Comets are produced by crossing a White Plymouth Rock hen to a New Hampshire Red rooster. The resulting chicks will be white if they’re male (see left image) and have a red cast if they’re female (see right image).
It *IS* possible to sex chicks that aren’t sex linked, however it’s a fairly specialized skill.
Silkies have an unusually fluffy plumage which some think feels like silk. They have an excellent temperament, are good mothers – they go broody easily – and are popular at poultry shows and as pets.
Their meat is an unusual black color, which has led to it being considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures and at gourmet restaurants.
Although they are also considered layers, Polish are a show breed and are considered quite a beautiful. They can have crests (or combs, the fleshy growth on the top of chickens heads), beards (a group of feathers underneath the chicken’s beak) and muffs (tufts of feathers that stick out from the chicken’s cheeks).
They can produce 200 white eggs a year.
What chicken breeds have you owned? How did you like them? Which would you be interested in raising in the future?