When you embark upon keeping chickens there is much to learn at first and one of the most important things is deciding which chickens you want.
There are birds that lay eggs, there are meat birds, and birds that do both (dual purpose).
With that in mind we have compiled a list of the most suitable hens for families or beginners.
There are several good breeds that do not make our list simply because they can be difficult to deal with or harder to handle.
You will find some of our old time favorites here along with some you may not be quite so familiar with.
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The Australorp has a lovely calm, gentle and docile disposition.
They actually are quite shy birds at first, but once they bond with you they will be your friend for life.
She is an egg laying powerhouse and on our list of best egg layers that will lay in the region of 300 light brown eggs per year. The standard hens weigh between 6-8lb, but with some difficulty you can find bantam sized Australorps.
They tolerate cold climates well but will need shaded areas in hot or humid environments.
The Barnevelder comes from Holland.
She is a beautiful little hen that will lay you lots of brown eggs (around 4 brown eggs every week).
They are dual purpose hens so can be used for meat if desired.
She has a mellow disposition, is calm and non demanding. The hens can tolerate confinement well enough but do enjoy free ranging. They are friendly and talkative, but quietly so.
Just like the Australorp, the Barnevelder is also tolerant of a wide variety of climates.
Brahmas are the gentle giants of the poultry world.
They are easy to handle, friendly and docile.
In the egg laying department she will lay 3-4 large eggs each week, and they are said to lay through winter when everyone else is taking a break. They are family friendly, but their size might intimidate a small child to start with. No need to worry though as they are lovers not fighters.
Just remember if you choose these birds you may need to alter your coop a little to accommodate their size.
The Buckeye is another all American bird.
She comes from the Buckeye state (Ohio) and is named so because of the rich mahogany coloring of her feathers.
This is a dual purpose hen and will lay 3-4 large brown eggs each week.
They are calm, easy to handle and very friendly. So friendly in fact that you are likely to trip over them as they congregate around you!
She will tolerate confinement well. If you allow them to free range, make sure to pen them in a secure area as they have a tendency to wander.
Once the darling of the broiler industry, the Delaware has fallen out of favor with the poultry industry. Like many of her kind she cannot lay enough eggs for them.
However in recent years she has risen in popularity among backyard chicken lovers. Delawares are a low maintenance breed that do not require anything special – food, water and shelter and they are ready to roll.
In a backyard setting she will happily lay 4 jumbo eggs per week for you.
Generally they are a bit noisy but are happy chickens with a sense of curiosity about everything.
Overall they are a friendly, hard working chicken that tolerates a wide range of climates.
Around since the 1750s, the Dominique is one of the oldest American heritage breeds.
Until recently she was in danger of being lost forever. However in conjunction with the Livestock Conservancy, dedicated breeders have brought this charming hen back from the brink.
She is a quiet and docile hen with a lovely, friendly temperament.
Although they are not much of a lap chicken, they do not object to being picked up and cuddled briefly.
She lays medium sized light brown eggs around 3 times a week.
The Dorking is an old English favorite.
However in recent years she has fallen out of favor which is a shame as they are a lovely bird.
They are easygoing birds that are calm and peaceful, so peaceful that more assertive breeds may pick on them.
As an egg layer she will give you 3-4 large brown eggs each week.
They are a hardy breed and can tolerate a wide variety of climates. But if you live in the frozen north, you may need to protect the comb with some Vaseline.
The Easter Egger is a mix of several breeds.
Nevertheless she is hugely popular and some of that popularity has to do with colored eggs. The Easter Egger carries a blue gene, so when she lays an egg it can be brown, blue, green, pink or tinted depending on the parentage of the bird.
She will give you 4 of these lovely eggs each week.
They are very friendly, do well with beginners and are perfect for small backyards.
Originally from France, the Faverolles is a very ancient heritage breed.
They are fluffy and have a beard, muffs, feathered legs and five toes – not the standard four!
They are a cuddly, lovable hen that is enthusiastic and curious about life. A Faverolles will talk to you but they are soft talkers so they won’t disturb the neighbors!
They are considered a dual purpose breed and will give you around 4 light brown eggs each week.
