Best Backyard Chicken Breeds

Descended from jungle fowl, chicken were first domesticated in Southeast Asia between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. Since then, people from around the globe have included both meat and eggs into traditional cuisine.
Chicken breeds were refined to allow for easy keeping in a wide variety of climates and to provide those who kept them with a fresh food source.
If you’re considering keeping chickens for meat, eggs or even as pets, there are many different types of chickens available. Knowing which breeds are best will help guide you during the selection process.

Main Types of Chickens

Chickens fall into three main categories which are pure-breeds, hybrids and Bantams. Your choice of which type to include in your backyard or farm depend largely on why you are raising backyard chickens and for what purpose.

1. Pure-Breed Chickens

Also called heritage chickens, pure-breeds are best for those who plan to exhibit their birds or who want to retain the qualities inherent to the breed. For example, some breeds are prized for their longevity and hardiness while other are lauded for their appearance or great egg production.

2. Hybrid Chickens

Hybrids are a great option because they are resistant to disease and usually quite healthy. Many cross-bred animals get the best of both breeds in their lineage, and chickens are no exception. The vast majority of commercial chickens available are hardy hybrids, and many are exceptional laying hens. Hybrids are the most popular breed for backyard owners.

3. Bantams

Known for their small size, Bantams are also called miniatures. Ranging in size from one-quarter to one-fifth the size of a normal chicken, they are easy to keep and require far less room than their larger counterparts. Their eggs are smaller, and they are not among the best meat chickens because their carcass is so small. However, they are among the best pet chicken options and are wonderful for those who could use some extra eggs.

Bantams have been created from nearly all breeds by purposely breeding them smaller and smaller. Much like dog and horse breeding, this selecting process has produced a petite, healthy bird that is a great option for smaller homesteads.

Main Classes of Chicken Breeds

In addition to being separated by type, chickens are also distinguished by their class. Classes are based on geography and fall into three categories: American, Asiatic and Mediterranean.

1. American Class

The oldest breeds in the US are the American Dominique and the Java, both of which are among the best

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Golden Laced Wyandotte

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Rhode Island Red

chicken breeds for eggs. Rhode Island Reds, known as excellent egg producers, are also popular, as is the calm and friendly Plymouth Rock. The Wyandotte is one of the best dual purpose chickens in its class, and the hens are devoted mothers. If you’re hoping to rear chicks and have a self-sustaining flock, Wyandottes are an excellent choice.

2. Asiatic Class

Large and docile, these breeds of chicken are primarily raised for their meat, as an egg supplement or to be kept as

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Cochin Chickens

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Brahma Rooster

pets. Brahmas are so heavy that they do not fly off, are friendly and produce a good amount of large, brown eggs. Cochins and Langshans are not good egg producers, but their size and good natures make them perfect for meat. All three breeds are also prized for how quiet they are, with not much fussing or fighting among the flock.

3. Mediterranean Class

This class includes breeds such as Andalusians, Anconas, Black and White Minorcas and the Whitefaced

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White Leghorn Rooster

Black Spanish chicken. Leghorns, along with representing how most people envision a

chicken, are considered

to be among the best in egg production.

Chicken Breeds for Eggs

If you want to keep chickens that will produce a fair amount of eggs year-round, Rhode Island Reds are hard to

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Ameraucana Rooster

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Rhode Island Red

beat. Resistant to both heat and cold, this breed produces medium-sized, brown eggs year-round. Leghorns are another excellent laying hen to consider, as they produce extra-large, white eggs at a rate of up 300 per year. Another excellent egg producer is the Ameraucana, which lays colored eggs! Blue-green, green, cream and all shades of blue are possible from an Ameraucana, and production is above-average as well.

Best Meat Chickens

Jersey Giants, originally bred to replace the turkey, weigh in between 11 and 13 pounds. They grow slowly and can

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Jersey Giant Rooster

take up to six months to mature, but the wait is well worth it for the size and quality. Langshans are another excellent meat bird, maturing in as little as 12 weeks. If you’re looking for broiler chickens, the Cornish Cross is ready at only 7 to 8 weeks and weighs about four pounds when dressed. Cornish Crosses are also lauded for having excellent body composition, meaning the breasts, thighs, wings and drumsticks are all generous and well-proportioned.

Best Dual Purpose Chickens

If you’re considering managing a flock for both meat and eggs, some breeds have been specifically developed to fit

the bill. Delawares can withstand heat and cold with ease and range between 6.5 and 8.5 pounds dressed weight and hens lay jumbo eggs year-round. They are calm and docile birds, so you won’t need to be worried about children or small dogs around them.

Buckeyes are among chicken breeds most lauded for meat and eggs together. The roosters can

tip the scales at nine pounds, and the hens lay medium-sized, brown eggs throughout the year. Do be aware, however, that this breed is quite active and will not appreciate living in confinement. You’ll need room for them to stretch their legs.

Finally, Dorkings are a great choice for dual purpose flocks. The mother

hens are very broody and stay with the chicks much longer than many other breeds. An excellent table bird, they have juicy breasts and meaty wings. Hens also lay well year-round, making them an excellent option for those living in four-season climates.

Best Pet Chickens

If you’re looking for backyard chickens as pets that have a mellow personality, won’t bully other birds in the flock and will interact well with children and small dogs, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks and

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Rhode Island Red

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Cochin Chickens

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Golden Laced Wyandotte

Cochins are all excellent choices. You might want to avoid a bossy or nervous breed, such as Rhode Island Reds. Of course, giving your chickens their own space, allowing a pecking order to be established and teaching your children to be calm and gentle with all animals will help your chickens stay relaxed, regardless of their breeding.

If you’re not keeping a large flock and want a long-lived chicken, hybrids can live up to 14 years and beyond. Bantams also enjoy long lives due to their small size and, depending on their breed, calm disposition. The

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Bantam Chicken

longest-lived chicken on record was Matilda, a 14-ounce hen that lived between 15 and 16 years. She lived indoors in a large wire pen as a pampered pet after a decade-long career in her owner’s magic show.

For those wanting to start keeping birds, researching about the types of chickens you’re interested in is essential. This will help you find the right fit for your family and give you the eggs, meat or companionship you’re looking for in a chicken. Make sure that you understand the proper way to rear and house birds, to ensure the safety, health and happiness of your new flock. If you’re considering a self-sustaining flock, be sure to choose a breed with broody, devoted hens and friendly docile natures.