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.

Golden Campine Chickens

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One of the more interesting birds on the block is the Golden Campine. The Golden Campine’s striking golden head, white ears, perky upright tail, and beautiful barred body create an unusual and strikingly beautiful bird. Originally from Belgium, the Golden Campine is also an excellent layer. This rare breed would make a unique addition to your backyard coop!

Temperament and Characteristics

This beautiful bird lays around 150-200 eggs annually and while they are not generally raised for meat, they can certainly be dual purpose birds. Reports on temperament vary. According to some sources, these birds are friendly and fun to be around. Other sources claim that the Golden Campine is not affectionate, don’t care much for human contact, and are quite flighty. It must depend on the individual bird’s personality as well as the amount of human contact and interaction they have from hatching. Active, curious, and great at foraging, the small Golden Campine generally makes a fun and amusing bird to have around. There is a silver Campine variety too.

An Interesting History

The Golden Campine chicken can trace its roots to Belgium, where they’ve been raised for several hundred years. The first Golden Campines brought to the US arrived in 1893, but by 1898 the breed had been dropped from the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection because the breed was simply unpopular. The second attempt at importing Campines in the early 1900s failed to catch on too. The APA added Golden Campines to their Standard of Perfection in 1914 and they’ve remained a recognized breed ever since.

On the Verge of Extinction

The breed almost disappeared altogether after World War II, where even in Belgium the number of Golden Campines was extremely low. A few dedicated breeders brought this breed back from the verge of extinction.  In the US, the breed is in the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Conservation Status of critical. There are around five breeding flocks of 50 or less Golden Campines in the entire United States. It doesn’t help that the bird rarely goes broody. One way to help perpetuate this breed is to take any fertilized eggs your Golden Campine lays and put them in an incubator or get one of your other broody hens to hatch the eggs. Backyard farmers are this breed’s only real hope of continuing into the future.

Not Best for Beginners

If you are a beginner or want a friendly pet chicken, the Golden Campine is probably not the best bet. Flighty, susceptible to frostbite, and eager to fly, it is not the easiest bird to care for. If you have some experience with chickens, the Golden Campine is a great endangered chicken breed that would make a lovely addition to most backyard flocks.

Keeping Your Flock Cool in the Summer

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Summer is here! Summer is a time for relaxation, trips to the beach, and vacations. Summer also brings a new set of challenges to your backyard chickens. The heat can truly take it out of your birds! Here’s what you should know.

Heat Causes Lots of Problems

As the temperature climbs, your chickens’ productivity drops. Egg laying decreases or stops altogether. Broilers stop gaining weight. Chickens get lethargic. Given too much heat, chickens die. Heat is a serious issue for backyard farmers, especially in hot climates.

Some Breeds Fare Better than Others

Did you know that birds without combs are more susceptible to the heat? Certain breeds, such as the white leghorn, do better with heat. Large, heavily feathered birds are more susceptible to heat than their smaller, thinner counterparts. Males tend to fare better than females and non-laying chickens do better with heat than layers.

Other heat-tolerant breeds include the Ancona, the Plymouth Rock, the Catalana, Golden Campines, Blue Andalusians, and the Rhode Island breeds. Avoid large, heavily feathered breeds.

Summer-Proofing Your Coop

Before you construct your coop, keep in mind how the sun will fall on it. Use wide overhangs, put windows and the open side of the coop from the east to the west, and consider evaporative coolers and fans to keep air moving. The best spot for your coop is somewhere with adequate shade and plenty of ventilation. Windows are your friends!

Keep a ready supply of cool water available for your birds and remove much of the coop’s litter. A mister can keep your birds cool too. Provide them with shade and try to keep the chickens out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Keep a lookout for panting and signs of lethargy and avoid feeding your birds corn or scratch during the summer months because your chickens will create body heat trying to digest these things. Fruit and vegetable scraps are a much better option. Add ice to that water to keep it cool on the hottest days.

Raising Free-Range Chickens

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Free-range chickens are all the rage. If you check out the organic eggs at your local supermarket, the container will likely read “cage free” or “free-range.” There’s a growing market for free-range meat of all types. Free-range is touted as the natural way to keep chickens and it certainly is purely organic if done right. It also poses a range of risks one must be aware of before committing to the free-range movement.  Free-range may bring to mind idealic images of chickens roaming free in a green field, the sun shining brightly. Unless you’re a small farmer, however, that’s likely not the case.

