If you’re interested in getting backyard chickens, you’ve likely wondered what type of chicken is best for your backyard. As there are hundreds of breeds of chickens in existence, it can be a little overwhelming when deciding on a breed.
Chickens vary in lots of different ways including bodily size, feather colour, extent of feathers, comb type and egg colour. Breeds of chicken also vary in terms of their main use. Some are best for eggs, others for their meat, some are more for ‘decorative’ purposes, and some are considered ‘dual-purpose’.
In order to determine which breed is best for your situation, let’s look at some of the most common qualities that owners look for in their new backyard pets.
1. Egg size – do you want full size eggs for cooking or are you happy with a smaller sized egg?
2. Quantity of eggs – some breeds produce more eggs on average in a year.
3. Mother hens – certain breeds are better for rearing chicks.
4. Family friendly, docile chickens - will your chickens also be pets for your family?
5. Standard breeds versus rare/ pretty chickens.
Good egg size
One obvious difference between standard and miniature (or bantam) chickens is the size of the egg they produce. A bantam egg is around a half to a third the size of an average egg from a full sized chicken. Bantams also produce fewer of these smaller eggs in a year. For example the Isa Brown breed of chicken will produce around 260 eggs per year, compared with only 150 small eggs from various breeds of bantam chickens. So if eggs are important to you, it’s best to go for a full standard sized hen.
Quantity of Eggs
Different breeds of chickens seem to be able to produce more eggs than others. As mentioned, the commercial hybrid ‘Isa Brown’ tends to lay more eggs per year compared with other chickens. Isa Browns can produce up to 300 eggs per year in it's first year. Then generally around 260 eggs per year, compared with 250 from the Black Australorp and around 200 from the Rhode Island Red. White leghorns are also a higher volume layer producing around 195 eggs per year.
Broody Mother Hens
From time to time chickens go broody or ‘clucky’ meaning that they tend to sit on their eggs in the hope that they’ll be able to hatch some chickens. Of course some poor hens still do this even though there’s no rooster in this pen to make this possible. While the chickens are broody they will stop laying new eggs and sit on their eggs, or whatever eggs they can find, for an extended period of time. If a chicken actually sits on fertilized eggs, in 21 days they will hopefully hatch into chicks.
Often bantam breeds such as ‘Silkies’ regularly go broody, so these are a good choice if you want some hens to do the sitting. Other breeds such as Rhode Island Reds or Australorps have had their broody instincts bred out of them, so you have a chicken at maximum egg laying capacity. If you decide down the track that you’d like some chicks, purchasing some fertilized eggs and hiring an incubator may be the way to go, because it’s unlikely these ‘unbroody’ breeds will get broody just when you need them to.
Family Friendly Chickens
If you’ve got children, you might like to get a breed of chicken that doesn’t mind being handled. If you’re not too fussed about getting eggs and want the chickens more as pets, then various bantam breeds might be the way to go.
Frizzles are unusual but attractive looking bantams that have curly feathers that point upwards instead of sitting flat again the body. Pekin is another popular breed of bantam that looks like a ball of feathers. They even have feathers on their legs and feet. These are very placid creatures and are excellent pets for children. Silkies are also very placid and make great pets for children. Like many bantam breeds, Silkies are great broody hens.
If you want a breed of chicken that is great a great layer and also good with children, Australorps are a good choice. These are black in colour with a beetle green sheen to their feathers. They are great with children and other pets and lay really well.