Selecting the best breed of chicken to raise depends upon the purpose for which the chickens are intended. Will you be looking for egg chickens, meat chickens or a dual purpose chicken? No one chicken breed will satisfy all three purposes, so lets look at some types of chicken purposes and corresponding breeds below.
A popular, modern meat chicken is the "white broiler" which is marketed under different names by different hatcheries. They are strictly a meat chicken originally bred for the commercial "cage" grower. In recent years it has also become popular with individuals looking for a fast growing meat chicken. It has an extremely fast growth rate, but unfortunately, can also have many health complications because of it. Heart problems and leg problems are common with this type of bird. Because of its fast growth rate, the taste and texture of the meat is not as good as a slower growing bird.
For many reasons, I prefer the older, heritage breeds such as the Jersey Giant, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks and Australorps. These heritage breeds have a slower growth rate, but the birds will remain healthier and you will have a longer time frame in which to cull out the flock. They will also taste better. For example, A heritage breed rooster will be a nice size broiler in 8-12 months, where as a white broiler chicken will need to be butchered in about 7-9 weeks. The meat of the heritage breed will still be tender and tasty in a bird that is up to 9 months old.
Another good choice would be to get a slower growing hybrid broiler of the various "Ranger" varieties. The Ranger was developed by the French broiler industry. It is a moderately fast growing bird, but is much more active than the hybrid white broilers so common in the American broiler industry. It is therefore much better suited to those wanting a meat bird that can be raised as a free-range or pastured chicken. Expect to process these birds at about 12 weeks.
Egg laying breeds of chickens have been selected for high egg productivity and usually have small bodies that make them undesirable as meat producers. The benefit of having small bodies in egg laying chickens is that fewer nutrients go into producing body muscle and more goes into producing eggs.
Egg laying breeds can also be divided into white egg layers and brown egg layers. There is really no difference between the two except color. Most white egg layers come from the Leghorn lineage while the brown egg layers come from the Rhode Island Red lineage. Some popular egg laying breeds are White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Black and Red Stars. You can expect 320-340 eggs a year from a quality egg layer breed.
Dual Purpose Chickens:
Dual purpose chickens are just as described. They can provide eggs and meat but do not excel at one or the other. These chicken breeds will serve as great backyard chickens for most families or homesteaders. The average egg production from a dual purpose breed of chicken is about 3- 4 eggs a week.
Many hens from these heritage breeds are "broody", which means that they will set on the eggs and hatch the chicks therefore replenishing your flock without having to buy chicks or hatching eggs. Some popular breeds in this category of chickens are Orpingtons, Rocks, Wyandottes, Australorps, Reds and Sussex varieties. If you want to have your hens hatch out chicks themselves to replenish your flock, be sure to get a breed that is broody. You will also need to have a rooster in your flock, but no more than one rooster for every 8-12 hens.
To buy any these breeds of chickens, just check out our list of hatcheries, as they are readily available.