What Exactly is “Free-Range”?

If chickens are raised free-range, it ideally means that they are allowed to roam freely and are not confined in a cage. While a large yard or pasture may still be fenced-in, these birds are allowed a considerable amount of exercise, sunlight, and opportunities for foraging. This is wonderful, in theory. The US Department of Agriculture, however, merely requires that meat chickens have access to the outdoors to be labeled as “free-range,” meaning that they may have access to dirt or gravel. There’s no requirement that a “pasture” be available.  Small-scale farmers are more likely to be truly free-range, allowing their birds plenty of space to roam. If you want truly free-range eggs or meat, make sure that your poultry comes from pasture-fed flocks.

What are the Benefits of Free-Range?

True free-range hens that have access to a healthy environment and eat a natural, healthy diet produce more nutritious eggs than their factory-farm counterparts. Rather than eating grain alone, free-range birds are able to dine on grass and bugs too. This does a lot for their eggs. Mother Earth News reported that pasture-fed, free-range chickens produce eggs with 1/3 the cholesterol and ¼ the saturated fat as their conventional counterparts. They also  have more vitamin a, vitamin e, and omega 3 fatty acids. Free-range chicken meat is higher in protein, higher in good fat, and lower in bad fat than conventional chicken meat. These chickens are also free from unnecessary antibiotic consumption, a true problem in factory farms. Free-range, pasture-raised meat and eggs taste great too.

Considering Free-Range Birds

Ideally, free-range chickens are allowed to wander as they please. Depending on where you live, this could be idealic or dangerous. If you live in a city, you simply can’t allow your birds to wander down the street and into your neighbor’s property. Predators are also a huge threat. Make sure that your birds have a safe place to take shelter from predators and inclement weather and don’t put your chicks out while they are still very young. Free-range birds can be healthy and natural, but they can also be an easy meal for a lurking predator or run over by a passing vehicle.

If you have the space, free-range is absolutely the way to go. Just make sure that you have the vegetation to sustain your flock and adequate protection. Even free range birds must have a clean coop to come home to at night. Keep away from hormones and antibiotics and keep a careful eye out for danger. Your flock with thank you.

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Chickens

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Chickens have been kept for millennia. Millions of us eat them regularly. There are thousands of chicken articles out there on the internet, hundreds of chicken-related books line library and bookstore shelves, and backyard chicken magazines populate many grocery stores. With the increased interest in raising chickens, the amount of information out there is astounding. Yet here are some interesting facts you may not know about chickens.

1. They Were Built for Speed

Chickens are known for meandering around the yard more than they are known for sprinting, but chickens are actually quite speedy on their feet. According to the Museum of Natural History, chickens can top out at 9 mph for short distances. This is handy for escaping predators… or backyard chicken farmers trying to urge the birds back into their chicken run.

2. Those Clucks and Crows Mean Something

Dr. K-lynn Smith and Professor Chris Evans of Australia’s Macquarie University claim that not only are chickens intelligent and social, but they can also adjust what they “say” depending on who is listening ( Chicken noises are a language of their own, indicating their desires and intentions. Impressive, huh?

3. Eggs Come In Ridiculously Small Sizes

The smallest chicken egg was recorded in 2011 at 2.1 cm long, or about the size of a penny. Check out a picture at: The egg seems to have been a fluke from “a normal size chicken.” Not much of an omelet from that egg!

4. Eggs Can Be Unnaturally Large Too

Look Eastward to China for the largest egg on record. Three times the size of the average chicken egg, the record was set in 2009 with an egg from China’s Heilongjiang Province. This egg was 6.3 centimeters wide, 9.2 centimeters long, and weighed 201 grams. For a picture, check out: The chicken’s breed is not listed.

5. We Thought 7 Billion People Were a Lot…

There are approximately 19 billion chickens on Planet Earth today. That’s about 3 chickens for every person alive. That is impressive! China raises more chickens than any other country on Earth. What’s the environmental impact of this gigantic chicken population? Now that would be an interesting article.

