I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about which breeds are best for a backyard flock for the first time owner.
First, congrats on making the leap into chicken ownership! Watching your birds scratch and interact with each other is one of the most relaxing past times I can think of.
They’re great fun, and when you get that first egg, you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment and independence.
You can either buy established hens or chicks locally, or buy chicks either through the mail or at your local feed store. I’ve found a great variety by buying them locally, and even have gotten some mixed breeds that were fantastic.
If you buy locally, you know what you’re getting (for the most part), and you can pick your birds. You don’t have to deal with travel stress, and you’ll meet like-minded people who can help you out if you have any questions.
Most chicken owners are very friendly, and interested in helping you keep your flock healthy and happy.
If you buy from a hatchery, you will find a great variety, and some breeds you might not find locally. Hatcheries are also a great source of information, and carry chicken-related products that can be shipped with your chicks
So, which chicken breeds make great starter flocks? Let’s take a closer look!
5 Chicken Breeds For New Chicken Mamas
1. Rhode Island Reds
If you want easy to care for and great brown-egg layers, Rhode Island Reds are a great breed. They lay consistently, and are great producers, and convert feed into eggs very efficiently.
All ours have been very friendly, and we even had a couple that would run to us like dogs when they saw us.
2. Buff Orpingtons
Buffs are a great breed for people who want eggs and big beautiful golden birds. Buff Orpington roosters can get up to 10 lbs, which is heavier than egg laying breeds.
The hens produce just as well as traditional egg laying breeds, and can get up to 8 lbs. Their feed conversion ratio is good too!
3. Leghorns – If egg laying is your thing, then Leghorns, with their pretty white feathers, are the breed for you. Their eggs are white, and can be fairly large. They tend to be nervous though, so they won’t make a good lap chicken.
4. Production Red (aka Red Sex Links, Golden Comets)
Production Reds are one of the best egg laying breeds around,and have an excellent feed to egg conversion ratio. Our hens also lay in the winter, when our other hens have stopped.
They aren’t so friendly though, but if egg production is most important to you, then you can’t go wrong!
5. Barred Rocks
Barred Rocks are an extremely pretty breed to look at! They lay reliably, and owners of Barred Rock chickens are devoted to the breed because of their egg laying ability and friendly natures.
Owners report their Barred Rock hens are the watchdogs of the flock, making them a good addition if you’ve had trouble with predators.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: I think Cornish Crosses make great pets. The breed as a whole is docile, they don’t get flustered, love to sit with their owners, and love attention. Ours lay every day.
Silkies also make great pets, especially for children. Silkie chickens are small, the roosters aren’t territorial, social, and they love attention. They also lay eggs….so there’s that too.
We have a few brahmas, and they’re friendly, quiet when picked up, and love attention. They lay brown eggs and lay consistently.
We have a speckled sussex, and she’s friendly, although opinionated, loves treats, and does well when being picked up. She likes to eat from the hand, which is great too!
There are plenty of options for starter chicken breeds, and these are just a few. They’re all easy to care for, and produce eggs reliably, in addition to being nice to look at! With any breed you get, you will be entertained!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.
omg sounds so cute!! I want a Rhode Island Red now haha. too bad I live in an apartment 🙁 lol loved this post ♥
Thanks! I lived in a condo for years, with county restrictions. We could have chickens but they had to be 25′ away from any other residence. I almost made it in my condo, except I wasn’t 25′ away from the person below me!
I’m picking up my chicks this weekend! I’m excited to have them again. We lost our first flock to predators, so we spent some time securing the coop better and really tightening things up for a new flock. Thanks for the info on the other breeds! 🙂
Awesome! Sorry to hear about your flock though. What did you do to tighten up security? I spent a while with a local chicken owner here learning about her security measures.
We built a bigger area, using one of our three walled stalls of our barn, so they can go inside or outside. We also attached the chicken wire to pipe panels instead of just posts every few feet (basically, it looks like a horse stall and pen, but it’s covered in chicken wire), and we lowered the wire into the ground 2 feet for any possible digging. I’m home all day so they are safe to free range during the day. It was at night that they were attacked. I can’t wait to have them again. Chickens are so much fun.
Adding a few Muscovy ducks will help too as they are great protectors.
