The 5 Best Chicken Breeds for Your Homestead

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By Chris Leslie

Are you looking for the best chicken breed for your small farm, backyard, or homestead? One of these breeds is likely to be the perfect choice!

In this article, you’ll learn the origins and characteristics of five of the most popular and versatile dual-purpose birds available today.

There are hundreds of chicken breeds out there, from gamecocks first domesticated millennia ago to high-production industrial cross-breeds developed less than ten years ago, and choosing from this embarrassment of riches is one of the most fun parts of starting a backyard chicken flock.

First-time chicken keepers are often focused on chickens that lay lots of eggs as the best measure of a good homesteading breed. But there’s a lot more to the story than that. Hardiness, meat production, size, temperament, and broodiness can all affect a breed’s suitability for your farm and family.

Some homesteaders may also be invested in finding a heritage or endangered breed to preserve as a piece of living history. The breeds on this list tick all of these boxes and more, so read on to find the perfect bird for your homestead.  

Starting with baby chicks? Here’s everything you need to know.

Australorp

The Australorp currently holds the world record for most eggs laid by a hen in a single year (364!), but there’s a lot more to this Australian beauty than her (admittedly impressive) egg-laying skills. The name “Australorp” gives a pretty good clue as to the breed’s origins.

It was originally bred down under as an Australian version of the Orpington, a popular English layer. The modern-day Australorp is smaller and more productive than the Orpington, which has been pushed away from production into being more of a show breed.

Australorps gained popularity in the US in the 1930s because they were one-half of one of the most successful hybrids producers of the period. They are now beloved on homesteads for their steady production of large brown eggs and their utility as a dual-purpose bird.

Australorps are muscular and very active, producing delicious lean mean, especially if they’re allowed to free range. They are also noted for their calm, even-keeled temperament and for rarely going broody. 

Delaware

The story of the Delaware breed is a dramatic boom and bust that illustrates just how quickly industrial chicken production can move on to a new, more productive cross and all but eliminate the old favorite from existence.

Delawares were the favored broiler of industrial chicken companies on the American East Coast for about a decade, beginning from their inception in 1940. Within 20 years, however, they had been almost completely usurped by a more efficient hybrid breed, leaving the Delaware critically endangered even today.

Homesteaders and small farms are working to keep this breed alive, and they are indeed well worth preserving. In addition to their charms as a broiler, Delawares are reliable layers that produce 200-300 large brown eggs every year. They also have stunning white feathers with black bars and red combs, which have given the breed a new life as a show bird. 

(Want to can your chicken? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire or New Hampshire Red is essentially a specialized version of the more famous Rhode Island Red.

New Hampshire Reds were developed by the University of New Hampshire in conjunction with local farmers in the early 20th century by selectively breeding Rhode Island Reds for better broiler traits. The resulting bird is larger and grows faster than her predecessor. While both breeds are dual-purpose, the New Hampshire is the superior meat bird.

A full-sized standard rooster can reach almost 10 pounds; hens average around seven pounds. (Like most of the breeds here, the New Hampshire Red also exists as a smaller, bantam bird.) With antecedents in an egg-laying behemoth like the Rhode Island, it’s no surprise these birds are also regular layers, producing around 200 large brown eggs a year.

New Hampshires, however, aren’t the friendliest or gentlest of breeds. They can be aggressive with each other and are prone to going broody, which does make them excellent mothers. 

Plymouth Rock

Also called the Barred Plymouth Rock, this breed originated in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, in the mid-1800s. There are several different stories about their origins, but the most commonly cited antecedents are the Dominique or Dominiker, the oldest breed of American chicken, and the Java breed. In any case, the result was a beautiful dual-purpose bird noted for its striking barred (read: stripy) plumage, though other colors were developed later.

Through the end of World War II, it’s possible the Plymouth Rock was the most popular and widely kept chicken in American history, favored for their quality meat production and regular laying (about 250 large brown eggs a year). In fact, the Plymouth Rock was one of the first birds to be widely used for industrial-scale meat production. By the 1950s, much like the Delaware, it had been replaced by more efficient hybrids (bred from Plymouth Rocks) and eventually almost disappeared.

However, a good dual-purpose homesteader will always have fans, and the Plymouth Rock has recovered in recent decades. Their docile temperament makes them good mothers to their chicks and a good choice for people with younger kids. 

Rhode Island Red

The Rhode Island Red is one of the most iconic chickens of all time, and there’s good reason for their ubiquity in pop culture and on homesteads. Reds are a hardy, dual-purpose bird originally bred in Massachusetts and, of course, Rhode Island in the 1850s. Their namesake crimson feathers come from their Malay ancestors, one of several Asian breeds crossed with Italian Leghorns to produce this breed.

Because Reds were purpose-bred for small New England farmers, they are perfect for modern-day homesteaders. Modern strains, especially, are prolific layers, producing upwards of 300 large brown eggs a year. A heritage strain will lay closer to 200 eggs a year but makes up for it by laying (and likely living) longer and providing better meat. Whichever strain you choose, your hens are sure to have the big, sassy personalities this breed is famous for.   

There is no one “best” chicken breed for every homestead, but it’s hard to argue that these breeds aren’t among the cream of the crop! Do you have a favorite breed not listed here? Let us know what kind and why you like them in the comments.

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About Chris

Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including 3 Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.”

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  • I have owned all of these breeds except the Delaware. I love my Australorps. They’re very calm, quiet birds and tend to be more friendly than some other breeds.

  • I love my Rhode Island Reds. They have managed to survive the coldest Winters, and the hottest Summers, and they still provide eggs daily. I don’t care if they are not great “broilers.” I don’t think I could ever eat one; unless it’s “me or them.” I pray it never comes to that. Anyway, great article. Thanks, Chris!

