Chicken Breeds - know 'em and love 'em

Chicken breeds various tremendously in color, shape, size and design of plummage.

If you're interested in knowing more about chicken breeds, then this is the right place. Whether you're into meat and eggs for frugal living or a show bird for fun, there is a chicken that's right for you.

There are tiny chickens, feather-footed ones, chickens that look like they're wrapped up in a feather boa, and those that are all frizzled up like they're constantly wind blown.

There are also breeds of chickens that wear a "top hat." I'm not kidding you one bit.

Whether it's food or fun, you're likely to find a chicken that's right for you.

The four main categories of chickens are:

  • meat birds
  • layers
  • dual purpose birds
  • fancy show birds

These general types of birds are found across a variety of chicken breeds.

Meat Birds

Are you interested in chickens for meat? If so, the Cornish X (cross) is probably your best bet. They are a cross breed that grows extremely fast. You can watch them grow daily. That's how fast they grow. Again, I'm not kidding.

They make a very nice bird for the table. The chickens you buy packaged in the store are most likely Cornish X that have reached the age of nine weeks.

Yes, only nine weeks. That tells you just how fast the bird grows. This is perhaps the most amazing food producer of all the chicken breeds. It's bred for only two purposes, eating and being eaten. The Cornish X can be allowed to develop longer and it will grow larger, but you risk having more stringy breast meat.

Of all the chicken breeds, the Cornish Cross hybrid is by far the best meat producer.

If you're interested in raising chickens for meat that resemble small turkeys, let your Cornish X grow to 12 weeks or more. Fully dressed, they will weigh between 10 and 12 pounds.

One day when guests of mine saw the rib cage and breast meat of a Cornish X on the grill, they expressed their pleasure with the idea of being served grilled turkey for the evening meal. It took me a long time to convince them that it was a chicken.

If you're not raising chickens yourself, I suppose it's easy to assume that everything you see in the store is the way it is. That's absolutely not true.

I think life gets all the more real, the closer you get to it. Knowing more about the many variations of chicken breeds can be a real eye opener.

If you're interested in chickens for meat, the Cornish Cross is the one to focus on. Nothing else produces so much meat for the amount of time and feed invested.


There are chicken breeds meant primarily for eggs, and these are the birds that I stay focused on. If you're raising chickens to get chicken eggs, here are three chicken breeds I suggest.

The Black Australorp is a funny name for a beautiful big chicken. It is known as one of the heavy chicken breeds and is completely black. If you look at the feathers in the sunlight, you'll see a beautiful green luster.

When it comes to chicken breends for eggs, I like the Black Australorp, it's my favorite layer.

They're a nice calm bird, and a tireless layers of large brown eggs. These birds are among my favorites for eggs, and they make a nice large stewing chicken when you decide to replace them after their egg laying prowess diminishes after year two of production.

Another good egg layer is the Sex Link, whether you select black or buff. They are called Sex Link because they are easy to sex at birth just by their appearance.

Another good chicken breed for eggs is the Sex Link.

Photo right shows a buff Sex Link perched in a juniper tree near the coop. This chicken is calm enough to hold still for a photo.

I have always had buff Sex Links, and they are good steady layers of large brown eggs that have a rose hue to them. These birds will lay well even in cold weather and shorter days when other birds tend to slow down egg production.

They are also a gentle bird that often allows you to harvest eggs from underneath them as they sit on the nests. Once I was gathering eggs and a buff Sex Link turned her back to me while in the nest and started to lay an egg. I put my hand under her rump, and she laid the egg right in my hand!

Not many people can claim to have had such a fresh egg delivered with such a personal touch. These are the kind of moments of joy and wonder you can have if you're raising chickens.

Another of the breeds that you'll want if you're raising egg laying chickens is the White Leghorn. They are a smaller bird that lays a large to extra large white egg. They are a bit nervous and scare easy, and they can take flight over a 6 foot high fence, but they are good white egg layers.

White Leghorns are one of the great chicken breeds for white eggs.

The White Leghorn is one of the chicken breeds that are faithful layers even in cold weather and during days with limited light. I like their slender and sleek appearance. They are a smart looking bird, but don't let that fool you - they are still a bird brain at heart.

Here's a closer look at my favorite egg laying chickens.

