Farm Animals as Pets

The Best Backyard Chicken Breeds

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Working in a small biotechnology company, Leah enjoys gardening and raising chickens in Western New York.

Choosing the Right Chickens for a Micro Flock

While commercial egg farms select hen breeds based solely on productivity and uniformity of egg color, a backyard chicken keeper must consider a wider range of traits when creating a small flock. Most backyard chickens exist in small flocks and are used to produce eggs for a family. The following traits are desired in backyard hens:

A friendly personalityExcellent egg productionLack of flightinessHardiness in hot and/or cold weather

A backyard chicken keeper may also select hens to preserve heritage breeds and to obtain unusual egg colors.

7 Best Breeds for Your Back YardBarred Plymouth RockBuff OrpingtonSilver Gray DorkingWyandottesEaster EggersBlack AustralorpsMarans

Each of these breeds is described fully below.

Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Plymouth Rock is a heritage breed (first exhibited in 1849) and an excellent producer of large brown eggs. The hen has barred black-and-white feathers and a single comb. The Barred Rock is a dual-purpose bird and can be used for meat and for egg production.

Personality: These chickens are cold hardy and very friendly with their human owners. Barred Rocks are not flighty and will be content in a backyard setting. In addition, this breed is not extremely aggressive to other chickens—this is important when dealing with a small number of hens.

Egg Laying: Barred Rocks can be expected to lay 200-280 eggs per year. Hens should start laying between 16-20 weeks of age. As with most hens, egg production will decrease over the winter months. For backyard flock owners who would like to keep egg production steady, artificial lighting over the winter months will help to keep egg production rates steady.

Buff Orpington

The Buff Orpington is a British breed and is one of the best breeds for a family flock. This chicken is extremely friendly, docile, and lays large light brown eggs. These birds are exceptionally cold hardy, but may not do as well in extremely hot climates. Another dual-purpose breed, these hens are very large and will weigh 7-8 pounds (3.2-3.6 Kg) at maturity.

Personality: "Big Buffs" have a tendency to become broody, which can be a nuisance to some backyard owners. These hens are excellent mothers and the broodiness can be an advantage when new chicks are ordered, as a broody hen will raise new chicks as her own.

Egg Laying: The Buff Orpington will start to lay eggs at approximately 20-24 weeks of age. Watch for signs of imminent egg-laying, such as squatting, singing the "egg song," and the comb and wattles obtaining a red color. This breed will lay 200-280 eggs per year.

Silver Gray Dorking

These hens were introduced to Britain from the Roman Empire and have five toes on short legs.

Personality: An endangered and old breed, the Silver Gray Dorking is known as an extremely friendly chicken. Similar to the Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings have a tendency to go broody. While Dorkings will not stray far from home, they do like to roost in trees (an interesting feat for a chicken with short legs)! These hens are so docile they may be subject to pecking and injury from more aggressive breeds.

Egg Laying: Dorkings lay medium sized cream colored eggs. They are good layers, averaging about 175 eggs per year. They are a dual-purpose bird.


Wyandottes come in many different colors and patterns. Silver Laced Wyandottes are the most frequently seen, but Columbian, Penciled, and Blue-Laced-Red varieties are also observed. These hens are dual-purpose and have a rose comb. They are cold hardy and large (7-8 pounds).

Personality: They have variable personalities—some hens may be friendly and get along with their flock-mates. Others may become dominant and aggressive toward other hens in the flock. The majority of Wyandottes are fairly easy-going and should mix well with most backyard flocks.

Egg Laying: Wyandottes lay approximately 275 large brown eggs per year.

Easter Eggers

While this breed is not a heritage breed, they are a fun addition to a backyard flock. Easter Egger chickens are not a heritage breed and are not pure-bred chickens. They are a mixed breed, generally bred to produce colorful eggs. These chickens often have a beard and a muff, characteristics from the pure-bred Araucana chickens used in the breeding process.

Personality: Easter Eggers tend to be friendly and curious, and are easy to tame.

Egg Laying: Depending on the hatchery or breeder, Easter Eggers may be bred to produce green, blue, or "pink" (light tan) colored eggs. Most hatcheries and breeders sell blue or green laying Easter Eggers. The eggs are beautiful and unique. The egg color can also be a selling point for those who wish to sell eggs from their hens. They lay approximately 200 extra-large eggs per year.

Black Australorps

This Australian breed was developed from Black Orpingtons and is another dual-purpose chicken.

