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Backyard chicken coops became increasingly popular during the pandemic as people scrambled to stay sane; and more recently, soaring egg prices have pushed “backyard chickens” to the top of search results everywhere as folks dream of becoming Egg Wealthy in the coming apocalypse. While raising backyard chickens will not save you any money once you factor in everything it takes to, you know, raise chickens, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still raise backyard chickens for many other reasons.
The eggs your chickens lay will almost certainly be better quality than the ones you buy at the store, and you’ll increase your overall independence with a flock. Plus, chickens are beautiful, many breeds make great pets, and even their shit is pretty useful. Before you start ordering chickens online, however, you should pause and think about exactly what kind of chickens you want in your backyard.
One vital thing to consider when choosing chicken breeds for your backyard egg factory is the climate. Different chicken breeds tolerate heat or cold to different extents, so a breed’s climate tolerance is a key consideration. Keep in mind, though, that even if you choose a breed that matches up with your region’s climate, you still have to provide some protections. Heat-tolerant breeds should still have access to plenty of shade and water, and cold-tolerant chickens should still have shelter where they can warm up. And in either case, if temperatures swing to extremes, you’ll need to ensure your chickens will be safe.
Best chickens for beginners
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Cold climate: Brahmas. Brahmas are big, burly chickens that are easy to handle. They’re gentle and people-friendly, reliably lay eggs, and are easy to source. If you’re just dipping a toe into the chicken world and live in a cooler area, Brahmas will settle in and do their thing without fuss.
Warm climate: Polish. Some folks will argue on this one, as Polish chickens are considered skittish because their rather ridiculous head feathers obscure their vision, making them easily startled. But they’re actually pretty friendly and chill chickens, especially if you trim those feathers so they can see you coming. Plus, they are some of the most unusual and conversation-generating of all the chicken breeds.
Best chickens for pets
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Cold climate: Silkies. Silkies aren’t great at laying eggs (you can expect fewer than 100 a year), but they’re pretty chickens, with gorgeous feathers and a wide range of colorings. Plus, Silkies are friendly, pettable, and gentle enough to have around kids. If your main motivation for backyard chickens is having a pet in your chilly backyard, these are great choices.
Warm climate: White Leghorn. The inspiration for the classic cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, these plump birds look like the generic chicken icon in real life with their white plumage and red combs. They’re a bit shy but gentle, do well in warm climates, and are pretty smart—meaning you and any kiddos can actually train them to do tricks, if you’re persistent.
Best chickens for eggs
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Cold climate: Black Australorp. These large, dark-colored chickens are pretty friendly and easy to care for, but their claim to fame is their champion egg-laying. A cross-breed between Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds, they will come pretty close to daily eggs if properly cared for.
Warm climate: Deathlayers. The most metal of all bird names has been conferred on these unassuming birds for a simple reason: Unlike most breeds, which will stop laying eggs at a certain age (typically about 4 years old), Deathlayers pump out eggs their entire lives. They’re not very friendly or cute, and they can be hard to find at hatcheries, but if your main motivation is eggs, they’re a sure bet.
Best chickens for dinner
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Cold climate: Buckeyes. If your plans for your backyard chickens involve the words “dumplings” or “fried,” Buckeyes are a good choice. They’re pretty easy to manage and are considered good cold-weather “dual-purpose” chickens that will give you some eggs while also being excellent broilers.
Warm climate: Rhode Island Reds. If you’re looking for some home-grown, hormone-free chicken for your dinners and you live in a relatively warm climate, the classic Rhode Island Red (the state bird!) will do nicely. Another “dual purpose” chicken, these are hardy, independent birds that make great broilers but also produce a lot of eggs every year.
Best chickens for small yards
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Cold climate: Marans. Marans aren’t good pets—they’re not friendly—but they’re decent egg-layers (you should expect about 200 a year), and they thrive in a small space. If you have a postage-stamp-sized backyard to work with, a couple of Marans will be perfectly happy to lay eggs for you.
Warm climate: Dominique. If your tiny backyard lies in warmer climates, the venerable Dominique pumps out eggs and tolerates confinement, so you can keep them cooped up without trouble. If you don’t have a lot of space for “free range” chickens, these will do nicely.
Best chickens for calm and quiet
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Cold climate: Buff Orpington. If your house is in a colder climate and you have a lot of neighbors right next door to you, the Buff Orpington is a large, dual-purpose chicken that is so quiet it is easy to forget they’re even there. If you don’t want your sleep interrupted or complaints from the rest of the block, choose these chickens for your backyard farm.
Warm climate: Sussex. These are big birds, but don’t be fooled by their size. The Sussex is a calm, happy-go-lucky breed that won’t go around tearing things up or making a lot of noise. They’re also pretty gentle and friendly, and they lay a lot of eggs.
Best low-maintenance chickens
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Cold climate: Barred Rocks. These zebra-patterned chickens are low-key and easy to care for. They’re very clever, don’t get excited, and handle the cold with aplomb. These are about as close to set-it-and-forget-it chickens as you can get, as long as you do the basic stuff (like feed them).
Warm climate: Isa Browns. In warmer weather, Isa Browns will get to the business of laying eggs and enjoying life pretty fast and without a lot of effort on your part. If you want to just “have chickens” without making them your life’s work, these are an excellent choice.
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If you don’t know the phrase “broody chickens,” you will learn it shortly after acquiring some. A broody hen has decided that she wants her eggs (and, often, the eggs of other hens) to hatch because she wants some chicks. Even if there’s no male chicken around to fertilize the eggs, she will sit on them endlessly in an attempt to hatch them—and stop laying eggs in the process. If you don’t want to deal with that, you can choose breeds that are least inclined to brood.
Cold climate: Hamburgs. These visually striking chickens need space to roam and don’t make for very friendly guests, but they almost never get broody, so if that’s your main concern in a colder climate, these are your prickly, restless choice.
Warm climate: Minorcas. In warmer spots, the large-eared Minorca is a chicken that wants nothing to do with being a mother, and so seldom gets broody. They’re not the greatest egg-layers, but the eggs they do produce are absolute units—easily among the largest eggs you’ll get out of a backyard coop. They like to free-range and hunt for their food, but they are friendly and easy to deal with.