So let’s start with the obvious, you can’t have a rooster. No, not even if you really, really, really want one. Personally, I’m fine with that. A rooster is definitely not on my wishlist at the present moment. When the time comes that I can actually move out to the country and have my own little plot of heaven, then yes I will get a rooster. He will be named George. But until then I just want to hang with the chicks (bad pun I know, but it had to be done).
Once you have come to the conclusion that you need chickens in your life (and I mean how could you not?) the next thing you have to do is research. Now I don’t mean the “How to care for the wee beasties” kind of Chicken 101 research. I mean the kind of research you need to do in order to find out if you can even have them. I myself (after much research) can not. Cue the sad music and please look away while I have an ugly cry.
That said, I am not one to be dissuaded and I am currently working on writing some letters to political type people to see if I can get a pilot project set up. I mean I would love nothing more than to put on my egg collecting apron and go out and gather fresh eggs and hang with the hens. It’s crazy to me that I can’t have them, given that I have farmland about three blocks north of me. But as they say, thems the breaks. So the least I can do is impart my research onto you, who I’m hoping is luckier than me, in that you CAN add chickens to your suburban homestead.
The backyard chicken bylaws will vary from city to city. But one constant I have seen is that (as I already mentioned) you can NOT have a rooster and that you will be capped at 4 hens. You may be thinking that you only need 2 hens but let me tell you that this is a bad idea. If you can have 4, then get four. Truth is that chickens ate social creatures. If you get 2 and something bad happens (illness, predators, old age) and you lose one, then chances are that you could lose the other from stress or sadness. So given that logic, the minimum should be three but
When I think of having backyard chickens of my own, I tend to think of my chicken hero Karen. Actually, that’s a lie, she’s kind of my everything hero! She has one of the few blogs that I actively follow. This is because she is all kinds of hella awesome. She grows shit, she has chickens and she is constantly doing DIYs. You can find her over at The Art of Doing Stuff. The other two blogs I follow are Pinch of Yum which has no end of amazing food and my kindred spirit Kira over at A Hot Mess Homestead (she’s a duck lady but I won’t hold it against her). But anyway back to the topic at hand, backyard chickens.
We are here to talk about the best breeds of chickens for you. I am assuming you want chickens because…
- You are reading this blog post
As a suburban homesteader who is looking to add chickens to your homestead there are certain breed characteristics you may want to consider. As with anything, each breed will come with some positives and negatives. It will be up to you to determine if the pros outweigh the cons. Then you can decide which breed best meets your needs.
Backyard chickens can be kept in just about any climate, but it is important to get a breed that best suits the climate where you live. Me, I live in Canada and it gets damn chilly in the winter. Its not unusual to have days that get down to -40C/F (how weird that -40C = -40F???). In any case, if you live somewhere where water freezes outside then you will need to consider cold-tolerant breeds.
It’s important to remember that just because they can handle colder temperatures it doesn’t mean they are roaming free all winter. You need to make sure they have a nice warm coop. It is also a good idea to use the deep litter method when the temperatures drop. You don’t want any of your babies getting frostbite! Some of the basic characteristics of cold-tolerant breeds are as follows. A large body mass, heavy feathering, small combs and that the breed originated in northern climates. So if it gets cold where you live, make sure that you know how to properly prepare your flock for winter!
- Australorp (winner)
Another challenge can be if you live in a climate that is very hot. Most cold-tolerant breeds are not going to do well in a hot environment. One exception seems to be the Rhode Island Reds, this is one breed that is making it onto my final list for sure. It definitely gets very cold in Canada but it can also get pretty darn hot during our 3 months of summer! So for me, while I definitely need a cold-tolerant breed I am also looking for one that tolerates the heat as well. Initially, I assumed that cold and heat tolerance would not be found in the same breeds, but in this assumption I was incorrect. Which was a lovely surprise!
Depending on how hot it gets where you live it is equally important to make sure that you know how to properly care for your flock when the temperature starts to rise! You don’t want any of your babies getting heat stroke or suffering in the heat. So pay close attention to making sure you choose a breed that can deal with warm temperatures. Even then you still need to make sure to take the steps necessary to prepare your flock for summer.
- White Leghorns (winner)
- Rhode Island Red
- Easter Egger
When I picture myself with my chickens, I see them following me around my garden, oh and they love cuddles. I definitely want cuddly, friendly chickens, that’s my end game. So temperament is an incredibly important attribute that I am looking for in any breed I am considering. This may or may not be important to you, and that’s fine. Chicken temperaments range from “don’t touch me” to “hello friend”. This is on the lower end of the functional categories (along with egg colours).
That said, from my perspective, this is probably the most important b
- Plymouth Rock
Eggs per Year
It may seem strange to say this, but I am not a huge egg eater. Now don’t get me wrong, I love them for my weekend brekkie. But, as a rule, other the weekends I’m not a daily egg eater. So out of all the categories to take into consideration when choosing a breed, this for me is the least important.
If you live in a climate that requires cold-tolerant breeds, it is also important to remember the egg production slows or pretty much stops during the winter. This isn’t just due to the cold temperatures. Hens need approximately 14 hours of daylight in order to produce eggs. In winter the daylight average is down around 9 hours a day.
- White Leghorns (winner)
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rock
As a suburban homesteader, the noise level of the breed you choose has to be a primary concern. With neighbours just a fence away, you don’t want anyone complaining that your chickens are keeping them up at night or ruining their BBQ. Luckily there are loads of quiet breeds for you to choose from. That said, any animal is going to make SOME noise and quiet (like most things) is a relative term.
Hens tend to have a noise level of about 60-70 decibels which is on par with a human conversation. To put that in perspective a dog barking comes in at about 90 decibels. Some will be chattier than others and they do tend to make a bit more noise when they are laying an egg. But seriously who can blame them?
- Rhode Island Red
This is definitely the least tangible of the breed “requirements”. That said, if you’re choosing to bring chickens into your homestead and you’re not reliant on them for your survival then why not choose kinds that have pretty eggs? I’m not going to lie but I get super hella jelly when I see those perfect Instagram pictures of those beautiful colourful eggs.
If you are partial to beautiful eggs then this will rule out certain breeds for you. So you will have to decide where this attribute lands on your list of importance. Luckily one of the top choices for egg colour, the Easter Egger, is also heat and cold tolerant and friendly.
- Easter Egger (winner)
- Copper Maran
- Olive Egger
So after taking all this information into account, and much consideration and deliberation. I think I have narrowed down my own top five breeds for when I can add my own backyard chickens. They are as follows:
- Easter Eggers (temperament, egg colour, heat tolerant)
- Rhode Island Reds (noise level, eggs per year, heat tolerant)
- Golden-Laced Wyandotte (noise level, cold tolerant)
- Orpington (noise level, cold tolerant)
- Austalorp (temperament, cold tolerant)
Hopefully this helps you in your quest for backyard chickens. While you ponder your perfect poultry, I’m off to write more letters. So that I can (hopefully) one day (soon) complete homesteading goals of adding chickens to my backyard!