If you start looking into all the different types of chickens, you could be researching for a while. There are hundreds of breeds, ranging in size, temperament, appearance, and egg-laying capabilities. Many people wonder why there are so many breeds of chickens and the main answer is usually for show and personality rather than purpose.
There are different breeds of chickens because many people decided to start intermixing breeds to obtain unique physical appearances as well as for specific egg-laying and meat-producing purposes.
When researching chickens and all the different breeds, there are several things to take into consideration. This would include breed categories, benefits, or lack thereof of certain types, and which one is best for what, like egg-laying, meat, and personality preferences. These subjects and commonly asked questions regarding chicken breeds will be discussed throughout this article.
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The Original Chicken Breed- The Red Junglefowl
Our feathered friend, the chicken, and all its different breeds, all stem from the Red Junglefowl from Southeast Asia.
Thanks to man and our desire to improve upon or change the design of something to benefit us, has created over a hundred different variations of this original bird. The first poultry standard started in London in 1865 (1873 for America), where there were only a few breeds at that time.
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Why Are There Different Breeds Of Chickens?
There is an excessive number of chickens breeds that were created strictly for their physical appearance and not for the benefit of egg or meat production.
As a matter of fact, there are some breeds that have a difficult time doing normal chicken behaviors because their feet feathers are too much for them to scratch and forage appropriately. Some even have combs that are too large and impractical for them to see normally.
Why Do People Selectively Breed Chickens?
Besides breeding chickens for a unique esthetic, there are plenty that have been designed specifically for egg and meat production. Many of our more commonly kept breeds for industrial or backyard purposes are all hybrids of other older chicken breeds.
These once mixed breeds like the popular Leghorn, Orpington or Astrolorp were created with the idea of producing lots of eggs and having an easier disposition and sustainability.
Scientific breeding in the 20th century revolutionized the poultry market when a university started mixing specific chicken breeds with the intention of converting feeding into eggs or meat. This is when hybridization started to take off.
One of the most well-known hybrids is the Cornish Rock Hybrid, which is a combination of the Cornish and the Rock breeds. Another huge success is the California White, which is a mix of the ISA Brown and the Leghorn. This chicken breed can produce over 300 brown eggs a year.
Hybridization isn’t as simple as crossing one breed with another. It often requires a complex series of mating over several generations before a sophisticated and highly productive bird is seen.
What Chicken Breeds Are Best For Egg-laying?
There are several breeds that are champions at laying eggs, but there are always those few that are more impressive than others. Many of these breeds were specifically created for their large egg production (read this other article to learn more on how to improve your egg production).
The Leghorn is by far one of America’s top chicken breeds for industrialized egg production.
They are less common for backyard use as they are slightly more difficult to handle and have a less friendly disposition than several other breeds. This chicken is known for laying around 250 medium-sized white eggs a year.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is by far the most common for backyard flock raisers in the US thanks to its easy disposition and hardiness.
They are tough, handle cold climates well, and lay plenty of eggs a year, usually around 250 medium-sized brown eggs. Also known for being raised as a dual-purpose bird.
A fan favorite in Australia, they pride this breed on holding the world record for most eggs produced in one year by a single hen, 364 eggs! While this is more than the average for the breed, some Astalorp hens will lay close to 300 eggs annually. They are not as commonly seen in America, but can easily be added to any backyard flock. They have a relatively calm demeanor and lay eggs consistently in warmer climates.
Which Chickens Breeds Are Best For Meat Production?
A chicken that is specifically bred for the purpose of slaughtering and eating is called a Broiler.
A Broiler makes a great meat chicken because they grow and mature much more quickly than a dual-purpose or egg-laying breed. They can be slaughtered and eaten anywhere between 5 and 10 weeks, at 10 weeks they can be large enough to feed the average-sized family.
This chicken is a common hybrid that has been bred for the sole purpose of meat production. They can reach up to 12 lbs by the time that they are 6 – 8 weeks of age.
Because of their rapid growth rate, they are extremely popular in the industrial poultry market and are usually the chicken that will be sold at the grocery stores. They have large breasts, thighs and legs which makes them ideal for the dinner table.
Prided as a dual-purpose chicken, the Orpington is a great backyard-raising bird. They are hardy and have amazing flavorful and tender meat. They will lay close to 200 eggs while waiting to reach slaughtering age and size.
The Bresse is slightly large and is one of the more expensive breeds. This chicken is known for having the best tasting and most tender meat. While this breed is somewhat less popular in the US and is seen more in France, it is still prided around the world for its delicious and flavorful meat.
Which Chickens Breeds Are Best As Pets?
With there being hundreds of breeds of chickens, it can be difficult to know which ones are best for what. When it comes to keeping a flock of chickens for not only egg production, but the purpose of entertainment and companionship as well, there are plenty to choose from.
Below are a few of the friendlier breeds that make great pets and love human attention.
The ability to lay different colored eggs is a large reason why a lot of people are familiar with this breed, but they also have great personalities and love children. They are low-maintenance chickens that have a gentle disposition and you never know what colored egg you’re going to get.
This breed is known for having fluffy feathers that come in an array of colors and textures. They do tend to gain weight, so be sure to monitor the hens carefully for overeating. This docile breed is also great with children and easy to tame into a house chicken. If that’s what you’re looking for, at least.
This friendly and calm breed truly enjoys human company and is also known for its super fluffy and soft down-like feathers that cover their body, including their feet. Their docile nature makes them great with children and easy to handle. These birds enjoy being petted and will often sit on their owner’s lap.
Which Chickens Breeds Are The Quietest?
This is a common question when people are looking into having a flock that contains a rooster, especially in the suburbs.
Hens are generally quiet and don’t make much noise, sometimes one will cackle loudly when she has laid her daily egg and is proud of her work. Other times, the hens are quieter than having a dog, while a roosters crow is actually about the same decibel level as a barking canine.
The Speckled Sussex is not only a quiet breed but is very docile and is another bird that makes a great pet. They are good egg-layers and have calm and docile temperaments.
This breed could make it into most categories. This wonderful egg layer is also very quiet and calm and doesn’t tend to fuss about much. Even the roosters have relatively reasonable personalities.
The Orpington is similar to the Astralorp in the sense that it can hit on the most positive traits, making it a well-rounded breed of chicken. They enjoy the company of people and their children and have a quiet and calm demeanor, making them an ideal backyard chicken.
Picking a breed
Ensuring that you pick the most appropriate chicken breed for your backyard flock is crucial. When you were only wanting to have a few pretty chickens for your daughter’s fair project instead of hens that will produce you over a dozen eggs a week, you will want to make the right choice.