There have been different chicken breeds in human households since ten thousand B.C. Today, the desire to keep chicken in people’s yards and farms is increasing. This is due to the high demand for fresh eggs and the healthier white meat. In fact, in the US, chicken meat consumption towers over other meat products at roughly 85 pounds per capita.
With the increasing number of bred chicken throughout the centuries, there is no certainty as to how many chicken breeds there are. The American Poultry Association only gives one definite figure for large chicken breeds, which is 53.
However, despite the vagueness of the population, a few popular chicken breeds in the US can be picked out. In this article, they are classified into two: Egg layers and Meat chicken breeds. The best egg layers include Australorp, Buckeye, Delaware, Leghorn, New Hampshire, Plymouth Rock, and Sussex. On the other hand, meat chicken breeds include Bresse, Cornish, and Jersey Giant.
Popularity shouldn’t be the only reason for choosing a breed of chicken. It is also essential that one knows what the specific breeds are good at as one starts chicken farming. This is in order to know what to expect out of the chosen endeavor, both for the process and output.
Egg-Laying Chicken Breeds
Australian Orpington or Australorp
As the name suggests, the Australian Orpington or Australorp chickens were first developed in Australia during the early 1920s. They were developed out of the Australians’ admiration for the egg-laying black Orpingtons from England. Not long after, the rest of the world adopted Australorps in blue, white, and black varieties. The black variety is one of the most popular chicken breeds.
Australorps are a great breed for beginner chicken farmers for their calm temperament. Characteristically, they are known as a sweet, docile, and friendly breed. They can get along pretty well with other animals on the farm. Also, one could use them to help in the garden as they are good foragers as well.
Developed purely with the goal of maximum egg production, Australorps are dual-purposed along with their rich meat.
For egg production, this breed holds a world record of 364 eggs in a year without artificial lighting at all. However, averagely, Australorps yield at least 250 to 300 large light brown eggs per year.
Moreover, Australorps grow to be about 5 to 6 pounds; thus, which makes them a popular chicken breed for white meat lovers.
The only popular chicken breed created by a woman, Nettie Metcalf, the Buckeye breed hailed from Ohio during the late 1800s. Around the year 1896, Metcalf, from Warren, Ohio, crossed Barred Plymouth Rocks and Buff Cochins. Also, she added some black-breasted Red Games to the mix. Out of these breeds came out huge, lazy fowl or now the Buckeye.
Buckeyes are distinguishable with their lustrous red plumage and pea combs. Typically, they are cold-weather hardy and can adapt to different living conditions. They are also active and curious and are good mice hunters. Aside from being raised for their eggs and meat, they also make good pets for their friendly nature. They may even recognize their human keepers and show affection.
Every year, Buckeyes lay about 200 medium sizes, brown eggs. Their egg-laying season lasts out through months during the winter.
The development of the Delaware breed, previously called Indian Rivers, was pioneered by George Ellis in the 1940s in Delaware. They come from the crosses of New Hampshire hens and Barred Plymouth Rock roosters. In 1952, the breed was recognized by the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection.
Delaware chickens are reported as hardy animals and are good foragers. They also have a calm temperament and are characteristically friendly. Also, they can offer amusement with their pretty plumage and are fun to watch.
The development of the Delaware breed was primarily aimed at developing a meat bird. However, not only did the birds turn out as good meat birds, but also good egg-laying ones. They lay about four large, brown eggs per week in supreme conditions. Then again, they dress out at about 5 pounds, which makes for fine meat.
This breed is among the variety of Leghorns that were developed in Tuscany, Italy, during the early 19th century. Initially, the breeds were called Italians, which later on evolved to Livorno, a port city in Italy. However, by 1865, they were then called Leghorns, simply an Anglican for Livorno. In the middle of the century were these Leghorns exported to America, where they were further developed into color varieties.
Typically, Leghorns are hardy and highly active birds. They tend to keep scratching and foraging all day. Also, they have a tendency to be skittish, flighty, and nervous birds. They are extremely fast runners, especially as they try to avoid mingling with humans. Thus, they are less likely to be recommended as pets.
Leghorns, both brown and white varieties, are prolific egg layers. One good hen usually lays about 280 to 300 large white eggs every year. In fact, many white eggs that are sold in grocery stores are of Leghorns’.
