Perhaps you were inspired by the adorable 2010 movie Flipped, or you're hopping on the egg-loving trend that's taken over homes from Silicon Valley to Martha's Vineyard. You might wonder where to begin with a project you hope will reconnect you and your household with the food chain. Well, if you have adequate backyard space, you've pretty much got the green light to start your garden farming pursuit. You'll need to select hen breeds that aren't too broody and inclined to sit on eggs rather than produce new ones. Different chicken breeds look as different as various dog breeds, and the rare types cost hundreds of dollars compared to a few bucks for a common variety.
If you're a Dr. Seuss fan, this five-pound hen lays pastel green (and sometimes blue) medium to large eggs and has above-average egg production over the long term, even though daily production can be a bit unpredictable. It is generally tolerant of all climates, which is a big plus. The Ameraucana is user-friendly, as it were, and you'll be able to handle one easily because it's calm and non-aggressive, albeit a bit guarded at times. It's also a dual-purpose breed meaning the meat is high-quality.
This hen, originally from England, is often gentle and cuddly and tends to slot lower in the pecking order of a flock. It's relatively heavy at about eight pounds, so it prefers cooler weather and is cold hardy. The Orpington lays brown eggs, which isn't quite Easter-appropriate, but that's no matter when the eggs are often extra large, and the hen is a reliable layer. Orpingtons tend to get broody in the warmer months. Fan of roast chicken? These hens are excellent broilers too.
This huge nine-pound feather-footed cutie traces its roots to China and used to be known as the Shanghai. It's similar to the beloved Brahma chicken and has an abundance of feathering, which makes it ideal for a cold climate. This uncommon breed can be too broody, but it's appealing enough to have started the show breed movement and produces about 200 large eggs annually. The smaller bantam variety is in demand too.
Pronounced 'leggern,' this hen of Looney Tunes fame is actually of Italian provenance. If Leghorn doesn't sound very Italian, it's because it's the Anglicised word for Livorno, a Tuscan port. White Leghorns are the most common, but this breed comes in multiple colors, just as with other breeds. The White Leghorn is prolific and lays approximately 250 white eggs every year. Leghorns are non-sitters who aren't keen on brooding and tolerate hold and cold weather well. They're tame, curious, weigh about 4.5 pounds, and aren't dual-purpose.
Next to the Rhode Island Red, the seven-pound Sussex is the breed you most likely associate with the word chicken, but their line almost died out in the early 20th century. Despite this close brush with extinction, it's well-known and has a classic aesthetic. This cold, hardy, and dual-purpose breed has a fantastic personality, which is why it's often found in backyard flocks. Light Sussex lays tinted eggs and does so with aplomb, and the meat also has commendable flavor. The speckled variety is common and blends in nicely with most gardens, making it less likely for predators to attack free-ranging hens.
This seven-pound dual-purpose chicken used to be America's favorite breed. It was common on small holdings for its dependability during winter but has since been surpassed by more remarkable birds. Still, the Plymouth Rock breed is fuss-free, kid-friendly, and better suited to free-range conditions, although confinement works too. You'll mostly see a gray or black, white-striped variety on the market, and they lay at least 200 browny-pink eggs per year.
As the name suggests, these popular hens have reddish-brown feathers and hail from New England. They weigh about six pounds and produce brown eggs. Rhode Island reds are absolute legends—they can lay jumbo eggs like few others can (up to 300 per year), are great table birds, and are arguably the GOATs of the chicken world. They do well in various climates, although their combs are susceptible to frostbite, and their adaptable and self-sufficient demeanor makes them fabulous chickens for beginners with small flocks.
Also known as the turken, this heavy dual-purpose breed has a unique look differentiated by its bare neck. The breed goes way back to the 18th century and the region that would become Romania. These hens have the superpower of managing extreme heat and cold. They can be broody, but they're good layers and are generally immune to diseases.
This six-pound dual-purpose Dutch breed produces about 160 large to jumbo dark brown and sometimes mottled eggs that lighten as the season progresses. The Welsummer isn't aggressive with other chickens but won't capitulate. It's cold-hardy and gentle. With its shape, glossy feathers, and high tail, experts consider the Welsummer, a textbook perfect-looking chicken which might explain why it's so sought after.
Wyandotte hens have similar traits to Rhode Island reds. They're gorgeous American-bred birds with attractive plumage and often feature in competitive poultry shows, but there's more to these chicks than their impressive, curvy looks. They're cold, hardy, aren't frequently broody, lay upwards of 200 eggs annually, and taste delicious cooked up in your chicken-centric dish of choice. They're also family-friendly and a solid option for first-time chicken keepers. Wyandottes are long-lived too. Matilda, the oldest living chicken on record, was a 14-year-old Wyandotte.
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