Different Chicken Breeds

 Selecting Chicken Breeds to raise

Did you know there are more than 200 breeds of chickens? Why do you care? Besides color, plumage pattern, style of comb and wattles -- somewhat cosmetic considerations -- chicken breeds differ on everything from personality, to broodiness (tendency to sit on eggs to hatch them), to winter hardiness and even egg color! Plus, some farmers raise them to show, or breed rare varieties to keep them going, or just because they like that particular breed.


Chicken breeds are divided into one of two categories of size: standard or large, and bantam. In fact, many breeds are available in both sizes. Large breeds are, simply, larger than bantam breeds, and produce more meat and eggs. Bantams may be one-quarter to one-fifth the size of a large-breed chicken. Their eggs are smaller, and bantams can continue to fly throughout their lifetime. Bantams tend to be a little more intense in temperament than large breeds as well. Some hobby farmers enjoy raising bantam chickens, breeding them, and showing them. Others do the same with large breed chickens. But farmers who are raising chickens for eggs and/or meat will likely choose large breed chickens for their greater efficiency in producing them. Some like to keep a few banties mixed in with the large breed chickens just for variety and as more of a "pet" chicken.

Heavy Breeds

If you live in a region with cold winters, whether a chicken breed is classified as "heavy" might matter to you. Heavy breeds have thicker bodies and denser feathers, and are happier in the cold than non-heavy breeds. They're more likely to continue laying eggs through the winter as well.


Hardiness is not just a description of how well a chicken is suited to a cold winter. It refers to the breed's ability to sustain itself through tougher times, any genetic weaknesses, and its tendency to forage versus eating feed, often called "thriftiness." Some of the older, less heavily factory farmed breeds like the heritage or heirloom breeds still retain many of the qualities that chickens needed when they were living in backyards all across the country. In contrast, production breeds have sometimes lost the ability to brood over a clutch of eggs, or forage for bugs, weeds, and small rodents in the fields and woods.


Hens go "broody" over a clutch of eggs to hatch them. They settle in on the eggs, only leaving the nest once per day to eat and drink. If you're trying to hatch eggs naturally, this can be a good quality in a hen. If you're planning on buying replacement chicks from a hatchery, or incubating your eggs, it can be an annoying trait. Not only is the broody hen not producing eggs, but she's making the eggs under her age faster due to warmth. And, it's not the best for her health.

Dual-Purpose Breeds

Dual-purpose breeds are the old-time, classic breeds raised on the farm in early America. Many households had chickens, and they kept a laying flock, but culled old, weak birds, birds who'd stopped laying, and young roosters to the table. The "dual purpose" of good laying production and plump meat for the table is the specialty of these breeds.

Egg Layers

White Leghorns and other pure egg-laying breeds are the most prolific egg layers. Their grain-to-egg output is maximized. These birds don't make particularly good eaters, though, and they're not suitable for cold climates.

Meat Birds

Some breeds were developed purely to raise for eating. These breeds are the most efficient converters of grain to meat. The classic factory farm bird is a cross of a White Cornish and a White Rock called a CornishxRock or Cornish Rock. These chickens are huge, with thick, stout legs and large feet. They grow to a broiler size (4 pounds) in 6 to 8 weeks and are the most frugal means of putting chicken in your freezer. There are other breeds suitable for meat production, though: Brahma, Cochin, and Jersey Giant are a few of them.

Egg Color

Did you know that you can tell what color eggs a chicken will lay by looking at its earlobes? Eggs range in color from all shades of brown and tan, to blue, green and white. "Ameracauna" or Easter Egg chickens are a hybrid breed that lay eggs in shades from blue or blue/green to cream. Ameracaunas are derived from a rare South American breed called the Aracauna. Of course, the most common egg colors are white and brown, and chicken breeds are often described by this characteristic. You may hear or read the terms "brown egg layers" or "white egg layers." There is no nutritional difference between different colored eggs.
Actually, it's not the eye color, but rather the skin around the sides of the face (known as "earlobes") that correlates with egg color.  The egg color and the earlobe color do not match, rather it is possible to predict the color of a hen's eggs by looking at her earlobes.  In general, the darker the earlobes, the darker the eggsHens with white earlobes usually produce white eggs.  Hens with red, brown, or black earlobes usually lay brown eggs. 
There are many exceptions to this rule, though.  For example, chickens of the Silkie breed often have blue or black earlobes and they generally lay white eggs.  I once had a Silkie with blue earlobes and her eggs were very light beige - almost white.As far as we know, there is no particularly good reason why there should be a correlation between earlobe color and egg color.  A hen's body puts pigmentation into the outermost layer of the egg shell; some breeds pigment their eggs darkly and some less so.  For some reason, those with light earlobes also tend to have lightly-pigmented eggs.

