There are a million articles about chickens and how their usefulness earns them a spot on most homesteading spaces: they’re small, they look funny, they provide a nigh-endless supply of butt nuggets. All hail the butt nugget. When choosing chickens, however, a breed’s temperament is often not taken into account. Which roosters are relaxed, which chickens will give you eggs without giving your hand some scars, these are things you’ll only know when you’ve been living with them for years.
These breed personalities are all my personal account of them, so you may find a chicken who doesn’t match their breed. I’ve also obviously not included every single chicken out there, as more of my experience leans toward ornamental breeds who provide serotonin, but not many eggs. (Looking at you, Silkies!)
That being said, I would be willing to talk about other breeds if I’ve worked with them before, and you can request them below in the comments section! These are just the most common birds off the top of my head.
Homesteader’s favorite chicken, and for good reason. These round orbs of joy are incredibly friendly so long as you handle them once or twice as chicks, and are docile and easy going. The roosters are protective of the flock but generally see humans as a part of their harem, so I personally have never had an issue with an Orpington rooster though I won’t say it hasn’t happened to a friend or two. The most popular color is the Buff, as shown here, and is my mother’s favorite. Many folks say that the buff are the most friendly, but I’ve noticed it may be simply people think the chicks are adorable, and handle them more often. Maybe I should do a study on that… Either way, Orpingtons are a great beginner breed who will lay nice white or off-white butt nuggets, possibly in your lap. (Yeah. It happened. It was wet.)
The breed largely hailed as the queen of butt nuggets. If it were possible for chickens to lay two or three eggs a day, this would be the breed. They are also incredibly flighty and are terrified of you and everything you love. If you do not want to ever get attached to a chicken, leghorns are for you. They will never love you or each other. The only thing they love is egg production. If you happen to be stuck with a particularly hateful little bugger, you can’t even eat them, because none of the food they eat goes back to them except what keeps them alive to lay even more eggs. This, unfortunately, makes them prone to all sorts of egg-related diseases. Egg bound, prolapse, all sorts of nasty. Don’t get leghorns if you want your chickens to raise a claw at literally anything other than Egg.
Cochins are more of an ornamental breed, but I wanted to put them on here not only for their personality, but also because these round creatures are so pleasant to look at. Consider it a cleanser for the palette. Cochins are absolutely enormous chickens. My roosters would get to over 20 lbs, half of it was feathers. These were my show and sale stock, the prize-winners. They’re also the only breed I have never met a mean chicken from. Even an Orpington hen will get pissy if you try to take her eggs during broody season, but Cochin hens are incredibly gentle as fathers and mothers. If you have young children and worry about them being in the pen, Cochins are the way to go. They don’t lay as many eggs as other breeds, but they’ll teach your children how to begin handling birds without wounds.
This absolute unit of a chicken is a gentle giant who grows to around 18 lbs. This girth led them to being the primary American meat breed for ages, though now they are dual purpose, and produce both breakfast and dinner. These are another safe for kids breed, as they’re very docile. Granted, they’re docile because they’re so enormous that nothing will bother them, but the why doesn’t change the what. These are the foragers of the chicken world, striking out to explore and eat everything they can see. And they do eat a lot, and don’t start laying until later in the year, so keep that in mind when you’re hoping for fast production. They’ll continue laying into the colder months, though, so it is a decent trade-off. These chickens became especially popular after a viral video showed a standard rooster exiting a tiny chicken house. More and more of him just kept coming out of the coop! That’s a good metaphor for this breed: the more you put in, the more and more and more and more the chicken will give back to you. Safe for kids, safe for dinner, ideal chicken.
Rhode Island Red
This is, in essence, the perfect farmyard chicken. It is the quintessential American breed, laying eggs, giving meat, and living life in almost every corner you can feasibly stuff a chicken into. They’re a good middle of the road breed in that they’re not too nice to exist like Brahma, but they’re not leghorns either in terms of temperament. If you want to display your American pride but can’t fit one more star spangled banner in your yard, the Rhode Island Red will add that missing piece you’ve been looking for. I tease, but seriously, these are great for beginners and veterans alike, and they’re super easy to get ahold of, from hatcheries to peers to friends and even off the side of the road. You’d be amazed at the amount of animals you can just lift off the middle of the road.
These two breeds I will put together, as they are quite similar and there is no need to create two separate headings for what everyone knows as “the Easter egg chickens”. These are a bit more flighty than other breeds I’ve put on the list (except leghorns), but their colorful eggs and general sweetness earned them a spot with a few other of the common breeds. They won’t be your best friend unless you’re giving them a treat, but they’re a great breed for everyone to have a couple of as novelty birds. They lay colorful eggs and fill out enough to be a meat breed, though I personally would not consider them a dual-purpose breed due to their only getting to be about 5 lbs. The easiest way to tell an Ameraucana from an Aracauna is in the face: Ameraucanas have the chipmunk face seen above with a load of cheek fluff and a charming little beard, while Aracauanas have more of an “ear muff” look.
And those are a few of my favorites (and last favorite) I’ve had on the farm over the years. Which breed would you recommend to folks just starting to dabble in friendly feathers?