Hybrids such as Golden Comets, Black Stars and Cinnamon Queens are some of the best layers around.
They will easily give 5+ eggs each week.
You should expect a chicken that is friendly, gentle and docile with a good attitude towards life. They are talkative but not very loud, so urban living would suit them well. Some are friendly enough to become lap or pet chickens and will happily eat from your hand or sit in your lap.
The only downside to the hybrids is that they rarely live over 4 years.
Originating from the area around Livorno (Italy), the Leghorn is no slouch when it comes to egg laying.
The white variety is the best layer but can be a bit flighty, so we recommend the brown Leghorn bird. The brown Leghorn lays very well (3-4 brown eggs each week) but her temperament is much more relaxed.
They are not a cuddly bird by any means and this makes people think they are unfriendly. They are friendly but they are also independent.
A French heritage bird that has the reputation of laying the darkest color egg!
There are several different varieties of Marans and the Black Copper variety seem to be in favor right now.
They lay chocolate colored eggs.
In general, Marans will lay about 4 large brown eggs per week.
They are friendly for beginners, but not a cuddly lap bird.
This chicken is a heritage bird that never really received the acclaim of their cousin (the Rhode Island Red).
The red color of the New Hampshire is a bit lighter than the Rhode Island Red and tends to go whiter during the summer months.
She has a bit of a reputation for being a feed hog, but if you allow them to free range they will gather much of their diet from the garden.
In the egg department they will give you 4+ large brown eggs weekly.
This English hen has a worldwide reputation of being a good egg layer and table bird.
She is large and fluffy, affectionate and queenly in her behaviors. She will rarely run anywhere, preferring a stately glide across the lawn. Orpingtons are known as a gentle breed and are calm and friendly to their humans. They are a bit prone to broodiness, which is good news if you want to raise your own chicks.
She will lay 3-4 large brown eggs every week for you.
Another old American breed, the Plymouth Rock has been used as a foundation bird for many of the hybrids of today.
Although she is not productive enough for the poultry industry, she will give you around 4+ brown eggs each week – enough for most families.
She is friendly, mellow, gentle and has a calm personality.
They are an easy going bird requiring little else other than the basics of life (feed, water and shelter).
Rhode Island Red
This is possibly the most well known breed of chicken in the world!
The saying goes “If you do not know what breed to get, get a Rhode Island Red“, as you cannot go wrong.
She is a fairly outgoing hen that is always happy and curious. They can thrive in conditions where others would simply survive.
A very undemanding bird, the Rhode Island Red is an excellent bird to raise for beginners.
She is a good layer, producing 4+ large brown eggs each week.
The Sussex is a steady and dependable hen.
They were originally bred more for meat than eggs, but became known as a good dual purpose bird for small farms and homesteads.
The Sussex will give you 4-5 light brown eggs each week.
There are several varieties the speckled and light being the most popular.
An American beauty, the Wyandotte has some stunning plumage varieties.
They are quite friendly with humans but stand-offish with other birds preferring their own kind.
Wyandotte can be a bit noisy so if you have close neighbors they may not be your best choice.
They are a good sized hen and will lay 3-4 large brown eggs every week into the winter months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I get chicks?
Farm stores usually sell chicks 2 or 3 times a year, but their stock can be limited in choices. Hatcheries put out catalogs every year and also have an internet presence so you can choose which birds you want.
How much do chickens cost to buy?
The exact cost will vary from breed to breed, but generally all of the breeds mentioned here can be bought for under $5 per bird.
Do my chickens need a coop?
If you want your birds to have the best chances of not only surviving but thriving, then yes they need a coop to live in.
Some of these breeds are heritage birds with a long history that are now endangered and getting some for your coop may help to save the breed from extinction.
Make sure the breed you like does what you want it to.
It is no good buying pretty Sultan chickens if you want lots of eggs – you will be lucky to get one egg per week from a Sultan!
All of the birds mentioned here today have good attitudes, are docile and are great additions to an existing flock or for beginners.
Do your research as time spent reading about different breeds and their needs will translate to less problems along the way.
Which breed did you pick? Let us know your favorite in the comments section below…