Buff Orpingtons – My chicken owning days started with 8 of these beautiful gold colored ladies. They are large birds that are great for eating but are also fabulous layers, brooders, and mothers. My orpingtons lay eggs throughout the winter without a heat lamp! I can expect about 5 eggs per week year round. Orpingtons do well in cold weather because of their thick full feathers. These chickens are also one of the best selling backyard chickens because of their docile and even temperament. They act like a curious puppy dog when a human enters their territory. During the warm summer months while I am working in the garden I will often take a bag of rice krispies outside with me to throw at the orpingtons who are waiting patiently at my feet. They are also very comfortable with letting my kids hold them, dress them, and take them for wagon rides.
Silver-laced Wyandotte – A Wyandotte is similar in size and appearance to an Orpingon. Their heavy bodies and full feathers make them great cold weather birds for eggs and meat. Although their laying success doesn’t seem to be as consistent as an Orpington they are still great layers. Wyandottes, although not mean or aggressive are not outwardly friendly. I had two blue-laced Wyandotte roosters that were the most beautiful birds I ever owned.
Black Jersey Giants – As the name suggests, Jersey Giants are large birds making them great for cold weather and butchering. They are also good layers, sometimes producing VERY LARGE eggs! Their black feathers have a beautiful deep green sheen. Although Jersey Giant Roosters can be VERY big the hens are often only slightly larger than other large breed chickens (such as an Orpington or a Wyandotte).Their temperament is good, they function well in a flock of mixed breeds. Because of their size they do need a bit more room than their smaller friends.
White Crested Black Polish – Although Polish chickens are fair layers they are mostly just great for looking at. The large white pom-pom on the top of their head contrasts beautifully with their jet black bodies. Because they have such small bodies they are not good meat birds and may have a tendency to get a bit cold in the winter. They are much more skittish than less exotic chickens but over time will learn to adapt well within a large flock. One thing to consider: because a crested polish looks so much different from the more traditional farm chickens they may be at a higher risk of being pecked by the rest of the flock. I originally had 2 crested polish hens and the other hens never bothered them. One day a dog killed one leaving the second to live alone among more ‘normal’ looking birds. The pecking started and took months to overcome.
Leghorn – If you are looking for eggs and only eggs this is the bird for you! Leghorns are the egg laying machines that most commercial egg farms use. Their eggs are large and white, looking just like you picked them up from the store. Because all of their energy goes into producing eggs their bodies are small and rather unattractive making them poor meat birds. They also are not very friendly chickens and do not enjoy the companionship of humans, although they seem to do just fine in a flock of mixed breeds. I once had an old farmer tell me that his leghorn rooster was as good as a guard dog when it came to protecting the coop. His rooster wouldn’t let anyone or anything near the hens.
Rhode Island Red – As one of the all time most popular breeds of American chickens the Rhode Island Red is probably the best large breed chicken for egg production. They lay large brown eggs year round. Although not as friendly as their friends the Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds make good family chickens and are relatively comfortable with people and small children. The roosters are very beautiful ‘traditional’ looking roosters.
Dominique – Although these birds are classified as a ‘medium’ sized chicken they appear to be very close in size to the Rhode Island Red. Their egg production is good although not outstanding and they do manage cold weather well with their thick plumage and small combs. Their temperament and friendliness level is similar to that of the Rhode Island Red. Their markings are beautiful and they add great variety to the coop.
Americana –The Americana, often referred to as the “Easter Egg Chicken”, appeals to many chicken owners because of their colorful eggs. Egg colors range from turquoise to deep olive to various shades of brown. Kids love to look through a carton of eggs to find the green ones! However, Americana chickens may not be the best choice if you don’t have plenty of room for them to roam. Americana’s ‘fly’ much more than most other chicken breeds and are always looking for tall trees and high rafters to roost in. They are not friendly to humans and prefer not to be handled. Their egg production is fair and their medium sized bodies are not good for meat production. They are interesting looking birds that come in an endless variety of colors, they have thick necks and flippy feathers by their cheeks.