Choosing the appropriate breed of chicken depends upon the purpose for which your chickens will be used. Evaluating which traits are important for your flock is the first step in selecting animals that will meet your needs. Each breed has its own characteristics and doing your research before obtaining your birds is important to make your endeavor more successful.
The first breeds you select may not be the ones that you eventually deem best for your purposes, but studying the breeds should eliminate some of the need for a trial and error approach. You may want to try several breeds simultaneously to see which ones you like the best. No matter the breed all chickens can get along when cohabiting.
The first consideration in choosing chickens is your environment. Is your climate warm year-round or do you have harsh winters? In colder climates you will want to choose chicken breeds that are winter-hardy. Hardier breeds have more dense feathering and are more able to withstand northern winters.
Non-hardy breeds may be subject to frostbite, particularly on their feet and combs. Heavier breeds do better in cold weather. Hardiness may also refer to chickens who will forage for their own food rather than needing to be fed. This characteristic is also called thriftiness and indeed may effect the cost of raising your chickens.
Most people choose chickens either for meat or eggs, but many breeds that are good for both. Other selection criteria are looks and plumage, egg color, rarity and temperament.
If you are choosing your chickens for eggs, it is best to find a breed that is not too “broody.” This refers to the likelihood that the hens will sit on the eggs for long periods of time. If you want to hatch your eggs, this can be a good characteristic, but not if you want to harvest the eggs for eating. Keeping the eggs warm will cause them to spoil more quickly.
Good egg layers will be better converters of feed into eggs, while those breeds that are better for meat production will convert the same feed more effectively into body weight. This is why many prolific egg producers may not be good meat producers.
Classic American breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons or Plymouth Rocks are good dual-purpose birds that will produce both good eggs and good meat for the table.