These hens have black feathers with a green iridescence in the sunlight. They are large birds and will weigh 5-7 pounds at maturity. These hens mature quickly and will begin laying at approximately 16 weeks of age.

While the adult hens are entirely black, chicks are hatched with black and white down. Some early chick feathering may include some white feathers, which will fall out at the first molt.

Egg Laying: An Australorp set the egg-laying record, laying 364 eggs in 365 days. While this feat hasn't been repeated recently, these hens are excellent producers of large light brown eggs.


Due to an import ban, the genetic stock of this breed suffers from a lack of diversity in the United States. This is a rare breed.

These chickens are cold-hardy and calm. They are one of the rarest chicken breeds in the United States, though they are common in France. Most Marans will have feathered legs, though there are clean-legged varieties available. The French Poultry Standard states Marans should have feathered legs.

Egg Laying: Maran eggs are highly sought after, as they are often so dark they appear to be chocolate in color! Some Marans lay darker eggs than others, with the Black Copper Maran laying extremely dark brown eggs. Mature hens are 5-6 pounds and lay over 200 dark chocolate brown eggs per year. For the darkest eggs, seek out a breeder working to improve the breed's egg color.

Chicken Characteristics
BreedHardinessEgg ProductionEgg ColorEgg Size

Barred Rock

Cold Hardy

Very Good



Buff Orpington

Cold Hardy

Very Good



Gray Dorking

Cold Hardy





Cold Hardy

Very Good



Easter Eggers

Cold Hardy

Very Good

Variable (Blue, Green, or Pink)

Extra Large


Cold Hardy





Cold Hardy

Very Good

Dark Chocolate Brown


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A Buff Orpington hen.

1 / 4Benefits of Backyard HensChickens given access to pasture produce eggs with 2-3 times more Omega-3 fatty acids than commercially produced eggs.Hens will recycle table scraps, reducing the amount of garbage that goes to a landfill.Hens produce manure. When composted, the manure creates a fantastic fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens.Chickens as pets teach children about the food supply chain. Hens are fun to watch, and are one of the few pets that give something back (eggs)!Which Breed Is Best for You?

Any of the breeds listed above are fantastic for a small flock. Most chicken owners have more than one breed of chicken, though some will specialize in a single breed. Our family has a small flock of Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, and Black Australorps. This mix of chickens produces a large quantity of eggs and is personable (and friendly with our children).

There are many different chicken breeds, and all provide entertainment with the benefit of healthy, protein-packed eggs!

The Best Chicken BreedsQuestions & Answers

Question: Is it difficult to introduce new chicks to an established flock of 3?

Answer: Introducing new chicks is always a difficult task, but not impossible. Ensure the chicks are old enough (and big enough) to integrate with the new flock - I would not introduce 2-week old chicks to an established flock of mature chickens. Wait until the chicks have all of their adult feathers and are of an appropriate size to fend off any potential attacks by the established chickens. Slowly introduce the new members by placing them side-by-side with the existing flock (use chicken wire or another see-through barrier). You want the existing flock to be able to see, but not touch, the new chickens. After this has been done and no aggression observed, remove the barrier and keep a sharp eye out for aggression. If aggression is observed, you will need to separate the new chickens and try again. Keep trying and eventually, the flock should integrate. Please note that there will always be some aggression, as the introduction of new chickens will cause the pecking order to be re-established. Having a rooster can sometimes be a help with this, as the rooster is always the "alpha." In an all-hen flock, the dominance of the top hen is sometimes challenged.

© 2014 Leah Lefler


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:

I really want a red-laced blue Wyandotte, Mackenzie! I am planning for new chicks next year and am trying to decide on breeds. I really want some crested legbars (blue eggs), wyandottes, and a lavender orpington!

Erin on August 10, 2020:

You say Marans whether it is a plural or not it is always Marans not Maran because they originate from Marans in France.

Mackenzie Perkins on July 15, 2020:

I love the Wyandottes chickens there beautiful.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 29, 2014:

Ann1Az2, I love our chickens. We have an Australorp, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Buff Orpingtons. I had the option to get a Spangled Hamburg from a friend, but they aren't fantastic layers and they are flighty, so the chicken wouldn't have fit in well with our current flock. They are quite easy to care for!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on September 29, 2014:

Makes me wish I was living in an area that permitted chickens. These are pretty and I love the dark brown eggs from the Marans. Thanks for sharing this info. If we ever do move into a place of our own, I'm planning on getting some chickens. I'd like to find the rarer breeds just to help out with the endangerment of them.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 27, 2014:

We certainly love our chickens, Rosetta! We have a hatchery within driving distance that has almost every chicken breed I have ever heard of - but we do not have room for unlimited chickens. I keep telling my husband that we could easily accommodate 3-4 more! Marans, Cream Legbars, and Easter Eggers are on my wish list!

Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on August 26, 2014:

We have about 100 chickens on our small farm, and love them all. Our newest members are Wyandottes, Sussex and Leghorns. We've been trying to find Australorps and Marans for a couple of years now with no luck (and we're in France). There's something special about chickens, isn't there?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 25, 2014:

We have a chicken tractor built out of PVC pipe and netting - it works very well, though I am still nervous about a neighbor's dog getting into it. I really can't wait until our run is built! We're working on it this week.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 25, 2014:

No I don't free range mine either but their run now is made of well framed (I use trees as much as I can to nail it too) bird netting; so I can give them a much bigger place. I could free range them but when I tried they just wanted to go everywhere; you can't teach them boundaries! lol

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 25, 2014:

I have five chickens, too, Jackie! I want more, but we only have an acre and we figured five was enough. I really do want a few more, though - I really want to get a Cream Legbar, but they are still very expensive (almost $50 per chick). I also want the Marans! We have a compost bin, but a lot of our compost seems to "melt" away into the soil underneath it.

I am so worried about hawks - we aren't going to free range ours (unless I am outside with them). I work part-time, so they'll be in a chicken run when I am at work. We are trying to build a predator-proof run - wish us luck!

Melissa Knight from Murfreesboro, TN on August 25, 2014:

I'm thinking about getting some chickens and this has really helped me! Thank you so much for the really interesting hub!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 24, 2014:

I just have the five and they keep me hopping. I save the manure too but if I don't get it out of the lot immediately after raking their lot they scatter it so fast it looks like someone stole it! It is just nowhere! They cannot stand a pile of nothing! lol

I had a French hen years ago with babies but a hawk got her and all but one baby. She was so beautiful.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

ok thank you! ;)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

My cousin has chickens in the Bay Area - not sure how far outside the city she lives - and has a Barred Rock and a Buff Orpington that do well. As long as you are not in a desert, the breeds listed above will be fine. A week or two at 100+ is tolerable as long as you can find a way to cool them off. There are several tricks for cooling off a hot chicken - temporary fans, creating small puddles, etc. My chickens have been fine in the 90 degree temperatures we had over the weekend - we watch their behavior and adjust accordingly. If they are standing in the sun and panting, we move them into the shade.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

We live in the far eastern part of the San Francisco Bay area. Average summer temps are in the mid 80's to mid 90's. We will get perhaps a week or two (not both together) of triple-digits up to about 102-3.

It's why we moved here from the City--got tired of freezing to death all summer in SF. ;)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

It really depends on how hot your summers get, DzyMsLizzy - Barred Rocks and Easter Eggers could easily withstand temps in the 90's... but desert temperatures are quite a bit more difficult for these breeds. If you have sustained temperatures over 100 degrees, you will need to find a way to help them cool down (misters, etc.) - there are hot weather breeds (like the Egyptian Fayoumi), but these chickens aren't known as being quite so "friendly." It depends on what you are looking for in a backyard chicken - if you are looking for friendliness along with egg-laying, I would go with a Barred Rock or a White Leghorn. They are both heat tolerant. If you live in a climate like Phoenix, Arizona, however - I would look for a desert breed like the Fayoumi or a Sumatra. They aren't as prolific for laying eggs, though.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

So, would the cold-hardy breeds you've listed not do well in our summers?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, Dealforaliving!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

There are a few breeds that would do well in the south, Faith Reaper. The Barred Rocks can tolerate heat fairly well - they wouldn't do well in an extreme desert environment, but would be fine in the south. Easter Eggers do well in the heat, too. I have a friend in Alabama who raises most of the same breeds I do, and they fare well. Our summer temperatures hit the 90's (with high humidity) in Western NY and all of our breeds are fine.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Jackie, my friend's favorite chicken is a mutt. She has a little hen obtained from an Amish farm that has the best personality! Sometimes mutts make the best chickens! How many chickens do you have? I really love our little flock. We use the chicken manure on our gardens and our tomato plants love it!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, poetryman! Easter Eggers lay really cool eggs. The shells are so pretty!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