Plumage and Looks 

One of the best things about chickens is their beautiful plumage! Chickens come in every feather color, shape and design imaginable. From golden Buff Orpingtons to feather-footed Cochins, the variety is amazing. It isn't all about cosmetics. Combs come in variety of shapes. Those that lie close to the chicken's head are less prone to frostbite, though we keep Barred Rocks and Speckled Sussex in an unheated coop down to -25 degrees F without a problem.


Breeds are described as docile or aggressive depending on the traits that farmers have noticed in their flocks. Still, among any given flock, temperament will be influenced more by pecking order than by genetic tendency. Those higher in the pecking order are the more aggressive birds and those lower in the order are more submissive and docile. Some breeds are more "flighty" and high-strung than others as well. Sometimes this is a good trait; we noticed, for example, that the hawks seem to be able to get our Buff Orpingtons more easily than the more intense birds like the Speckled Sussex. If you have small children, picking a particularly "docile" breed might be a good fit.

Heritage and Rare Breeds

Recently there has been a growing interest in heritage and heirloom chicken breeds. Some farmers specialize in raising, breeding and selling heritage and rare chickens, and others just want to choose a heritage breed for their egg layers or meat birds. Often these breeds display greater hardiness than production breeds. They show more traditional chicken behaviors, like foraging for food, being good setters (going broody easily), and roosting.

Common Chicken Breeds

The following are some of the chicken breeds available to you:

Rhode Island Red 
The Rhode Island Red is an American breed of chicken developed in the early 1900's. Their ancestry goes back to birds bred in Rhode Island, hence the name. The Rhode Island Reds are very good layers of brown eggs and can produce approximately 230 eggs per year. They can begin laying as early as six months of age. The colour can vary from a brown-red to a deep chocolate red. The Rhode Island Red is a good choice for the small flock owner. Relatively hardy, they are probably the best egg layers of the dual purpose breeds. Reds handle marginal diets and poor housing conditions better than other breeds and still continue to produce eggs. A good dual purpose medium heavy fowl which is used more for egg production than meat production because of its dark coloured pin feathers and its good rate of lay.

Light Sussex Chickens
The light Sussex has a white body with a black tail and black wing tips, its neck is white striped with black and has a very striking appearance. The Sussex chicken is an alert, docile breed that can adapt to any surrounding; they are comfortable in both free range or confined spaces. There is a bantam version at 1/4 size. The Sussex was bred to be a dual purpose bird and is one of the most productive breeds of poultry. They lay large eggs that are cream to light brown in colour.

The Sussex chicken was created around 1900 in the county of Sussex, England. The original colours were the Brown, Red and Speckled. They are a popular breed both for exhibitions and home poultry keepers. The sussex breed has made a great contribution to the poultry industry and is even an ancestor to the modern broiler. Sussex is one of the oldest breeds of chicken that still exists today.

Black Rock 
Chickens Black Rocks emanate from the Harco/Arbor Acres breeders of America. They are a true first-cross hybrid from supremely selected strains of Rhode Island Red (male line) and a Barred Plymouth Rock (female line). Probably the most successful hybrid for modern free range. It has dense feathering a highly developed immune system and good body weight.

Production is 280+ brown eggs in the first year and persistently good throughout lay. Egg, shell quality and colour are continually good, which means more grade A eggs.

Their thick rich plumage not only protects them from all weather conditions but they have been observed to be less susceptible to Red Mite. This together with their highly developed natural immune system means they have the potential to have a long productive life.

Being very docile they are not easily stressed and as a result do not need de-beaking. This makes them an easy bird to keep free-range to organic standards.

The Speckled Sussex

The Speckled Sussex was developed in Sussex County, England around 1900. In the US, Speckled, Red, and Light Sussex are recognized, while the UK recognizes several more varieties, including Buff, Brown, and Silver.

The Speckled Sussex is of medium size, in the heavy breed class and a layer of light brown or tinted eggs. They lay fairly well as a utility bird. Its plumage colour is a delight to the eye being of dark mahogany base colour with individual feathers ending in a white tip separated from the rest of the feathers by a black bar. This variety combines beauty with utility, and is very nice to raise for showing.

