Looking to round out your flock with the best egg-laying chickens? Not sure which breeds to add? This guide will walk you through picking the perfect high-production hens!
One of the best parts of raising backyard chickens is selecting the right breeds to add to your flock. But it is important to consider the size of the breed, environmental requirements, and overall temperament.
Don't forget to take into account whether or not your climate is suited for certain breeds. For example, cold hardy breeds do best in cooler climates while heat-tolerant breeds are more suitable for warmer climates.
Even if your main goal is consistent egg-laying abilities, you should really take into consideration each breed's needs before adding them to your chicken coop.
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Building Your Backyard Flock
Building a backyard flock is a fun and rewarding experience.
Not only will you get the benefit of fresh and delicious eggs, but you'll also have the opportunity to experience the amazing companionship of various breeds. From the gentle giant Brahma chicken to the friendly Buff Orpington to the exotic feathers of a Polish, there's something special to be discovered in each breed of poultry.
Choosing the makeup of your flock is an important decision that should reflect both your wants and needs as well as the birds'. Happy chickens lay happy eggs, I always say!
What Is A Hybrid Chicken?
A hybrid chicken is the offspring of two different breeds. Both breeds are selected for desirable traits and when bred together create chicks that demonstrate the best characteristics of both parents.
Usually, the parents of a hybrid chicken are a highly specialized breed. For example, breeding a high-production breed like a leghorn with a blue egg-laying Ameraucana can result in a high-output blue egger. Or meat birds, like the cornish cross, being bred to grow more muscle, faster, to increase feed conversion and earlier harvest dates.
Hybrid chickens will not breed true. The genetic recombination results of breeding these birds will create offspring that display some characteristics of each parent breed, but not necessarily in the way we want them to be expressed.
Hybrids differ from barnyard mix or backyard mix chickens because hybrids are selectively bred. Barnyard mix chicks are the result of many different types of chickens' random breeding.
Hybrid Egg Layers
Hybrid egg layers typically lay up to 300 eggs per year depending on the breed, environment, and diet. This makes them an excellent choice for chicken keepers who desire consistent and reliable performance from their laying flock.
Generally, hybrid laying hens are derived from breeding with the leghorn which increases their laying capacity but makes for a flighty, nervous bird that doesn't enjoy human interaction.
Because these birds are bred for laying, they maintain the characteristics of efficient layers, including the small frame. This means that once your hen has become spent, or slows down her laying, there isn't much or any meat to harvest from her frame.
What Is A Heritage Breed Chicken?
Heritage breed, or heirloom breed, chickens are the original and traditional breeds of domesticated chickens that were usually kept on small farms and homesteads. In order to be considered a heritage breed, the chick must be sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the 1960s.
These unique birds boast a number of different characteristics when compared to more modern hybrid varieties, including plumage, physical characteristics, and even egg color.
Heritage breed chickens tend to be more hardy and better adapted to living outside, capable of handling extreme temperatures and climates. They are also likely to have higher egg-laying capacity over their lifespan than hybrids and lay for a larger number of years, albeit at a slower pace. They can be quite vigorous foragers that provide natural pest control while they hunt for grubs and bugs in the yard or field.
Heritage chickens include some of the most popular laying chicken breeds, like; Plymouth Rock, Brahmas, polish, Jersey Giants, and cochins.
Further Reading: Livestock Conservancy Guide To Heritage Chickens
What Is A Dual Purpose Chicken?
A dual-purpose chicken breed is a breed that produces both eggs and meat. They don't lay eggs as well as a hybrid layer or grow as fast as a meat bird, but they grow larger than a layer and lay much better than meat birds.
There is considerable overlap between heritage breed chickens and dual-purpose chickens, like the Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island red, jersey giant, and Sussex chickens.
Don't be alarmed - just because the chicken is a dual-purpose bird, that doesn't mean it's not a good fit for your backyard flock. In fact, many of the most popular birds in smaller flocks are dual-purpose.
Dual-purpose birds are less likely to be flighty and skittish, their larger bodies make them hardier to cold weather climates (like mine!), they're generally excellent foragers, and generally lay between 200-250 eggs per year, while still providing ample meat later in their life cycle.
Best Egg Laying Chickens
The following breeds are my choices for the best layers for your backyard flock. They are laid out in order from least average eggs per year to most.
My list contains both hybrid chickens as well as heavy-laying heritage breed chickens - depending on your flock goals, you may prefer a heritage breed that lays a few fewer eggs than a hybrid, or you may prefer pure hybrids.