Are Chickens Intelligent Beings?

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Are chickens intelligent beings? Hens are often portrayed as idiotic, pooping and eating at will and often in the same place. Hens in literature are flighty and silly. Yet science offers a different perspective. Recent studies suggest that chickens are a whole lot smarter than they’re given credit for being.

These Are No Dumb Animals

Poultry are often considered inferior in the intelligence department, but Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor of Poultry Ethology at Ontario’s University of Guelph, disagrees. “These animals are poorly understood,” he’s quoted in an interview by United Poultry Concerns, Inc, “This is revealed by such behavioral indices as their complex social relationships, and their many different methods of communicating with each other, both visual and vocal. Chickens… are far more intelligent than generally regarded and possess underestimated cognitive complexity” (

There’s Some Serious Communication Going on in the Coop

Dr. K-lynn Smith and Professor Chris Evans of Australia’s Macquarie University claim that not only are chickens intelligent and social, but they can also adjust what they “say” depending on who is listening ( In an article published by Global Animal Magazine in 2011, Dr. Smith states that chickens who live in “an environment where they must compete for food, shelter, and mates can be as cunning as humans.” Clever chickens who can outsmart their fellow chickens have the best luck (aka the most food, best place to live, and the girl). Chickens are able to use sounds and gestures to communicate information about their environment. That is pretty smart!

Who Is Smarter, You Dog or Your Dinner?

In an amusingly titled article, “Was Your Meat Smarter Than Your Pet,” ABC NEWS presented some interesting studies on animal intelligence ( In an English study, a sheep was proved to be able to recognize human faces, a pig was taught to use a computer, and chickens easily learned how to adjust the thermostat in their coop.

Chickens, it turns out, are a whole lot more complex and intelligent then they are commonly believed to be. This may give you a new perspective when it comes to your personal flock. Do you think your birds are intelligent beings?



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.

Best States for Raising Chickens

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Raising backyard chickens is an increasingly popular and mainstream hobby, yet it is not legal in every town and city across the United States. Some states are friendlier toward urban chickens than others. Finding out which state is the best is more challenging than one might imagine. Many states claim to be the most chicken-friendly state in the Union. While raising chickens is legal in all 50 states, rules and regulations vary widely within individual states.

The American South

Many large-scale chicken farms are located in the southern states and there’s no shortage of websites claiming Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas are each the “best” place for chickens. A temperate climate and abundant land seem to be prime reasons to choose the South. What are regulations like in these individual states?

Arkansas seems to be a pretty lenient state for keeping chickens. Fayetteville allows four or fewer chickens, no closer than 25 feet to residences. Each bird must have at least 4 square feet of coop space and an adequate chicken run. Little Rock requires that chickens be at least 5 feet from the owner’s residence and 25 feet from other residences. No more than 4 birds.

South Carolina is another southern state known for its chickens. Yet if you live in Summerville, SC, you are out of luck. Local regulations declare it unlawful for anyone to have poultry of any kind running at large. Aiken, SC, allows chickens so long as they are penned and at least 40 feet from neighboring residences. Rules differ dramatically from one city to the next.

The West Coast

What about America’s West Coast? California is a pretty great place to keep backyard chickens. Many Californian cities permit backyard fowl. The specific numbers and space requirements vary. Irvine allows two hens per household while Albany allows up to 6 (with a permit). In Los Angeles, the number of chickens one can keep on their property is unlimited so long as they are kept at least 30 feet from your residence and 35 feet from other dwellings.

Up the coast in Washington, raising backyard chickens is generally allowed. Up to 8 chickens may be kept on any size lot in Seattle. Olympia allows up to 3 birds while Battle Ground has no restrictions on raising poultry at all.

America’s East Coast

In New York City, one can keep an unlimited number of hens so long as the area is kept clean. Roosters are prohibited. Albany, NY, strictly prohibits farm animals of any kind within city limits and fines violators. Oswego, NY, also prohibits chickens. It appears that quite a few New York cities prohibit poultry, so if you live in that state you must be very careful! New York is certainly not the most chicken-friendly state in the Union.

