Best Chicken Breeds for Backyard Flocks

Use our survey results to help you choose the best chicken breeds for eggs, meat, temperament, and more.

| April/May 2010

Chickens are the perfect starter livestock for your homestead — whether you have a small backyard in an urban area or 20 acres in the boondocks. Chickens provide eggs, meat and fertilizer, plus they’re small and easy to manage. Several chicken breed charts are available online and in books, but their information is often based on old data. So, to get current information on the best chicken breeds, we developed a survey of our readers who have lots of experience with various breeds. (Many thanks to more than 1,000 readers who participated in the survey.) The summaries below include only results from people who have more than three years’ experience raising chickens. And we only included breeds or hybrids if at least three people responded to questions about them.

Our survey didn’t ask which chicken breeds are prettiest. That’s important, too, but it’s subjective. If you’d like to see what each breed looks like, check out  or get a copy of Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds  by Carol Ekarius. It’s an excellent book with outstanding photos.

Pick Your Chicks

Choosing the best chicken breeds to raise begins with deciding which attributes are most important to you: egg production, meat production, temperament or other qualities. If you try a breed for a year or two and decide it isn’t quite what you were  looking for, try another — or try two or three breeds each year to find out which one best suits your needs.

After you’ve selected a breed, use our Hatchery Finder to find mail-order sources near you, or our Directory of Hatcheries and Poultry Breeders to find a chicken hatchery or poultry breeders. Then, ask a few questions before you place your order. Breeders and hatcheries select for different traits. For example, some breeders may select Orpingtons for egg production; others, to meet a certain “type” described in a standard for shows. All birds of a certain breed won’t have identical characteristics. Some people who took our survey said Javas lay dark brown eggs; others said Javas lay tinted eggs. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone is wrong — certain flocks may have been bred to produce darker eggs than others.

Egg Size and Productivity

Most people who keep chickens want eggs. Based on our survey results, the most productive egg layers are hybrids, including the Hy-line Brown, California White, Golden Comet, Cherry Egger and Indian River. If you prefer heritage breeds, LeghornsWhite-faced Black Spanish, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, Rhode Island Whites and Plymouth Rocks are good choices for producing lots of eggs.

Hy-line Browns, Golden Comets, ISA Browns, Cinnamon Queens and Brown Sex Links (all hybrids) lay mostly extra-large eggs. From heritage breeds, you can expect the largest eggs from Jersey Giants, Australorps, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds.

3/14/2018 9:28:37 PM

As a novice and animal lover, can I mix breeds? If they are found to be of even temperament. Thanks.

1/24/2018 8:59:01 PM

Want a crochet chicken saddle

8/23/2015 12:43:50 PM

I started a few years ago with RIR but I recently go a bunch of Americuanas from a friend and they are laying like crazy. I also found keeping them away from where my dogs are I get better production See mine

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