DzyMsLizzy, there are several heat tolerant breeds, but many are not very "friendly" (a characteristic prized by people who want pets out of their chickens). The heat tolerant birds are often a bit more flighty and some are of the game bird category, which means they can be a little more aggressive. We have all dual-purpose breeds in our flock, though we do not intend to eat any of them. Most of the calmer chicken breeds are dual-purpose - the larger chickens tend to be less flighty and more friendly. Even though a chicken breed might be labeled as "dual purpose," one is not required to use them for meat! All laying hens have a peak production of about 3 years. once they are past that age, they will lay less frequently (and eventually stop laying altogether). This is known as "henopause" in chicken circles.. once they stop laying, they are simply pets. It is common in our area to have a rotating flock - with some older (non-laying hens) slowing replaced by younger laying hens. Some people also cull older hens - it depends on one's personal preferences.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Swilliams, my little boy loves those overalls! He is outgrowing the legs, though - he is growing like a weed!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

There are so many interesting breeds - I wonder what the common breed in India is? It would be fun to acquire a breed from each country - a "United Nations" of chickens! I really want a Swedish Flower Hen, too, lobobrandon!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, SWilliams! Our Australorp was adorable as a young chick, but went through the ugliest "teenage" phase! Fortunately adult Australorps are gorgeous chickens (they have a green iridescent sheen to their feathers). Chicks are all adorable!

Nick Deal from Earth on August 24, 2014:

Congratulations! Very well written hub

Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 24, 2014:

Wonderful hub here. I loved reading about all of the different backyard chicken breeds. I would need to find some for very extreme heat here in the deep south and friendly with children, as we have our grands up all the time. Your photos are great and adorable too.

Congrats on the HOTD!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 24, 2014:

I got two other chicks; they are not what they said they were so I just haven't looked to see if they are muts or what and my Rhode Island Reds do have pecking order over them of course but the muts are beautiful and healthy and don't really pay them much mind. There are no feathers flying and they have been together for weeks now. They are all named and pets, lol, but I get 5 eggs a day.

poetryman6969 on August 24, 2014:

The chicks are cute. I like the idea of those Easter eggers.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD! Very interesting and well-presented.

I wonder, though, which breeds are heat-tolerant? You listed many as "cold hardy," but where we live, while we can get a few winter cold snaps down into the mid 30's, hot summers are more the issue. Temps vary between 80 and 104 degrees, with around 90 being average.

Also, as a (lacto-ovo) vegetarian, a 'dual purpose' breed is not of interest to me. It is only my husband and I, and I don't want roosters; have no interest in raising chickens; only want eggs.

A few friends of ours have chickens, and they are now saying they are not laying much anymore, as the are 3 or 4 years old. Is that all they last as layers? And then (for us) they would become just pets?

swilliams on August 24, 2014:

I also wanted to add that the little John Deere Denim overalls are super cute! Very adorable young man.

Brandon Lobo on August 24, 2014:

Leah, we had chicken in our backyard when I was younger at my grandmothers place. It's a faint memory, but I remember them being really fun to be around.

Hope you get yourself some black copper marans :) the ones we had were similar to your buff orpington hens. But wonder if it's the same breed here in India :)

swilliams on August 24, 2014:

What a unique Hub! There is a lady in my Zumba class that raises chicks so cute. The Australorp Chick is so adorable. Thanks for sharing voted up and tweeted out! Congrats on HOTD!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, Dirt Farmer! I love our chickens!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, thoughtfulgirl! There are many breeds of chickens - everything from blue-egg laying breeds to tiny bantam pets!

Jill Spencer from United States on August 24, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD, Leah! Great article.

Claudia Smaletz from East Coast on August 24, 2014:

I never knew there were so many different kinds of chickens, well, you learn something new everyday!

thoughtfulgirl2 on August 24, 2014:

Beautiful photographs to go with quite an interesting article:)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Jackie, I have heard mixed reviews on Rhode Island Reds. Some people love them and others think they're too aggressive in a mixed flock. I would guess that a flock of all Rhode Island Reds would be happy together. I wonder if the negative reviews come from people trying to keep Buff Orpingtons (a mild-mannered breed) with the RIR's? Rhode Islands are FANTASTIC layers, and are pretty red hens, too.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Scott, I agree. There is nothing better than a free-ranged, fresh chicken egg. The yolks are so bright and yellow (or orange), and the whites are so thick. Store-bought eggs are so watery and tasteless in comparison!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