After losing our Columbian Wyandotte last May, we slipped 2 day-old Rhode Island Reds under our broody Welsummer last June. They’re full of personality, and started laying in January, which surprised us, since we don’t provide any artificial light to the girls. (I’ve always figured they need a break in the winter!) Anyway, they’re kind of goofy, and come running whenever they hear the back door opening. I guess we’ve spoiled them already!
How long do chickens lay eggs? What do you do with chickens once they have stopped laying eggs? And are they prone to getting sick?
Hi, assuming they’re healthy, they will lay consistently for 2 or so years. After they stop laying, you can keep them, eat them, or find them new homes. I wouldn’t say they’re prone to getting sick as long as you care for them correctly, although like any animal, they can get sick sometimes. I’ve generally had healthy chickens, knock on wood!
We are thinking about getting backyard chickens and we want to free range them during the day and put them in a coop at night. I don’t want to use any chicken feed, I want them to forage in my backyard. Will that work for the chicks? Can I just let them forage and give them some scraps?
Hi, thanks for the comment. This is just my opinion, but I think until they’re 12 weeks, they should be on a medicated chick starter. I don’t know how many chicks you have, but a bag of feed is around $11-$13 here, and when we had 5 chicks or so, it lasted a while.
Chicks are fragile and need all the best nutrition they can get; I’m sure there are chicks thriving on backyard goodies, but having lost a whole lot lately, I can tell you it sucks to put a ton of effort into seeing them grow, then having them die before they lay their first egg.
Supplementing and letting them forage in your yard is great – they’ll get a lot of protein. If you go that direction, consider offering them chick grit to help them digest what they eat. Another thing to consider is medicated starter contains medicine to prevent coccidia, which is a top killer of chicks.
Again, I’m sure there are chicks thriving without all these bells and whistles, I just think we should do what we can to help them along after we spent money to acquire them, etc. I also think chickens should free range in a tractor because, and I speak from experience, it sucks when a fox, raccoon, or neighbor’s dog makes a meal of your layers.
As far as the feed goes, it’s only for 12 weeks, and after that, if you don’t want to feed grain, as long as they have enough forage space, they should do fine. In fact, some of mine laid better as free range chickens, but they kept getting picked off. Sorry my reply is so long!
So about the Barred Rocks….it’s true. Lol I finally got my first chickens (for my own, was raised with them though) and my girls started their first laying season this past november, and are not only so curious and friendly, but also stand up and defend their area against our oh so ferocious (not really he is a big baby) bird dog pup. I have watched one hen buck up and strike out with her feet at him through the fence! And they peck at his nose when he shoves it through the wire while they are pecking near it. Cracks me up everytime. I got my second batch of BR chicks this spring and already some are laying. The roosters are goofy and good boys too. Can’t keep all three of the roos but have definitely picked out two faves for good temperament and size. This is definitely my favorite breed hands down!
I’m just starting with backyard chickens. My four chicks will arrive the week of April 10, and I can’t wait.
The four breeds I chose are: Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Specked Sussex and an Easter Egger.
Sounds like fun!
The week before Hurricane Harvey hit Tx. My daughter and I moved into out new home that we had built. We had also bought a chicken coop and 5 chicken s. I was concerned ab out geting water in the yard of the coop. I put down two rows of pavers around the edge of the fenced in area. This was enough to keep the chickens out of the water and deter predators. An easy fix. free range them during the day. Love all your infor.
Hello! Glad to see this! My mom has had a few of those on your list?and I enjoyed the chicken tv that happens!
Two quick questions?
1) your thoughts on the Icelandic breed?
2) Do you have available a list of foods NOT to give chickens? Choke berry seeds to be excately.
Thank you so much for all the info you put out there!!
We have Australorps. They are hardy even in coldest temperatures, lay consistently each day (we are still getting eggs in January and Feb if temp above freezing). They are funny to watch and will carry on a conversation with you, especially after they’ve laid (they want to brag) or if they want a treat! (they ALWAYS want to eat!)
Hi! I’m getting chicks in march! Yay! Ima do bantams and I found a coop but it doesn’t have a fence, do I need to build one or do I buy one cheaper ???? Also I think if I build one I could do it safer for the chicks. When do I let them go to there coop and run around and stay in the coop?
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