Best Beginner Chicken Breeds

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There are hundreds of different chicken breeds out there from which to choose. Large or small? Meat, eggs, dual-purpose, or merely for  looks? Colors, shapes, sizes, feather designs, temperaments, hardiness, and personalities vary just as much. A beginner’s mistake when raising chickens is to set one’s heart on a particular breed without knowing much about that breed. Chicks may look alike, but the chickens they will become could not be more different. One might choose the unique-looking Aseel, for example, without realizing that the breed likes to fight and  tends to be quite strong and aggressive. The Malay chicken truly stands out from the crowd in looks and height, but they are likely to fight, are not meaty, and do not lay eggs frequently.  The wide variety of chicken breeds out there may be overwhelming, but fear not. Here are some of the best chicken breeds for beginners.

Top Layer—Try the White Leghorn

The White Leghorn is one of the best layers out there. This medium-sized, white bird with a striking red comb lays frequently and their large, white eggs are extremely popular. While not particularly docile and broody, this breed is hardy, active, and quite intelligent. They produce about 300 eggs per year. They are not that great for meat and can be flighty and nervous. Still, when it comes to egg laying the White Leghorn is hard to beat.

A Friendly Dual-Purpose Choice—- The Orpington

This UK breed is not only large and fluffy, but extremely docile and also excellent dual-purpose birds great for both laying eggs and meat production. Unlike White Leghorns, the Orpington thrives on human contact and tends to enjoy being held. Their inability to fly for long distances is another quality that makes this breed a good backyard bird. Orpingtons are thick and meaty birds while also producing around 200 eggs annually. They are a great breed for beginners, experienced farmers, and families alike. While not extremely flashy or brightly colored, they are extremely easy to care for. If you have children, the Orpington is a breed that is hard to beat.

Best Bet Chicken Pet—The Silkie Chicken

Are you looking for a striking chicken that truly stands out from the crowd?  Small, unique, and known for their silky smooth feathers, the Silkie Chicken is extremely tame and loves human contact. They are popular pets and love to be held.  If you want a pet chicken and are not overly concerned with eggs or meat production, this may be the breed for which you are searching. This ornamental breed lays around 150 small, cream colored eggs annually and is extremely broody. They will even hatch eggs from other chickens. The Silkie Chicken is a fantastic pet for children and is a soft, adorable addition to any backyard.

Hardy and Easy-to-Care-For— The Rhode Island Red

Docile, easy-to-care-for, and tolerant of both cold and heat, the Rhode Island Red is an excellent chicken breed for beginners. A good layer, the Rhode Island Red produces around 200 large, brown eggs each year. This bird is making a big comeback on small farms and in backyard coops throughout the United States and with good reason too. They are very hardy, produce well, and don’t require much care. They are loving and friendly too, although roosters have been known to be mean. If you want a hardy, dual-purpose chicken, the Rhode Island Red is a beautiful and useful bird to have around.

A Visually Appealing and Useful Bird- The Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Plymouth Rock adds flair to any backyard with their black and white checkerboard patterned feathers (other color varieties exist too). Laying 200 cream-colored eggs annually, the Barred Plymouth Rock chicken is a great layer and a great meat bird too. This bird matures and grows quickly and also enjoys a long lifetime.  She makes a brood mother hen. Most Barred Plymouth Rocks are friendly and love human contact. They are a fantastic bird for any beginner.

Raising Chickens in Cold Climates

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Many chicken breeds are remarkably resilient, but extreme cold climates can wreak havoc on your flock. No one wants sick birds, frozen combs, or frozen birds. What can one do to protect their chickens from the elements?

Keep Those Birds Cozy

Your first line of defense against cold temperatures is your chicken coop. Add some insulation to keep temperatures steady. Make sure that there is still plenty of ventilation! Check for leaks. Add extra straw or wood shavings for bedding. Just as people like to snuggle under a blanket for warmth, chickens enjoy a nice, thick litter 6-10 inches thick to burrow into for warmth on cold days.

Some chicken owners put a tarp over their coop to keep out drafts they may not even be aware of. Keep those birds warm! Not only can too much cold and dampness lead to frostbite, but stressed out birds stop laying eggs. If snow and ice keep your birds cooped up inside, indoor artificial lighting may help them continue laying and may reduce stress.

Make Fresh Water a Priority

Chickens drink a lot of water. In the winter, water freezes. It’s easy to overlook this and so important to keep fresh, unfrozen water available to your birds. Temperature-triggered outlet timers work wonderfully. Once the temperature falls past a certain point, a heat lamp turns on to keep the water from freezing. They switch back off once the temperature raises to keep the coop from getting too hot. How great is that? Heater bases are also commonly used to help keep water from freezing.

Vaseline Your Birds

This may sound crazy at first, but multiple chicken sites recommend applying Vaseline to your chickens’ combs and wattles to keep them from catching frostbite. Catch your bird, apply a layer of Vaseline to its comb and wattle, and allow it to continue on its daily business. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution to a very big problem.

Do Not Use a Heater or Close off Vents

The craziest question I’ve heard about keeping chickens through the winter is, “Should I use a heater to keep the chickens warm?” Please don’t. It’s a huge fire hazard and you can cause your chickens great harm. With a bit of common sense and some basic precautions, you’ll be able to keep your flock toasty and warm throughout the winter without risking burning the coop to the ground.

Another common misconception is that one should close vents to keep the chickens extra warm. While this may make sense in theory, it creates a whole new problem. Along with heat, you also trap in humidity. Humidity leads to frostbite. Smell will quickly become overbearing if ventilation is cut off for long too. Warm but well ventilated is the way to go.

Some Breeds Fare Better Than Others

If you live in a cold climate, keep in mind that some breeds are more cold-weather hardy than others. Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Buckeyes, Dominiques, and Sussexes are a few breeds that do well in cold places. Birds with large combs are much more susceptible to frostbite. Chickens with thick, heavy feathers generally do better in cold climates.

With a bit of planning and some simple preventative measures, your chicken flock will thrive during the cold months.