Dual Purpose Birds

There are dual purpose chicken breeds for people who want both meat and eggs. If you're interested in an egg layer that is good on the dinner table or in the stew pot, then these are the chicken breeds to have in your flock.

The Barred Rock is well known as a breed for both eggs and meat. They are a large bird that lays good size brown eggs. They are a very attractive bird with a type of black and white checkered pattern, and they're relatively easy to work with. The Barred Rock is known as the most popular of all chicken breeds in America.

The Black Australorp is a good dual purpose bird. It lays well and is plenty large enough to eat. It is larger than the Barred Rock and is solid black.

The Buff Orpington is a cousin of the Black Australorp and is also a nice dual purpose bird. It lays large eggs faithfully, and is a heavy breed that will provide a nice source of meat. The Buff Orpington is a beautiful solid golden color, whereas the buff Sex Link is more of a rust color with many lighter colored feathers as well.

Here are various chicken breeds that are excellent for eggs, (left to right) the Black Australorp, two Buff Orpingtons, the Buff Sex Link, and two Barred Rocks.

Photo right shows a Black Australorp on the far left, to the right is a Buff Orpington, the two in the middle are buff Sex Links and on the far right are two Barred Rocks.

Rhode Island Reds are also known as a dual purpose bird. They lay large brown eggs and provide a nice size bird for the table.

Rhode Island Reds are one of the many chicken breeds that are multi-purpose, good for eggs and meat.

Photo left is a young Rhode Island Red. Young birds can look a little shabby and scrawny until they reach maturity. At maturity, they fill out nicely with feathers that look great and will keep them warm as well.

Regardless of the dual purpose chicken breeds you select, you'll always be a bit disappointed with the meat production unless you are planning on making a stew or soup. The commercial chickens available in the grocery store are a hybrid designed to turn out large and meaty, and that's usually not the case with a traditional chicken breed. Raising chickens like the Cornish X are your best bet if your focus is on roasted chicken, fried chicken or grilled chicken.

Fancy Show Birds

There are also chicken breeds that are meant as show birds. They aren't much for meat and eggs, but they sure are pretty to have around. Here are some breeds to choose from.

The Polish is one of the most unusual chicken breeds you'll find. It's a smaller bird with a large feather duster on its head. They are known as a "crested breed," but I still think it looks much like a feather duster.

The Polish tend to be a bit nervous, but they are fun to look at as they strut around with their headpiece. What a fancy hairdo they sport!

There are also chicken breeds that are simply for show, like this young Polish chicken with its unusual hairdo.

Photo left is a young black and white Polish chicken. They come in several variations of plumage and they are sure to be pleasing to the eye.

As a chick, this guy had what looked like a half size cotton ball on his head. What an odd looking bird, right from the start!

Being the practical guy that I am, I haven't messed with many of the chicken breeds meant for show, but you might be interested in the following show birds to add a little entertainment and style to your adventures in chickens. In most cases, males are going to be the best for showing off the color and feather characteristics of these chicken breeds.

Silkie - as the name would suggest, is a big ball of silky feathers that look more like fluffed up goose down than feathers. I understand they make good mothers for the eggs of other chickens that might not be inclined to sit on their own eggs. So, this breed of chicken is also useful when it comes to naturally hatching eggs.

Spanish Black White-Faced - a strikingly beautiful chicken that makes the best of its black feathers, white face and large red comb.

Andalusian chickens are blue and very showy with their large red combs.

Sumatras are black with a long bushy tail and almost no comb.

Phoenix has a very long tail that has to be about as inconvenient as a long tail of our own.

If you're interested in raising chickens for "show and tell," then you might want to check out the fancy chicken breeds at hatchery sites like Murray McMurray. They always have a wide variety of show birds to choose from.

If you're into raising chickens for show but don't necessarily want a large chicken, you might try the bantams. These are very small chickens when full grown, and they come in all sorts of colors. Just think of them as miniature chickens.

Regardless of your intentions, showing off or supplementing your source of food, there are many chicken breeds to choose from. It isn't hard to find one that you'll like and will serve your interests well.

Done with Chicken Breeds, take me back to Backyard Chickens

Part of the fun of chickens is knowing and raising different breeds. It's fun to have a flock with multiple purposes...eggs, meat and show.

Here are additional resources to help you in your quest for more variety when it comes to your flock of backyard chickens.