What bad luck to have all 17 of your chicks turn out to be roosters, Pocono! Farm supply stores often sell chicks as "straight-run," which means you get chicks that don't have an identified gender. I have heard stories of some sellers trying to pawn off multiple roosters to an unknowing customer. There are a few ways to get chicks that have a high probability of being hens: 1) purchase a hen that has a sex-linked trait, as these chicks can be identified at hatching as male or female. 2) Order from a hatchery that offers gender-determination prior to shipping. The hatchery we purchased our chicks from offers a 95% guarantee that the ordered chicks will be pullets (female). 3) Buy started pullets, which are older chicks that have not started laying yet - these birds are sold when they are old enough for gender to be identified accurately. I hope you never need to use your chicken processing skills again!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Robin, I hope you give it a try one of these days! My poor husband was not sure about keeping chickens, but finally gave in and now we have a small flock. They are a lot of fun and are not very difficult to care for. They are also one of the only pets that reward your efforts with food!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

We love watching our chickens, melpor - they are so funny and have great personalities!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 24, 2014:

I got 3 Rhode Island Reds a year ago and they are just fantastic and lately I am getting a double yoke from one which is supposed to be one in a thousand! I have had 2 in just a few days. That is suppose to be bad (hormonal chicken) but they all seem happy to me! I would love the colored eggs though!

Scott A McCray on August 24, 2014:

Love the Black Copper Marans and those lovely dark eggs. My brother is breeding them along with several other varieties. Free ranged chickens produce the tastiest eggs...

A well-deserved Hub of the Day! Congrats!

John Fisher from Easton, Pennsylvania on August 24, 2014:

Interesting article. I made me reminisce about my youth, because when I was a young boy my father decided he wanted to raise some hens so we could have fresh eggs. Times were tough financially, and he was looking for ways to economize. So, he went to the local farm supply store and bought a bunch of baby chicks (17 of them as I recall). As they matured, we discovered that all 17 of them were roosters. We never did get any eggs, but I learned at a young age how to catch, decapitate, de-feather, and butcher a chicken. Thankfully, as skill I have not needed since then.

Robin from USA on August 24, 2014:

My husband really wants to keep chickens. If I ever give in to his desire, I'll be back to read this one again.

Melvin Porter from New Jersey, USA on August 24, 2014:

Very informative hub. I enjoyed reading it and I once lived on a farm with some of these chicks running around in the yard. Voted up and interesting.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Thank you, PegCole! We love our backyard chickens - we currently have a small flock of 5, but I would like to get a few Marans and Easter Eggers for next year.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

Craiger-m, we love having our own flock of chickens. They are not hard to care for, and fresh eggs are so much better than months-old store-bought eggs. I hope you are able to have a small flock some day!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

I am glad it was helpful to you, Kathy!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 24, 2014:

I don't currently have any Maran hens in my flock, lobobrandon, but I am desperate to obtain a few Black Copper Marans next year! They lay beautiful eggs!

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on August 24, 2014:

Congratulations on being awarded Hub of The Day! This article is truly deserving.

The Hatter from Great Britain on August 24, 2014:

My wife's family keep chickens and we get a regular supply of eggs. I would love to have a few of my own.

Kathy from Ireland on August 24, 2014:

This was really helpful, and a very interesting read, thank you!

Brandon Lobo on August 24, 2014:

The Australop hen looks really strong and sturdy! Never seen Maran eggs ever - I'd definitely think they were chocolate :D

A deserving hub won today, great job!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 15, 2014:

Thanks, chickenista! I have friends who have other breeds they enjoy - Leghorns, Dominiques, and Polish chickens top their lists. I love our chickens!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 15, 2014:

We REALLY love our Buff Orpingtons, teaches~ they are so friendly and have the softest feathers! Chickens are a great addition to any backyard (as long as they are allowed in the area you live in)!

chickenista on August 15, 2014:

This blog is so cool! Nice! I also have a blog about chickens if you want to check it out.... (It's obviously not as good as yours, though) BTW: All chickens are awesome!!!

Dianna Mendez on August 14, 2014:

When I do get my new home with land, getting some chickens is high on my list of priorities. Thanks for the advice and tips. I think I would love to go with the Buff Orpinton.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 13, 2014:

We go through a lot of eggs and live on an acre, so we decided to raise chickens this year. We love our Buff Orpingtons.. they are my favorite chickens so far. I do have one Barred Rock that is so friendly that she runs up and jumps on our hand when she sees us - they are really entertaining as pets. They are not very difficult to care for, either. I hope you are able to get a few chickens, PegCole!

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