Believe it or not, chickens come in all different shapes and sizes! Some other misconceptions with chickens is that eggs are only white - which is not true, and NO, the color of the egg does not depend on the color of the chicken. Also, the biggest misconception about chickens is that you do NOT need a rooster in order to have eggs.
Let's break it down...
The first thing you need to consider when wanting to become a chicken tender is what are you looking to gain from raising chickens?
Are you looking for cute pets you can dress? *cue the eyeroll* If so, you may be looking for a delicate breed like a silkie.
Are you wanting farm fresh eggs each morning? Are you only looking for colorful farm fresh eggs so you can post epic pictures to your facebook page and make everyone "ohhh and ahh"?
Are you looking to raise only meat birds? Are you looking for a good dual purpose breed that can you give you eggs AND meat?
Are you looking to just provide for your Family and maybe a few friends or neighbors? Have you just finished reading Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profit book and are looking to start a full-on chicken farming venture?
I am going to assume you are reading this blog post because you are looking to raise chickens for eggs and possibly meat. The most basic breakdown of breeds is first deciding if you want a heritage breed or a conventional breed. A heritage breed is a breed in which has been around for hundreds of years. Typically, these breeds have great genetics because they breed out bad traits over their long history. These breeds are usually much slower growing than conventional breeds and may not lay as many eggs or have as much meat, but they usually outlive conventional breeds and have longevity in production. These breeds are also VERY hardy and well-adapted to the climates they originate in, which also means they are much less prone to sickness and disease. You can find a list of heritage chickens breeds in the post notes, below.
The next factor to consider is the environment you live in. Do you experience mild temperatures all year, or do you experience all 4 seasons with harsh, Wisconsin winters? ORRRR do you live in the desert with constant heat and no moisture? These are probably the most important factors to consider when looking to raise any livestock. You should only get livestock that are conducive to your environment. Trust me, it will be a lot less maintenance, vet bills, fancy technological gadgets for heat abatement or heat strategies, and your animals will be able to live more in their natural ways. For instance, here in Wisconsin, I have larger frame birds like Barred Rocks and Buff Orpingtons that are very cold hardy birds. I don't use any heat in my coops as running heat lamps around straw is a dangerous combination. My birds free range all day and are able to properly molt and grow thick feathers in before winter sets in.
Next is for the egg layers.
Most chickens will lay an egg every 1-3 days when they are young (I will get into chicken life cycles later in this chicken-rearing series). If you are looking for a high production layer, meaning you get an egg once per day, you may want to consider a Barred Rock or a Rhode Island Red. These birds are egg-producing machines and you'll have an endless supply of eggs. However, many high producing breeds will not experience the longevity of laying like their slower-producing counterparts. A high production chicken will lay for roughly 2 years and then start tapering off in egg laying, but a heritage breed like a Leghorn can produce around 4-6 eggs per week, but can lay up to 6 years. I highly recommend taking a look through the Meyer Hatchery Catalog which takes a deep dive into each breed and their characteristics. This catalog should give you a very good idea of what you may be looking for (link in the post notes below). The Meyer Hatchery Catalog also shows pictures of what each breed's eggs will look like, so if you're in this chicken business for colorful eggs, you'll find them here! I have fallen in love with my Olive Eggers - they lay and olive color egg and they are the most beautiful thing ever. If you have children you can even make it fun and have a "green eggs and ham" breakfast!
Now for the meat birds.
Meat birds are formally called, broilers, so you will see me use these terms interchangeably. Broilers are known for their thick breasts and are very different looking than egg layers, unless you raise dual purpose breeds, like the Barred Rock and Buff Orpington. The most common broiler is the cornish cross - the big, plump, white bird that waddles everywhere. These birds are genetic crosses between a cornish and a white rock chicken. Genetically, they are junk birds and easily prone to diseases, but they produce meat quite like no other broiler can. Austin and I raise cornish cross simply because their meat quality and taste is amazing. There's ALOT of controversy over raising these birds vs. a heritage breed, like a Freedom Ranger, BUT I will take the heat, as this is our personal choice to raise these birds - to each their own. The biggest differences in raising meat birds vs. egg layers is that you will keep egg layers all year round, whereas meat birds only take 8 weeks from birth to raise to harvest weight, so there is no need to raise during winter months. I will get into the weeds of raising broilers in an upcoming post in this series. The Meyer Hatchery Catalog also contains broilers - so check it out!
At this point, you are probably way overthinking this chicken-raising thing. My advice - start with 1-2 winter-hardy, egg-laying breeds, and try to buy a few pullets. Pullets are chickens that are around 4 months old and getting ready to starting laying eggs for the first time. Diving into chick brooding probably is not the best way to start raising chickens - I recommend getting pullets first to get a feel for chickens, and then you can expand into chick brooding if you enjoy the chickens.
Take a deep breath. You got this :)
Heritage Chicken Breeds: https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-breeds/heritage-breeds-list/#Chickens
Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds: https://www.fresheggsdaily.blog/2014/12/20-cold-hardy-chicken-breeds.html
Meyer Hatchery Catalog: https://www.meyerhatchery.com/digital_edition/44/