Other than their rich egg production, Leghorns are dual purpose for meat along with their eggs. At 16 weeks, these birds weigh about 5 to 6 pounds and are good to be butchered. Their meat is said to be good on the brown variety.
As its name suggests, the breed originated in the New Hampshire, United States. It is a fairly new breed, recognized in 1935 by the American Poultry Association, admitted to the Standard of Perfection. Actually, they are close relatives or are specialized selections out of the classic Rhode Island Reds. The New Hampshires’ are a result of the breeders’ efforts to intensify traits of maturity, feathering, and egg-laying capacity.
Moreover, New Hampshire chickens are renowned for their natural vigor and hardiness. They have the tendency to be competitive and aggressive, especially when trying to obtain food. Thus, they are better off not in a mixed flock. However, except for those facts, New Hampshires are easy to handle for chicken-keepers as they prefer to free-range. Also, they can be very friendly and docile. They are distinguishable with their rich chestnut plumage.
New Hampshire chickens lay eggs all year-round. However, they are most productive during the colder seasons. They are prolific egg-layers at about 200 to 280 large, brown eggs per year. However, despite being valued for their eggs, New Hampshires are a dual-purpose breed; thus, they produce decent meat as well.
The Plymouth Rock breed originated from the US in the middle of the 1800s. It was then recognized in 1874 by the American Poultry Association. Historically, this breed is the most popular in the US as it was extensively kept up until the Second World War. The first variety of Plymouth Rocks is Barred, with black and white striped plumage. Later on, other color varieties were developed.
Generally, Plymouth Rock chickens are hardy and active animals. Some grow into big and quite aggressive ones, which can be a problem in the flock. However, most of them are friendly with other flock members and with humans. They can also be easily tamed, which is a plus for chicken-keepers. Also, adult hens are excellent brooders.
Plymouth Rocks are prolific egg-layers. They can lay eggs all year-round consistently, yielding about 200 to 280 every year. Also, their brown eggs are of good quality, which are medium to large in size.
Other Plymouth Rock breeders breed the birds for their meat.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red chicken breed is first developed in the latter part of the 19th century. Obviously, as the name suggests, the development took place in Rhode Island and in Massachusetts as well.
Rhode Island chickens are typically very low maintenance. They are hardy animals and can tolerate really well the extremely non-favorable weather conditions. Moreover, they are a great choice for beginner chicken-keepers. However, they might be more well-suited with expert flock keepers. This is due to their tendency to bully each other or bully other breeds in a mixed flock.
Rhode Island Red chicken breed is perhaps the most or one of the best and popular egg layer breeds. They lay about 5 to 7 eggs per week. This makes for a total of 240 to over 300 good size, brown eggs per year.
The Sussex chicken breed, as its name, came from the UK. History tells how they thrived way back 43 AD when Britain was invaded by the Romans. Over the years, they thrived in Britain as a reputable and the finest poultry. By 1912, they were exported to America and were recognized by the American Poultry Association.
The most popular varieties in America are the Speckled, Red, and Light Sussex. The less popular ones are White, Silver, Buff, and Coronation. In the UK, a Brown variety is also present.
Sussex chickens are known as active and cold-hardy animals. Also, they have a docile temperament, which makes them ideal for beginner chicken farmers. Sussex’s tend to put on fat easily; thus, one should keep watch on what and how much they are fed.
Sussex chickens are good and dependable egg-layers with an average of 250 to 300 light brown eggs per year. However, they are also a dual-purpose breed as they grow up to be fair weighted. As mentioned, they tend to put on fat fairly easily; thus, their feeding should be properly managed.
Meat Chicken Breeds
Bresse chickens emerged about 500 years ago within the lawfully defined area of the notable region of Bresse, east France. These chickens are considered the best chicken in the world for their taste and cost.
The French government rigidly regulates the raising and selling of the chickens to maintain quality standards. In fact, there are even rules for how these chickens should be managed and processed. This includes how much land the chickens should have access to and what they should be fed. Also, the French strictly argues that a chicken is a Bresse only if it was raised in France.
It is by this complicated circumstance that Bresse exports in the US are called “American Bresse.” French Bresse is a breed in itself. However, since the chickens were first brought in the US in 2011, they were raised in approximate traditional French methods.
Typically, Bresse chickens have graceful and calm temperaments. They are pleasant barnyard companions.
