When we first started raising chickens, we put a lot of thought and research into the chickens we wanted to buy. Learning which breeds were best for our purpose saved us time and money by avoiding buying chickens not suitable for what we wanted. Now, twenty years later, we know which breeds work best for us.
While all hens produce edible eggs containing the same nutritional benefits, only certain ones are superior laying hens, excelling at egg production. Personally, I prefer brown eggs so I base my breed choices on ones known for laying brown eggs. However, brown eggs are not healthier than white eggs: I just like brown eggs. The chicken’s diet controls the health benefits of eggs, the richness and color of the yolk and the bird’s overall health.
Many people will argue that you can’t taste the difference between store-bought eggs and fresh eggs—I say, “baloney”; the yolks are richer and more nutritious, giving them a better taste than any found in the grocery store. Raising chickens organically and cage free produces healthier and tastier eggs and meat. Once you try an organic meat chicken, free of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals, you’ll never want chicken from the store again.
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Rhode Island Red: This is my favorite layer. They lay medium size brown eggs with an above average laying rate. Being both cold and heat hardy, Rhode Island Reds are good for any climate. They are easy to care for, adapting well to a penned or free-range environment. Reds are a more aggressive breed so be careful what breeds you place them with. These chickens are a good, dual-purpose breed and are well known for both egg production and meat. If you want a do everything breed, the Rhode Island Red is the one to pick.
Leghorn: The best egg layer available, these chickens lay extra-large white eggs, producing over 300 a year. Even with their smaller size, they make a good dual-purpose chicken; using them for meat, once their laying production declines. If you want a meatier chicken go with the Plymouth Rock. Their egg production is lower but they are a large chicken, with an average weight of 10 pounds. While I prefer brown eggs, I always include a few Leghorns for their terrific laying rates.
Buff Orpington: This breed has an above average production of large brown eggs. Their friendly nature and cold weather hardiness makes them an excellent beginner chicken. If you plan to raise chicks, the Orpington is a good brooder and makes an excellent mother. They also make good pets and I wouldn’t have a flock without one or two Orpingtons. However, because of their docile nature, they are picked on so they don’t do well with aggressive breeds.
Black Star: The hens are above average layers of large brown eggs and begin laying around five months. They are a hardy breed and easy to raise. These hybrid chickens are a cross between Barred Rock hens and Rhode Island Red roosters. The chicks are easily color sexed, meaning you identify males and females by their color. The males are black while females have gold plumage on their neck and breast. The Black Star is another good beginner breed with a calm nature making them good pets.
Ameraucana: Also known as Easter Eggers, these chickens lay eggs in various shades of blue, blue-green, green and cream. These easy to handle birds lay medium size eggs, are winter hardy and have average to above average egg production. Ameracuanas adapt well to confinement or free range and are calm and non-aggressive making them a good family chicken. Your kids will love collecting the colorful eggs.
Try various breeds for your backyard flock. If you want both meat and egg layers, I recommend including dual-purpose chickens like the Leghorn, and meat chickens like the Plymouth Rock. A flock of three to four hens gives a family of four an adequate amount of eggs but, I always have a flock of ten, usually more.