The 3 Best Breeds for Beginning Chicken Keepers

If you want to start keeping chickens, consider these 3 breeds first.

Caption here. By: normack
Keeping chickens is once again a popular pastime, thanks to the urban hen movement. By: normack

Are you thinking about sharing your backyard with a flock of chickens? You’re not alone.

Backyard chicken keeping is a pastime that continues to grow in popularity. And it’s no wonder — the so-called “urban hen movement” means you get oodles of farm-fresh eggs, happy chicken chatter, nutritionally rich garden compost and bug catchers on the job 24/7.

Below are 3 go-to breeds for those wishing to get their wings wet in the wonderful world of chicken keeping. They’re all heritage or “traditional” breeds and have been foraging this great land for centuries.

Buff Orpington

Caption here. By: Elaine Giadone
Buff Orpington chickens are known for their adaptability and cold-weather tolerance. By: Elaine Giadone

Buff Orpingtons are a beginning chicken keeper’s dream come true — they’re friendly, gentle and sociable. A quieter breed in general, these chickens will often blend into the background of your flock.

Don’t underestimate the Buff Orpington’s quiet gentle nature, though, because this breed will step up to the top of the pecking order and rule the roost — gently but effectively.

My Buff beauty, Bea, is the perfect example of a lady who knows how to rule with a gentle wing. She’s always on the job and focused on keeping her flock happy and safe. With her signature light-as-a-feather peck at the first sign of bullying, she keeps flock activity under control.

They love keeping a watchful eye on their flock. This quality is probably what makes them such exceptional Mother Hens. It’s also what makes them one of the most broody breeds. My Emily is a broody heavyweight champion — she goes through phases where she tries to camp out in her favorite nesting box. Unfortunately, it’s her siblings’ favorite nest box, too. With a little redirecting on my part, though, all is well once again.

Boasting a good egg production of about 250 eggs per year on average, an excellent tolerance to cold weather and an adaptable comfort level, whether confined to a coop and run or free-ranging the day away, Buff Orpingtons make a great addition to any beginner flock.

Caption here. By: Eric Isselee
Black Australorps are hardy chickens that produce an average of 250 eggs a year. By: Eric Isselee

Black Australorp

Featuring a striking blend of deep black and flashy emerald-colored feathers with matching black beaks and smoky gray legs, family-friendly Black Australorps are fabulous. They’re also active, genial and charming.

According to Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis, co-authors of Keeping Chickens: The Essential Guide to Enjoying and Getting the Best from Chickens, “Australorps are easy to keep and become very tame, so they make good pets for children.”

Hailing from the Land Down Under, these feathery Aussies can be quite the characters.

Enter Abigail. Abby is a vocal gal and, as fate would have it, crows. As is typical in an all-girl flock, a hen may take on the role of a rooster by crowing. My other Australorp, Annie, is curious and busy. When Annie was barely out of her chick fluff, she actually pecked my pearl earring from my ear. I haven’t seen the earring since; nor did I search for it among, well, you know.

Although these black beauties may go broody, it’s infrequent. This breed is hardy, often continuing to lay large brown eggs through the winter, filling up your egg baskets with a whopping 250 eggs on average.

Even though we sometimes awaken with a crow and I have a lone pearl earring in my jewelry box, I adore my Australorps for their sweet, strong and curious nature.

Barred Plymouth Rock

Caption here. By: Barb Hauxwell
Barred Plymouth Rock chickens are generally calm and pleasant to have around. By: Barb Hauxwell

Among the most beloved chicken breeds, Barred Plymouth Rocks are known for their quiet, curious temperament and are avid, happy-go-clucky explorers.

Barred Rocks rarely stir up trouble. They’re the ultimate middle-of-the-road chicken and typically get along well with most feathery siblings. My Sadie and Sophie spend most days quietly cooing among my flock or wandering in search of the perfect dust-bath spot. I love this about them — they’re just easy.

This breed is extremely hardy against the cold, rarely broody and lays an average of 200 large brown eggs per year.

Barred Rock roosters make excellent flock mates. They will lead and protect, and are — for the most part — more calm and pleasant than the typical roo.

Honorable-Mention Breeds

  • Rhode Island Red: Rhodys are known for their high egg production.
  • Delaware: Adding one of these to your flock will greatly serve conservation efforts — this breed is listed as threatened on the Livestock Conservancy.

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a 5-part series on chicken keeping for beginners. Next, we offer 5 Simple Tips for a Healthy Flock of Chickens.

Karen Doll

View posts by Karen Doll
Karen Doll is a freelance writer based in eastern Pennsylvania. She enjoys writing about homeschooling, chicken keeping and pets, gardening, health and wellness, and parenting. She and her husband, David, have 2 grown children — Emily and Jeremy and 3 cats, Kitty, Boo, and The Bean (a.k.a. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

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