Boston, Massachusetts, prohibits raising chickens within the city. In Lynn, Massachusetts, one must have a petition signed by their neighbors stating they don’t mind you raising chickens and you can be fined if people complain about your birds. Plymouth, Ma, doesn’t appear to have regulations regarding chickens, nor does Somerville. Northhampton allows up to three hens and no roosters.

No matter where you live, do your research before setting your heart on backyard chickens. The United States can seem like the most—or least—restrictive place to raise chickens all depending on where you live. Good luck!

Raising Chickens in the UK

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Much news has been reported in recent years about the growing back-yard chicken trend in the United States. Yet the Americans are not the only ones who have brought chicken husbandry back into the forefront of society. Backyard chickens are increasingly popular in the United Kingdom as well. Backyard chickens can be found in England’s biggest cities as well as in the countryside.

If you keep less than 50 chickens, you generally do not have to register with any authority in Great Britain. If you have more than 50 chickens, you’re considered a commercial chicken farmer and must be registered on the Great Britain Poultry Register and DEFRA. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs website encourages people to register voluntarily even if they have fewer than 50 fowl. For details and more information, check out their website at:  The Poultry Registry allows the government to quickly and easily contact chicken owners in case of disease outbreak or other important announcements.

Specific localities may have different rules, so if you live in the United Kingdom and wish to raise chickens you must first check with your local government or council to make sure you will not be breaking any rules. Local covenants and house deeds may also contain stipulations about keeping chickens on a property. Do your research and keep it legal.

The Poultry Club of Great Britain approves specific chicken breeds and there are a wide variety of breeds to choose from. Among the more popular breeds are the Ancona, Araucana, Australorp, the Belgian Bantam, Croad Langshan, and the Legbar. Leghorns, Marans, Orpingtons, and Rhode Island Reds are great backyard birds too. Do your research to find the right bird for you.

Raising chickens in the United Kingdom is a fairly easy and straightforward process. Check your local rules and regulations, build a sturdy and protective chicken coop, and order your chicks or eggs. Private breeders, local advertisements, and online poultry companies all sell chicks in the UK. It has truly never been easier to set up your own backyard hen house. Have fun!

The Truth About Roosters

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If you order or hatch a batch of chicks, you’re likely to end up with a mixture of hens and roosters. While that may be the natural outcome, many backyard farmers prefer hens to roosters. Some cities even ban roosters! Loud, aggressive, and territorial, roosters don’t offer many of the benefits of their egg-laying, quieter female counterparts. Do you want a rooster in your backyard? Here’s what you should know.

If you want fertilized eggs and therefore a larger flock, a rooster is a vital part of your farm. He’ll also serve as a watchful eye, keeping the hens safe from most predators.  He will cry loudly to warn the flock from dangers. In fact, crowing is one of the rooster’s most distinctive features. Crowing begins around the time he is 4 months old and continues for the duration of his life, multiple times a day. The belief that roosters crow only as the sun comes up is a farce. Roosters crow whenever they feel like it. They crow to claim territory, assert dominance, or just because it appeals to them in the moment. The noisy nature of the rooster is one main reasons why they are not allowed in many towns.

While a rooster is not required for a hen to lay eggs, it’s required for her to lay fertilized eggs that will hatch into new chicks. This is a fantastic benefit. You most likely won’t want more than one rooster for a small flock, however. He’ll provide adequate fertilization and protection. Roosters can be aggressive and territorial, especially toward other roosters. They can also be aggressive toward people and other pets. Their beaks and spiny legs  can do a lot of damage, so be careful! Poultry live in a social hierarchy, and a dominant male will make it well known that he is the head of the coop.

What’s one to do if they end up with a handful of roosters along with their hens? Egg-producing facilities kill males shortly after hatching. There’s no need to be that cruel. If some of your chicks are male, raise them for meat or list them for sale in the classified ads. There may be someone else in your area who would like a rooster. Raising dual-purpose birds will give you excellent layers as well as meat birds. If you order a fair quantity of chicks, expect a good portion of them to be male. It’s best to have a plan beforehand.

Roosters have been vilified in modern culture, but they can be very rewarding and wonderful animals to raise. Do your research, use common sense, and keep the number of roosters in your flock low. Raising roosters is a whole new experience.