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

best chicken breeds - hens in pasture

With so many varieties of purebreds, hybrids, and crossbreds to choose from, the best chicken breeds for you is out there somewhere.


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.

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

1/14/2015 1:03:37 PM

Can I feet my chicken with vegetable?

7/31/2014 4:07:56 PM

Tracy hens lay for around 3 years and first start laying around 18 weeks old.

7/30/2014 11:09:42 AM

Any comments on Rainbow breed? What type would they fall into and what breeds are they a mixture of? We are new to chickens, got a few of them from a friend. At 20 weeks rooster butcher weight was 5#, no eggs yet, and they are pretty calm.

7/30/2014 8:29:40 AM

I have 4 red sex linked hens. 1 yr old. Produce 1 egg/day/hen. Very friendly & curious. Chickens think they own our 5 acre farm. Range freely & return to chicken tractor at night. They get along wth 2 Aussie dogs. Getting goats soon. I hope there will be no conflict there. Bought hens at local 4-H auction. Supports local youth, all animals have to pass inspection to be auctioned, are hand raised thus friendly wth humans.

Tracy Foster Chaix
8/19/2012 2:12:50 AM

I am new to this hen thing, how long do they lay eggs? I have 2 hens that we raised, and rescued 4. Not knowing how old they are is a Concern? We were getting 6 eggs a day now I'm lucky if I get 3 a day?.. Help

Jglkceylon Ceylon
2/27/2012 5:43:34 PM

looking for good friends from denmark farming friends age 50 to 65 00966541812004 please contact me direct my mobail.

2/27/2012 1:01:50 PM

Tried free range chickens but have a problem with hawks...any way to protect them? And what about there any chicken that will eat those?

3/17/2010 10:07:58 AM

Enjoyed your article, fyi for those just getting started or are interested in Red Comets and Black Comets (aka red stars/golden comets/black stars - these are Sex Links, which means that when they hatch female's colors are distinct from male's colors. This is very important for backyard chickens - you don't want roosters and in many municipalities, having even one rooster is illegal. Both the red and black varieties produce excellent brown eggs, are very docile and hardy weather-wise.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!