As mentioned, Bresse chickens are the best tasting chickens in the world. They are culled at around 16 to 20 weeks as they dress out at 5 to 7 pounds. Despite being a popular meat breed, Bresse chickens are relatively slow growers, so feed ratio is average.
Additionally, despite being a meat breed, Bresse chickens are also prolific egg-layers. They lay about 250 big, golden-brown eggs each year.
The Cornish breed hailed from England, specifically in the Cornwall County. It was a heritage breed, developed during the early part of the 19th century. Primarily, Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert intended to cross Aseel gamebird with an English gamebird for their power and speed. Unfortunately, he only created a bird that has neither of the intended qualities.
Moreover, Cornish chickens back then were deemed as “almost the worst household fowls.” However, it is in the same century that they are marketed as excellent all-around birds — also, thanks to their muscular nature that they are recognized as meat-only chickens. By 1893, Cornishes were exported to America and were placed in the list of APA Standard chickens.
Auspiciously, Cornishes were crossed with American breeds, which produced the exceptionally fast-growing market poultry. The majority of the domestic chickens used in the present meat industry are crosses of Cornishes.
Characteristically, Cornishes have quite a hostile temperament. They tend to be loud and very active, which makes them not ideal for backyard chicken-keeping. Also, their feed consumption is relatively high, which is a downside in the feed ratio. However, some Cornishes would love to be cuddled and can be easy lap chickens.
Cornish chickens, as mentioned, are muscular birds. They grow fairly quickly that sometimes their bodies cannot keep up with their growth. Hence, they are butchered early to relieve them of suffering. In fact, at 4 to 6 weeks, Cornishes are ready to cull as they weigh around 8 pounds.
However, as they were marketed as all-around birds originally, Cornish hens are relatively good egg-layers. They lay about 100 to 120 medium-sized, light brown eggs every year.
As the breed name, Jersey Giant chickens originated in New Jersey between 1870 and 1890. They were added to the APA’s Standard of Perfection in 1922. Furthermore, their white and blue varieties were added in 1947 and 2002, respectively.
Jersey Giant chickens, as they are called, are huge birds. In fact, the roosters can weigh up to 13 pounds, and the hen, up to 10 pounds. Because of this, they are deemed as the largest purebred chicken breed.
Despite their size, Jersey Giants are calm and docile to humans. They make good backyard chicken because of these traits, despite the fact that they consume huge amounts of food.
Obviously, what better contribution can giant chickens offer but their meat, however, they are fairly slow growers who can take them about six months to fully grow in size, they also need a huge feed ratio to keep them up with their growth. But it should be all worth it with the 10 to 13 pound of meat for each chicken as soon as they are culled.
In addition, Jersey Giants are also good egg-layers, especially during the winter. They lay about 150 to 260 extremely large, light to medium-brown eggs every year.
What is meant by Bantam Chicken breeds?
Bantam chicken breeds are known as space savers. They are especially suitable for small backyard farming, where space is limited. Basically, bantam chickens are miniature versions of regular or large size chickens. Their sizes can vary from about a half to two thirds that of the regular or larger birds. There are over 400 varieties of them in total in the American Bantam Association. This list is separate or different from that of the APA’s or the American Poultry Association.
Nonetheless, similar breed names can be found both in the lists of ABA and APA. This is due to the fact that some bantams were made from large, regular, or standard breeds. Three categories classify bantam chickens. There are true bantams with no large fowl counterparts and developed bantams that are crosses of two or more bantams. Then, there are miniaturized bantams that were created from standard breeds, for instance, Rhode Island Red or Orpingtons.
What breeds are less advised to beginner chicken-keepers?
Generally, one of the most taxing aspects of keeping chickens is maintaining their wellbeing. A big chunk of this includes controlling their behavior towards each other. This is due to the fact that some chicken breeds have a tendency to be overly aggressive. This aggressiveness leads to the chickens bullying each other, whether they are of the same or of different breeds.
For bullies, Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshires have a reputation. The bullied, on the other hand, are the Silkies and Polishes. Silkie chickens are popular as they appear really adorable with their white furry or hair-like feathers. They are so tame that they are easily bullied by other fowls. Polishes, on the other hand, are bullied due to their unique appearance. They have a feathered crest that hinders them from seeing clearly, and that needs trimming.