My picks for the best hens for an egg laying homestead backyard flock.
With more than a hundred breeds of chickens to choose from, it can be challenging trying to figure out which breeds you want to raise. Today I thought I would share the chickens I choose for my 2020 flock. Hopefully this will help you with your chicken selections!
There are so many chicken breeds that appeal to me in one way or another, but I mainly look for hens that will handle upstate New York’s winters, are a good size, and have pretty plumage.
The characteristics I specifically looked at when selecting my hens, and what I take into consideration:
- Cold Hardiness In Upstate New York our winters can range mild to pretty harsh. January and February can be particularly frigid, so I need hens that can tough it out.
- Egg Production I wanted to make sure to have a couple of solid, dependable egg layers, but I also wanted a couple of fun breeds that will likely fall more into the “pet category” that I’ve always thought are cool, I am ok with a few less productive layers.
- Temperament I take chicken breed temperament with a grain of salt. Just like people, each chicken has their own personality. But some breeds handle confinement better than others, and are more likely to be docile and easy going. Because we share our yard with our chickens I want them to be friendly and mellow.
- Foraging Abilities Our backyard is surrounded by farm fields, and while my hens will spend a lot of time confined to their run for their own protection, I like to give them the opportunity to get out and forage while we are outside and hanging around the house. I like hens that are good at supplementing their diet with bugs and worms as part of their daily food intake.
- An interesting mix of colors and sizes One of the benefits of living in the country is the ability to let my chickens roam. I love having chickens wandering around our barn and yard. A mixed flock of chickens, scratching in the dirt for worms, pecking at bugs, and clucking contentedly just makes my heart happy.
The Egg Layers I picked For My Backyard Flock
After pouring over specifications, and descriptions of chickens, and considering my past experiences with previous flocks these are the day old chicks I ordered:
Golden Comets were the first chickens I ever raised, and found them to be egg laying rock stars. These birds are extremely popular in this neck of the woods, as they are one of the best cold hardy free-range birds. Golden Comets are a hybrid cross between a Rhode Island Red and a White Leghorn. They have been bred to lay a large amount of eggs, and they will lay between 250 to 300 eggs per year, and they rarely ever go broody.
Golden Comet lay eggs are brown colored, and if you like brown eggs, a Golden Comet should be first on your list. They handle life in a mixed flock well, and tolerate other birds well.
I’ve had barred rocks before, and found them to be solid layers, with laid back personalities. This breed was developed in New England to be a dual purpose bird that could survive harsh winters. My barred rocks were docile, and seemed to get along with their flockmates. I found barred rocks were happy in their run, but loved to forage. This is another brown egg layer that will lay an egg every couple of days. I love the barred rocks black and white plumage!
The second flock I raised on our farm was a small group of Buff Orpingtons, and my Buff hens quickly became one of my all time favorite chickens. Their sweet & calm personalities along with easy handling made this chicken a standout. I’ve had buffs go broody, but at the time we didn’t have a rooster, which is too bad, because I believe they would have been excellent mothers. They’re great foragers, who lay brown eggs every few days.
The first in my “pet pick” category, is the light Brahma. These are a large breed, with hens weighing up to 10 pounds, and their loose fluffy feathers make them look even bigger than they actually are. Feathers cover their feet and shanks, giving them an added layer of warmth for the winter. They are supposed to have docile, gentle, and quiet temperament, making them an excellent pet chicken for families. Light Brahmas lay about 200 medium-sized brown eggs a year.
Another gentle giant I am excited to have as a part of my backyard flock is the Jersey Giant. The Jersey is supposed to be a rugged breed that does especially well in cold climates. The hen also lays through the winter, producing brown eggs. These are large chickens, and hens can weigh up to 10 pounds. I think Jersey Giants will be happy foraging with the rest of the flock, and as a bonus, they will likely be too heavy to be carried away by a hawk. Jersey Giants are a dual purpose breed that lay eggs, but are not prolific layers. I am anticipating getting 2-4 weeks per week from each Jersey Giant.
Thinking about getting chickens? Read about where I ordered my chicks and where you can get day old chicks, and How to survive the winter your flock.