Sussex are bright, active, docile birds. Birds have a long, broad and flat back and a broad, deep chest. The head has a single comb. Legs are short and strong with stout thighs. They are good sitters but do not go broody as often as more heavily feathered breeds.

The Barnevelder is a beautiful Dutch breed. The Barnevelder takes its name from the Dutch town in which it was bred to provide brown eggs for the UK market. The standardised four colours in the UK are:- black, double-laced, silver and partridge. The double-laced is the most popular. The Barnevelder breed is available in large and bantam sizes. They possess an upright stance, with a compact well-balanced body, and a broad breast. Short wings are carried high as is the neat head topped with a medium sized, single comb. Barnevelders can lay up to 180 eggs per year.

Marans Marans originated in western France in the town of Marans, is best known for its dark chocolate coloured eggs. It is a fast grower and does well in damp areas, having been developed in a marshy portion of France. The original French birds have feathered legs, but this characteristic has been bred out of the British and many American lines. The French recognise 9 varieties: (1) Silver Cuckoo; (2) Golden Cuckoo; (3) White; (4) Coppered Black; (5) Black; (6) Wheat; (7) Black-tailed Fawn; (8) Ermine; and, (9) Silvered Black. In the Cuckoo Marans, males are lighter in colour than females - it is possible to sex them even as chicks with reasonable good accuracy

Orpingtons were developed in England at the town of Orpington in County Kent during the 1880s. The original varieties come in black, white and buff. The other main varieties include Jubilee, Spangled, Cuckoo and Blue Orpingtons with several other colourings including Red, Partridge, Barred, Gold and Silver Laced. These large fowl are classified as heavy soft feather. They are brown egg layers and are greatly admired when prepared and penned for showing. The immense size of the Orpingtons and soft almost fluffy appearance together with their rich colour and gentle contours make them very attractive. Their feathering allows them to endure cold temperatures better than some other breeds. They are at home on free range or in relatively confined situations; and are docile. Hens exhibit broodiness and generally make good mothers. Chicks are not very aggressive and are often the underdogs when several breeds are brooded together.

Lakenvelders are beautiful in appearance with their striking black and white markings and slate coloured legs. The word “Lakenvelder” when translated from the Dutch means “a shadow on a sheet”, a particularly descriptive name. They were bred extensively in Germany and Holland as long ago as the early 1800’s, but were not recognised in the UK until the 1930’s. Lakenvelders are quite small when mature and very quick and active, foraging widely when free-range. The skin is white and the breast unusually plump and round, almost like wild game birds. Hens lay white eggs and are non-setters. Baby chicks are mostly creamy white with a half collar of black on the neck and sprinkling of black on the head and back.

The Araucana is a chicken breed that combines the unusual traits of tufts, blue eggs and rumplessness. Tufts are unique to Araucanas, and each is composed of a group of feathers that grow from a protruding flap of skin located near the ear, called a peduncle. There is wide variability in the size and shape of tufts. Araucanas are rumpless, which means that they do not have a tail, any remnant of a tail, or even an oil gland. 

The Araucana hen should lay blue eggs. The Araucana's eggs are not more nutritious than eggs of other colours, but the birds are reliable layers of medium-sized eggs. The Araucana, if hand-raised specifically, is extremely well-tempered, calm and trusting.

When the Araucana was first introduced to breeders worldwide, in the mid-20th century, it was realised that the genetics that produced tufts also caused chick mortality. Two copies of the gene causes nearly 100% mortality shortly before hatching. One copy causes about 20% mortality. The tufted gene is dominant however. Because no living araucana possesses two copies of the tufted gene, breeding any two tufted birds leads to half of the resulting brood being tufted with one copy of the gene, a quarter being clean faced with no copy of the gene, and a quarter of the brood dead in the shell having received two copies of the gene.

In the decades to follow, most breeders took one of two tactics - either to preserve the old style of bird, or to breed out the tufts while increasing productivity. In 1976, the first standards for the breed were accepted by the APA, conforming to the traditional style. This was followed, in 1984, by a second standard for the "improved" variety.

