In this 16-part series, Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm draws upon her expertise as a farmer, agrarian, mother, and writer to provide the information you need to raise your own backyard chickens.
Words by: Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm
Once you have secured permission from your local community and governing bodies, you are in a good position to consider which of the many chicken breeds you would like to raise. There are nearly as many breeds of chickens as there are flavors of ice cream, and like ice cream, you have options ranging from artisanal to conventional flavors. There are hens bred specifically for:
Production may seem like an obvious quality to look for in a backyard hen, and one of the very few minimal requirements you may have. But of course, there are those that lay better than others, and deciding how important this quality is to you will depend on your egg needs. For example: Pete and Gerry's predominantly raises breeds called Bovans Browns and Hylines; their goal is to make high quality eggs available nationwide, so their egg needs are quite high, which means that prioritizing this quality.
Chickens originated in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and as a result, they're accustomed to a more temperate way of life than most birds. But since the domestication of the species around 7000 BC, chicken keepers have been breeding birds for hardiness so that they may also thrive in Northern climates. For this very reason, the Icelandic chicken is a popular breed among chicken enthusiasts, as are Silkies, Barred Plymouth Rocks, and Wynadottes, to name a few. By contrast, light-colored chickens like the Fayoumis and Brahmas are well suited for desert climates.
The chicken is, by nature, an animal destined to the mercy of the predators that surround it. The larger the bird, the less enticed a hawk, owl, or even a fox may be. Large breeds do eat a considerable amount of food, and this should be taken into serious consideration. Breeds generous in size include Jersey Giants, Cochins, and Orpingtons. Small chickens are wonderful for smaller set ups. If you don’t have much space, you should consider bantam hens, known also as miniatures, which are about one quarter the size of a regular chicken. They lay eggs that are smaller too, but still edible and delicious.
Eggs are no longer limited to the soft brown and snow-white hues that dominate the majority of the egg aisle. Thanks to industrious home breeders, there is a veritable rainbow of colors available. Chicken egg colors can range from blues and greens to chocolate browns. If selected carefully, your family will be admiring the baskets of eggs that come out of the coop. The Araucanas, Ameraucanas, and Cream Legbars are the most traditional selections for blue eggs. Welsummers, Marans, and Barnevelder chickens lay chocolate brown eggs.
If you have kids who will be collecting eggs and assisting in chores, you want to be sure your hens are docile. Docile chickens are less likely to peck or chase children (and adults). That being said, chickens of all breeds will likely be docile if treated kindly and gently from an early age. To be extra careful though, breeds like Silkies and Buff Orpingtons are particularly known for their gentle manners.
Birds have long been raised by humans as a form of appreciation for their colorings and fantastical plumage, and chickens are no exception. Polish chickens come with funny crested hats atop their curious heads, while Silkies are very fluffy and handsome.
Chickens are typically raised either for their breast meat or for their eggs. If you decide to raise backyard chickens it most likely will be for the purpose of having fresh eggs. Chickens raised for eggs are edible, but their breast is lean and their meat dark, which most North American palettes aren't used to.
In cultures outside of North America, it is still common to harvest both meat and eggs from the same flock of hens. These birds are known as dual purpose and chief among them are the Speckled Sussex and the Rhode Island Red.
When it comes to breeds, while the possibilities are endless, navigating them is not a prerequisite for chicken ownership—merely extra credit. So long as you have healthy hens that you can keep safe from inclement weather and predators and provide space to roam, peck, and scratch, you will be rewarded with baskets full of fresh, backyard eggs.
Ready to purchase your chicks? Read on for advice on finding and choosing a hatchery to source your birds from.
A note from Pete and Gerry's:
For generations, our family of farmers at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has been dedicated to revolutionizing the way eggs are produced in the United States. We believe that consumers deserve better eggs from happier chickens living on small farms run by fairly paid farmers, and that’s what we have dedicated our business to. We also believe deeply in the transparency and verification of our standards, which is why we became a Certified B Corporation in 2013. It’s also why our farms meet the rigorous Certified Humane Free Range and USDA Certified Organic standards. We take the welfare of our hens, the sustainability of our farms, and health and happiness of our partner farmers and consumers very seriously. The resulting eggs are ones that stand out in the supermarket; they remind consumers of the eggs from their childhood farms and excursions abroad in Europe. And we're happy to be second best. In fact, we believe that everyone deserves a chance to raise hens right in their backyard and experience the joys that come with raising and growing food at home. Kate MacLean of Longest Acres Farm is here to tell you how.
Kate MacLean lives and works on 120 acres of land known as Longest Acres Farm in Chelsea, VT with her husband Nick, son Leland, and daughter Amelia. As an ex-city-dweller, she gained valuable experience working on friends' and neighbors' farms before making the move to rural Vermont with her family in search of a fulfilling, self-sustaining way of life.
