Chickens are categorized as pure breeds, hybrids, and bantams (Box 1). There are more than 500 chicken breeds throughout the world.
Box 1. Chicken breed vocabulary
|Breed||Group of chickens with distinctive characteristics|
|Variety||Subdivision of breed with differences in characteristics like plumage, color, comb type (i.e. single comb White Leghorn)|
|Strain||Subgroup of breed and variety that has been maintained for several generations without the introduction of new stock|
In North America, designation of poultry breeds is recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) and/or the American Bantam Association (ABA). Founded in 1873, the APA is the oldest livestock organization in the United States.
Box 2. Common poultry terms
|Cock||Male fowl > 12 months of age|
|Hen||Female fowl > 12 months of age|
Bantams are mini-chickens that can be any breed. They are typically one-quarter to one-half the size of the average bird. Their petite size makes Bantams good pet chickens, particularly in residential neighborhoods.
Originally from India, the name of this breed comes from the Brahmaptura River. This breed is sometimes referred to as the “King of Chickens” because of its large size. Roosters reach 4.5-5.4 kg (10-12 lb), hens 3.2-4.1 kg (7-9 lb), Bantams 0.9-1.0 kg (32-38 oz).
Brahmas come in an assortment of colors, however the eyes are red and there is a small, single pea comb. This fancy breed has profuse, fluffy feathering and feathered legs and feet making them tolerant to the cold.
Brahma roosters are relatively gentle and easy to handle making them a good pet chicken. Although initially bred for meat production, Brahma hens are fairly good egg-layers.
Brahmas do not fly and are content when housed behind a 2-foot fence.
This Chinese breed became famous in the 1800s when they were given as a gift to Queen Victoria of England. Cochins are a heavy breed with roosters reaching up to 5 kg (11 lb), hens 3.9 kg (8.5 lb), and Bantams 0.8-0.9 (28-32 oz). A poultry show favorite, Cochins come in black, white, buff, or partridge colors and they possess feathered feet. Cochins are also popular because of their sweet-natured personalities.
Hens do not lay egg wells, passing medium-sized, brown eggs for only short period of time. However hens do make excellent mothers and will even foster chicks of other breeds.
Cochins can live well in confined conditions.
This American breed can achieve a weight of up to 6 kilograms (13 pounds). Their large size makes Jersey Giants a popular backyard breed for meat production. Hens are also decent layers of brown eggs. Jersey Giants tend to be good-natured birds.
Originally from Italy, the Leghorn rooster typically reaches 3.4 kg (7.5 lb), hens 2.5 kg (5.5 lb), and Bantams 0.5 kg (1 lb). The Looney Tunes cartoon character “Foghorn Leghorn” is based on this breed. In America, Leghorns come in white, black, brown, or red colors, as well as Columbian (mostly white body with black tail or black tips on tail), partridge (black stripes), silver partridge, or black-tailed red with white skin. The comb can be single or rose (flat on top and fleshy with small round protuberances). The comb typically flops to one side in hens. Leghorns have clean legs (free of feathers) and red eyes.
White Leghorns have one of the highest rates of egg production of any chicken breed. In fact, this breed has contributed to the development of most egg-laying chicken strains.
This breed can be excitable, noisy, and somewhat shy around humans. Leghorn roosters are somewhat aggressive. Bantam Leghorns tend to be calmer than their larger counterparts.
Leghorns do best in large, tall, secure chicken coops that allow movement. They should also ideally have some trees with branches for perching, which will help to satisfy their desire to fly.
Orpingtons are a relatively large breed developed in England. The rooster reaches 4.5 kg (10 lb), hens 3.6 kg (8 lb), and bantams 0.96-1.1 kg (34-38 oz). Color varieties include black, blue, white, and the popular buff. Oringtons are dual-purpose birds, meaning they can be a good source of meat and eggs, which are brown.
Birds possess heavy feathering that makes this breed a good choice for harsh winter climates. Orpingtons are also a calm, gentle breed and therefore a good choice for families with small children.
The heritage of the Plymouth Rock is unclear, however this dual-purpose chicken is one of the most popular breeds on small farms today. Their large size makes Plymouth rocks an excellent meat bird. These birds are also excellent egg layers, producing large, brown eggs.
Roosters reach 4.3 kg (9.5 lb), hens 3.4 kg (7.5 lb), and Bantams 0.9-1.0 kg (32-36 oz). The most popular variety is the Barred Plymouth Rock or “Barred Rock” with a black and white feather pattern.
Although some individuals can be aggressive, the Plymouth Rock is generally a docile, friendly bird that makes a great starter bird for new hobbyists. These birds are also able to withstand cold weather well. Though able to tolerate confinement, Plymouth Rocks do best when allowed free range.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is a common farmyard breed developed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Roosters reach 3.9 kg (8.5 lb), hen 2.9 kg (6.5 lb), and Bantams 0.85-0.96 kg (30-34 oz). The breed has distinctive, dark red feathers and a single lobed comb.
The Rhode Island Red is fairly docile and a good breed for beginners. Valued for their meat, Rhode Island Reds also lay brown eggs exceptionally well and they are extremely hardy. Rhode Island Reds can withstand a wide range of living conditions and diets without stopping egg production and hens begin egg laying as young as 6 months of age.
The Silkie Bantam chicken is an ornamental breed that originated in China in the 1200s. Males reach 1 kg (36 oz), females 0.9 kg (32 oz). Silkies come in many color varieties. The feathers have a distinctive texture that is similar to fur, and birds typically possess a top knot of feathers on top of the head. The face can be completely covered by this crest or puff of feathers on the head. The eyes are blue or black, and the skin is black. Another unique feature of the Silkie chicken is the five toes on each foot instead of the four found in most breeds.
Silkies lay tinted or cream-colored eggs. Silkie hens make wonderful brooders and mothers, and have even been known to adopt ducklings if given the opportunity.
Silkie chickens are docile and they cannot fly. They make wonderful pets for families with children.
Developed in the United States in the 1870s, Wyandotte roosters reach 3.9 kg (8.5 lb), hen 2.9 kg (6.5 lb), and Bantams 0.7-0.85 kg (26-30 oz). There are eight recognized colors and a variety of beautiful feather patterns. Wyandottes also possess a rose comb and clean yellow legs.
Wyandottes are a favorite among backyard flock owners because of their dependable egg laying, docile, easygoing nature, and hardiness.