The gene for blue eggs is dominant, so the term "Easter Egger" is used to describe birds of mixed breeding that produce such eggs. Unfortunately, these mixed breeds are often incorrectly labeled as Araucanas or Ameraucanas, and marketed to poultry hobbyists who are not aware of the difference. The differences are as follows:

  • Araucana - Tufts (lethal allele), rumpless, blue eggs, green legs and yellow skin (with exceptions).
  • Ameraucana - Beards and muffs (NO lethal gene), with tail feathers, blue eggs, blue legs and white skin.
  • British, Irish, New Zealand, South African & Australian Araucana - Beards, muffs and crest, with tail feathers, blue eggs, slate legs and grey/white skin.
  • Easter Egger - Variable traits


For starters, avoid inbreeding by introducing one cock for every 10 hens every 2 years.

Selection of eggs for setting
Improved nutrition can raise the average number of eggs laid per clutch by 100%. Fertilised eggs are live and successful hatching depends on how they are taken care of from laying till setting.

The broad end of an egg has an air sac through which the egg breathes. Eggs should be stored with the broad end facing upwards. The egg shell is porous (has little holes which if blocked may suffocate the embryo [baby chick]). 

To prevent rotting, eggs must be stored in a clean and dry place. Since fertile eggs grow slowly, eggs that are more than 14 days old should not be used for hatching.
Shortening the reproductive cycle
Shortened reproductive cycles ensures that hens lay eggs earlier, doubling the number of clutches per hen per year while the improved management increases survival rates from 2-6.
Serial hatching
Hens or ducks can be used to sit on eggs continuously for 2 or more times by removing chicks every time they hatch and replacing them with new eggs. If this is coupled with synchronisation, then a farmer could hatch more chicks without using an incubator. Ducks can sit on 30-35 eggs and can be used for up to 6 consecutive times.
Synchronised hatching
When hens that started laying within the same week reach broodiness, the 1st hen to reach this stage can be delayed by being given one egg to sit on. This can be repeated for the 2nd and 3rd hens so that finally all the hens are set on one day.  On the day of setting, all the dummy eggs should be destroyed.
Management of chicks
To prevent high mortality, chicks must be kept in a safe, warm and clean environment and must have easy-to-digest feed at all times. Chicks may be removed from the hatching hen or duck and kept separate. However, the birds should be protected from very hot sun and rain.Hens that do not discriminate chicks can be trained as foster hens. Up to 65 chicks of different ages can be brooded by such a hen. When it gets cold, the youngest chicks are the 1st to go under the hen and the oldest will come later around the hen.
Diseases may be defined as illness of one or more of the body organs or tissues, caused by pathogens or germs. Germs (virus, bacteria) and protozoa are classified according to size. Parasites, though not germs, can cause ill health. The significance of a disease depends on the rate of infection or infestation and the number of birds that die. Death rates depend on age and nutritional status.
Protozoa such as Emiria tenella (coccidia) are larger than bacteria hence more easily visible by microscope. Outbreaks of protozoan diseases are an indication of poor sanitation and hygiene.
Prevention and control
Vaccination and isolation of healthy birds from sick ones and proper disposal of dead birds can prevent diseases.
Vaccination is the use of mild, live or inactivated infective agent (virus or bacteria) to stimulate production of antibodies to a specific infective agent. Antibodies are chemical substances produced within the host body. They recognise and destroy the virus or bacteria used during vaccination before onset of disease. Vaccines are prepared from the same virus or bacteria that cause the disease to be vaccinated against. They are sensitive to heat, pH (acidity) and therefore should be handled following manufacturers’ instructions.
Vaccination programmes
Vaccination for indigenous chicken in a free-range system depends on age, disease incidence, severity and status of endemic diseases.
Bacterial diseases
Bacteria are minute germs that can only be seen under microscopes. They cause diseases that can be prevented through good hygiene and treated using antibiotics such as Tetracycline. Salmonella. There are 3 types of infection caused by the Salmonella microorganism. These are pullorum disease, fowl typhoid disease and salmonellosis.
Pullorum disease
Caused by sub-species S. pullorum is fatal in chicks. It is transmitted from hen to chicks during egg formation, contamination of eggs at laying or the chicks are infected from faeces. Symptoms include dead embryo in eggs that do not hatch, chicks develop wet vents (tail) within the 1st week, whitish diarrhoea, huddling and difficulty in breathing. Mortality can reach 100% in the 1st 2 weeks.
Fowl typhoid
Caused by the species S. gallinarum and is severe in growers and adult birds. It is spread by contamination of feed and water by faecal matter from infected birds. Symptoms include drop in egg production, egg fertility and hatchability, anorexia and dullness followed by sudden death.