Her breadth of experience in farming and raising countless varieties of chickens and other livestock on Longest Acres Farm not only makes Kate an expert in her field, but an advocate for home grown food and self-sustainability.
December 26, 2020
Thank you,.. for sharing your idea i am almost to start my free range chicken's in asia so this give me idea's which breed i am going to start...
December 02, 2020
What of Dalaware chicken
Delaware chickens will lay as well, but it's our experience that they may not produce quite as many eggs as some of the other breeds recommended above. We hope this helps!
October 30, 2020
This past Spring was our first time starting out with chickens. We knew absolutely nothing, but it's been so much fun.
We ended up with Red Sex Links, where do they fall on egg production? Do you recommend them at all?
Hi Erica, how exciting! There truly is nothing like going out to the coop to pick out your eggs for breakfast. Red Sex Links are great backyard laying hens and are actually bread for higher egg production.
August 06, 2020
Can I get loan for poultry farming.
September 12, 2020
Can I get loan for poultry farming?
September 14, 2020
Hi Bongani, yes,similar to what we told Garurav, it is common for new farmers to get a loan to help them get started. There are several different types of loans available so we recommend doing some research to determine which you might qualify for and determine from there the best loan for you. While you're at it, you may want to look into agriculture grant opportunities as well. Hope this helps!
August 07, 2020
Hi there, yes, it is pretty common for new farmers to get a loan to help them get started. There are several different types of loans available so we recommend doing some research to determine which might be the best for you.
July 26, 2020
I found this very informative. I'm new at this so I want to gather as much information as I can before I choose what breed of chicken I'm looking for.Thanks for the info
July 28, 2020
Hi Marilyn, we're so glad you found this helpful and wish you all the best as you begin raising chickens of your own!
July 05, 2020
Rotimi from Nigeria. I am a start-up poultry farmer. I need a need a best breed for eggs laying and meat. Especially, the best source for point of Lay to start with in Nigeria. At what practical age should I purchase Point of Lay for eggs laying in Nigeria. Please I need your advice.
July 06, 2020
Hi there! Some great dual-purpose egg laying/meat birds are Speckled Sussex and Rhode Island Red. Depending on your own preference and what's available, you could purchase birds as chicks and raise them up or purchase them at an older age.
June 27, 2020
My husband won't let me have a dog so I have chickens. I want a lap chicken. One I can hold & pet. What would that be & or how do I find a silky?
June 29, 2020
Hi Cheryl, we agree that a Silkie would be a good breed of chicken to look into if you're interested in something a little more docile. Often times, you can order baby chicks online from hatcheries. Or, if you have a local farm supply or feed store, you may be able to order baby chicks and purchase supplies directly from them. They usually have several breeds you can choose from. We hope this helps and can't wait to hear how everything works out for you!
June 25, 2020
The best type of chicken for eggs here in Uganda
June 24, 2020
I have to eat organic food , and that's why i been read up on somethings, im going to start a small chicken farm, for me
This is so exciting, Bobby! Please let us know how we can help along the way. Wishing you all the best in this new (and fun) endeavor.
June 17, 2020
Great article! I have one olive egger abd 5 golden comets. The golden comets lay eggs 6 out of 7 days a week. They also lay brown eggs.
June 18, 2020
That's awesome, Adriana! We love learning about all the different breeds and find their varying personalities very entertaining.
May 31, 2020
Thanks for the information and encouragement. Vegetables and meat prices are going up in stores, people are paying attention in Canada and America. May God almighty help us.We should start growing our own foods. Thanks
May 24, 2020
Am very happy for the knowledge I get pertaining to the different types of chicken
May 26, 2020
Hi there! Thank you for the read. We are so glad you found it interesting.
September 19, 2019
I don't believe there is a specific breed (yet) known as a "Welsummer Maran". There are Welsummers & there are Marans, & while there are folks who have &/or are working on developing a true auto-sex cross of these two (currently being coined as a "WelMar"), you'd find it fairly difficult if not impossible to try & locate a "Welsummer Maran" from any reputable hatchery. Yet.
September 20, 2019
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Bonnie, and I would guess Kate must be lucky enough to have a connection with those few places that would have Welsummer Marans available. Luckily, if you're looking for chickens laying brown eggs as that breed would, there are plenty of other options out their to consider like Barnevelders.
April 07, 2020
Marans, sorry my autocorrect changed it.
The article should have been written as Welsummer and Marana. 2 different breeds for dark and dark spotted eggs.
April 08, 2020
Thanks for the tip, Renee! We'll have our team take a look at this 😊 You've got a sharp eye!
August 26, 2019
August 24, 2019