The Orpington is a large, fluffy chicken with a single upright comb, bred in late nineteenth-century England. It is most commonly found in buff color, but also available in less common colors. We actually have four beautiful lavender Orpingtons in our flock!
The breed is cold hardy due to its thick coat of feathers and has a very docile and mellow temperament. They are friendly and sociable with people and other flock members. Orpingtons can be prone to broodiness during the summer months.
Orpingtons usually start laying eggs around 20-24 weeks but some wait until closer to 30 weeks. They lay between 180 - 200 eggs per year and come in two strains; one bred for SOP (Standard of Perfection) and appearance first, and the second strain bred for egg laying first and appearance second. If eggs are your goal, look for the utility strain.
Wyandotte chickens are a popular choice for backyard flocks. They come in many colors, including silver-laced, golden-laced, buff, partridge, and blue. Wyandottes are not as affectionate as the barred rock chicken but they are still friendly and make great pets.
Wyandottes also have a good reputation for being calm and docile birds that do well with children. They are also known to be excellent mothers who take great care of their chicks.
These chickens are good foragers and can be quite hardy in cold climates. Wyandottes start laying eggs around 18 weeks of age and will produce around 200 cream or brown eggs per year.
New Hampshire Red Chicken
The New Hampshire Red Chicken is a breed of chicken developed in the early 20th century in the state of New Hampshire. It was bred from Rhode Island Reds, as a true dual-purpose bird, these birds are prized for their heavier meat production and lighter egg laying than their predecessor. New Hampshire Reds are characterized by their golden red/brown feathers. They tend to feather out and mature more quickly than Rhode Island Reds, making them an ideal choice for those who want their chickens to reach maturity faster.
New Hampshire Reds are known for being tame, friendly, and gentle, making them great pets. While they can be broody they make good mother hens, but the roosters tend to be aggressive so caution is advised when introducing them into a flock.
These chickens start laying around 18-20 weeks and produce an average of 200 light brown eggs per year, making them useful as a dual-purpose breed that produces more meat than eggs.
The Barred Plymouth Rock Chicken is an excellent bird for both seasoned and new chicken keepers! This classic American heritage breed has lovely black and white barred(striped) feathers, as well as a calm and friendly temperament.
Barred Rocks are easy to add to small or large flocks alike, but what really makes them stand out is their foraging abilities, making them excellent free-range birds. This breed's free-range foraging abilities further increase its value to backyard farmers, as it can help reduce your feed costs.
Depending on the individual bird's health and age, it's possible to get up to 220 peach-light brown eggs per year. They are also unlikely to go broody on their own so if hatching chicks is desired, an incubator will be needed.
Speckled Sussex Chicken
The Speckled Sussex is a beautiful breed of chicken. As their name implies, they are known for their unique feathers - dark brown and black with white spots on the tips. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, these feathered friends have a very gentle demeanor.
Speckled Sussex chickens are known to be calm and curious, rather than flighty or skittish. Those qualities plus their docile nature make them excellent pets and flock members.
While they can become broody in the spring, they're great at raising chicks and can help you grow your flock. They're also good foragers and free rangers.
The Speckled Sussex Chicken is an excellent choice for those looking to expand their egg production capabilities. These chickens start laying around 20 weeks and can lay up to 250 medium eggs with a creamy white shell per year.
Those in cold climates will appreciate that Speckled Sussex hens lay consistently, even in cold weather, where many breeds don't.
The Ameraucana chicken is popular among backyard farmers for its colorful feathers and beautiful blue-green eggs. These birds have distinctive muffs and beards with a pea comb, making them cold-hardy. As an added bonus, they are also known for being quiet and friendly.
These chickens start laying eggs later than many other breeds, usually around 25 weeks. But once they start producing, they can lay up to 250 eggs per year. Like the Speckled Sussex, Ameraucanas will continue to lay in cold weather but at a slower pace than during the spring and summer months.
If you're looking to add a high-production blue layer to your flock, I would recommend the Whiting True Blue.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Red chickens are large in size, boasting beautiful chestnut red feathers, and have either a single or rose comb. They are strong and hearty birds that love to forage and do their best in a varied environment that encourages them to explore to keep them happy and stimulated.
Rhode Island Red chickens are friendly, and not afraid of human attention, although they tend to be more assertive than other breeds - so it is best if they are kept away from a flock with other birds that have a docile nature.
Rhode Island Red chickens make excellent egg layers, capable of laying an estimated 250-300 eggs each year, starting anywhere from 18-24 weeks after hatching. The eggs produced by this breed will typically be large and light brown in color. If you're looking for a hardy chicken breed that consistently produces a great number of eggs then these are the birds for you! RIR may go broody.