  • I have Cochin and American Bresse. The Cochin are fantastic “foster mothers”, reliably hatching eggs from my Silver Appleyard ducks and also from from the A.B chickens, neither of which will reliably go broody. The Bresse are for their fantastic, marbled meat, which tastes unlike any other chicken and is far superior IMHO. Between the 3 types of birds, we have so many eggs that we have to preserve them in lime water for the winter months, and we still get delicious meat throughout the year, although we don’t eat the Cochin.

  • We had Barred Rock which we loved (predator killed them all). We built a predator-proof coop and now have Delaware and Rhode Island Reds. Very happy with all of them.

  • most modern livestock is bred for productivity. but grid-down, ease-of-care with minimal resource input will be a if not the major consideration. any recommendations towards this end?

    • My American Bresse and Cochin get most of their food while free ranging in my yard and pasture. I’ve trained them to come running and run into their coops in the evening when I shake a can with pebbles.

        • Make the shaker:
          Cut the top off of what used to be a 16 oz can before shrinkflation, wash it thoroughly and let it dry. Fill it 1/3 full with pea-sized pebbles, then seal the top with Gorilla tape. Cross the tape over itself, then put one wrap around the can to keep the ends of the tape from unraveling.

          I started this when they were chicks. Shake the can in an up and down motion while rocking it from side to side with your wrist (or whatever makes the most noise) for about 30 seconds, then feed them immediately, but feed them in a different spot of their pen every time. At first, they will run from the noise, then they’ll come eat. You use different spots every day because you want them to associate the noise with food, not “I get food when you are in that spot in the pen”. Once they knew “shake, shake, shake” meant food, I would let them out to roam with the ducks. By that time, I also had the ducks trained.

          My ducks were mature when I got my first chicks, so they didn’t know what the noise was, at first. I always called them in, and they usually came, so I alternated”shake, shake, shake” and “DUCKDUCKDUCKDUCK”. Finally, they had it figured out, so now when I shake the can and call the ducks, dozens of birds come flying, hopping, and running as fast as they can to get into their pens and coops.

          My new Aussie/Rotty puppy thinks its the best and most exciting thing in the world, and he’s there to “help” every day.

          • I imagine you can train most any outdoor animal this way. I’ve trained our many outdoor cats to come running to ‘chow chow chow’. They come running from the fields. Sometimes it’s been necessary for safety before storms.

  • Which is the quietest chicken?
    I will be defying my HOA to get chickens, and hoping to fly under the radar with them. I was told Silkies are my best bet in that circumstance.

    • I’ve had Buff Orpingtons for years and they are quiet and docile.They’re a heavier bird and great layers.

        • Buff Orpingtons. They are the lap dogs of the chicken world. May give you an egg every other day, may not. When they do lay, they don’t brag about it like our reds and rocks will.

          • Buff Orpingtons are sedate as are Light Brahmas. Both of them lay okay. Austalorps are also easy going and lay very well.
            An advantage to the Buff Orpington is that they can go broody. If you also have a rooster, this can be a great advantage. You can breed your own chicks and be independent of the hatcheries. All of these chickens tend to be larger in size, so you can use them for meat and eggs.

    • Winterleaf, I don’t know which is the quietest breed, but I do know our little silkie is the loudest of our flock. She gets very vocal if another hen is in her favorite nesting box when its time to lay. I don’t know if it holds true for the breed, or just her personality.

    • i did that some years ago. had a silkie, a barred rock and a rescue mongel red thing. worked well for years.

    • It is easier to receive forgiveness than permission! Exit that HOA asap! Coturnix quail are the most quiet meat/egg bird. I keep quail and chickens. Pound for pound, the quail produce more eggs per the amount of food they consume compared to chickens as well grow and mature quicker. They’re kept caged 100%.
      I keep Rhode Island Reds(2), Jersey Giants(2), Golden Comets (2, a cross breed for high egg production). Jersey is the largest, 11-12 lbs, are not the most friendly, and have a bit of an attitude toward the other chickens the jersey is supposed be a broody bird. Rhode Islands are interesting, middle of the pack in size and eggs laid. One is a bit skiddish while the other is a cool as cucumber, they get along with everyone. The comet is the smallest with the highest egg production of the coup. Despite being smaller, they don’t take and guff from the jerseys’ and they’re not as skiddish as the Jerseys, but not as cool as the Rhode Islands.

      They’re mostly quiet, but give a few loud clicks when you pick them up or scare them.

  • Our favorite breed is the Tom Whiting but we have loved our Barred Rocks and our Salmon Faverolles. The Whitings are smart, not a big bird but consistently lay a large blue egg. We have had 2 that insist on laying their egg in a nest inside our house. If we do not let her in the sliding back door, she hops on the BBQ on looks in the kitchen window or clucks her head off to get our attention. One of the funnest bird breeds we have ever owned.

  • Read about prairie chickens that do not cluck or crow, many years ago. Ones that do attract attention. Which are those chickens that do not cluck or crow?

  • We have only ever had dumb Plymouth Rocks and mean Rhode Islands. 😂

    I might suggest that someone looking for chickens create a list of criteria first, and then consider breeds that fit what they need.

    My criteria for chickens:
    Weather hardy, especially winter
    Good egg production
    Heritage breed (can reproduce true like Heirloom plants)
    Some foraging instinct (people in town wouldn’t want this but it cuts feed bill if they findsomeof theirown food)
    Dual purpose (the extra males make decent eating)
    Friendly / Calm/ Good around kids.

    Some to look at with these criteria that we’ve had and liked: Wyandotte, Orpingtons, Brahma, Buckeye, Sussex.

  • This stuff is not pdf friendly printable. It skips the pics of the birds but leaves in advertisement stuff. It would be nice if articles were pdf friendly ready to print, without the ads.

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