The Austra White chicken is a popular dual-purpose breed developed in the 1990s by crossing the White Leghorn and Black Australorp chickens.
They are prolific layers, with hens producing up to 290 large white eggs per year. This makes them ideal for backyard chicken keeping or small-scale farming operations, where high egg production is an important consideration.
Despite their excellent egg-laying abilities, the Austra White is also suitable for meat production. They are heavy birds, with hens averaging around 5 pounds and roosters around 6.5 pounds. This means that they can be raised as both egg-laying and meat-production birds, making them a versatile addition to any flock.
One of the standout characteristics of the Austra White is their temperament. They have inherited the calm and friendly demeanor of the Australorp, and lack the flightiness of their Leghorn parents. This makes them an excellent choice for those who want a docile and easy-to-care-for chicken breed.
They are heat and cold-tolerant, making them well-suited to a variety of climates and environments.
However, it's important to note that the Austra White is a hybrid breed and cannot be bred together to produce offspring with the same characteristics. This can impact the sustainability of a flock in the long term.
White Leghorn chickens are a great choice if you're in the market for an attractive, efficient egg-laying breed. They have distinct white plumage, single comb, and yellow skin and legs. These small birds are known for being nervous and flighty as they tend to be independent birds that don't particularly like being handled or touched so they may not be the best breed if you're hoping for a friendly and domesticated flock.
These birds are not only efficient layers- they can lay around 300 eggs per year (about 5-6 each week) but they typically start laying at around 20 weeks old! Plus, they rarely go broody which makes them really desirable from a production standpoint.
If you don't need tame and friendly chickens but want tons of eggs consistently, then White Leghorns make a great pick.
The Golden Comet Chicken is a hybrid breed developed by crossing a New Hampshire Red Rooster with White Rock Hens. This cross produces sex-linked chicks at hatch, meaning that the males and females can be easily identified based on their color.
The hens are small in size with reddish brown feathers and an upright comb. Lighter color feathers, ranging from cinnamon to honey-colored, are also possible. These birds are friendly and relaxed, enjoying both human and flock companionship.
Golden Comets lay up to 300 eggs per year for the first two years of their life, but then taper off in production after that. They rarely go broody and make great egg layers for homesteaders or backyard chicken keepers who want consistent egg production in the bird's early life but due to the shorter laying span, they may not live up to expectations later in life.
Australorp chickens are a dual-purpose breed that was originally developed in Austria using black Orpingtons and were bred for egg production. These large black birds stand out with their bright red combs and wattles against raven black feathers.
Black Australorps are precocious and can start laying as early as 22 weeks. One of the standout traits of Australorp chickens is their egg-laying abilities, as they can produce up to 300 large light brown eggs per year! In fact, one Australorp hen is on record as having laid 364 eggs in 365 days!
Another great trait of Australorp chickens is their tendency to trend towards broodiness, making them good mothers, which is important for flock sustainability. I know of a black Australorp hen who is brooding over 80 chicks!
The ISA Brown chicken is a hybrid breed that was developed in France in the 1970s. It is a cross between Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn chickens, and it has become one of the most popular breeds for commercial egg production.
These birds are smaller than standard chickens, but they are still quite strong and resilient. They tend to look like their Rhode Island Red ancestors, with golden brown feathers and bright red combs.
ISA Browns are known for being friendly and personable birds that enjoy human interaction. They are curious by nature and get along well with other chickens in the flock. This breed is also quite winter-hardy, so they can withstand cold temperatures without issue.
ISA Browns start laying eggs at around 16 weeks of age, and they rarely go broody. They have an exceptional feed conversion rate, meaning they produce a large number of eggs with minimal food consumption; some ISA Browns can lay up to 320 large brown eggs per year and around 500 eggs within the first 2 years. That said, after 18-24 months their egg production tapers sharply.
Additionally, these birds are sex linked at birth—meaning that pullets (female chicks) and cockerels (male chicks) have different colored feathers—which makes it easy to identify them as soon as they hatch.
With its friendly personality and impressive egg production capabilities, this breed will be sure to bring joy to any backyard flock, but the laying longevity is not there with this bird as it can be with other non-hybrid layers.
Thoughts From The Coop:
If you're looking to build your backyard flock, there's a chicken out there for you! But don't forget to consider breed size, environmental suitability, and temperament when selecting which chickens to add to your flock.
Sometimes, the hen who lays the most eggs isn't the best fit for your flock if a hen who lays fewer eggs will thrive better in your coop!