Choosing the Right Chickens

Author: Deborah from Schoolhouse Farm  

So you’re thinking about getting chickens? How exciting!

First things first … don’t rush into it, take time to think and plan, to choose. 

The key questions to ask yourself are,

“What characteristics am I looking for and what breeds suit my circumstances?”

This really should determine what you buy, before you buy them. 


Here are some key characteristics to look for:

1. Laying potential
2. Personality/temperament 
3. Dual-purpose birds vs single purpose specialty birds
4. Broodiness / motherhood capacity
5. Their looks (or the “WOW” factor)
6. Potential pets


So what does all this mean?

1) Laying potential

All chickens lay eggs but some chickens lay more eggs, larger eggs and different coloured eggs. If egg laying capacity is important to you then you should do your research and make sure the breed you are considering is a ‘good layer’. Likewise, if you want to have ‘rainbow’ eggs then look for chickens that lay different coloured shells – blue, green, dark brown, white, blush pink or speckled brown are all obtainable. 

2. Personality 

Just like us, chickens have different temperaments and whilst there are individual differences, it is fair to say that the breed of chicken, along with the circumstances of breeding, strongly influences their personality. Things you might want to consider include how  friendly and people-orientated they are, if they are ‘flighty’ or calm, whether they are happy being contained, whether they are bossy or happy to ‘fit right in’, and whether they like to be petted. 

3. Dual-purpose vs. single purpose speciality birds

A duel-purpose chicken will supply you with a reasonable number of eggs but is also of a size and weight that they make ‘good eating’. These breeds are generally pure-breed heirloom or heritage and have been bred with ‘back-yard’ sustainability in mind. Most likely your grandparent’s chickens would have been duel-purpose as they wanted eggs and meat. Whilst they are duel-purpose keeping them for either eggs or meat alone is fine. They are generally hardy and long-lived.

On the other-hand, specialty birds are birds that are breed with one purpose in mind, most commonly eggs. Specialty layers are usually hybrids, which means it is a crossbreed (not any one breed). They are lighter in frame than heritage breeds (who are mostly duel-purpose), so they do not require as much food, but they must have nutrient-dense food if they are to lay and remain healthy. Whilst they lay prolifically for the first 12-18 months, laying at that ‘level’ takes a lot out of a chicken, so they can be prone to illness and shorter lives.

4. Broodiness / motherhood

There are chicken breeds that are known for their propensity to go ‘broody’, also known as ‘clucky’. They love to be mothers – it is their greatest joy. Which is fantastic for them and you if that is what you want but not good for either of you if you don’t! There is nothing lovelier than raising a brood of chicks under a hen but broodiness and breeding does add a layer of complication, so perhaps to be avoided until you are ready to take that step. 

5. WOW Factor

It’s all in the name – we are referring to those chooks that are fabulous to look at. The ones that your visitors will go “wow, what is that bird, she is beautiful!?”  They are still chickens, lay eggs, scratch, etc. they just happen to be chickens that are gorgeous as well as functional. Yes, it is a joy to have a mixed flock of these beauties to behold, but you should not choose on looks alone – you must consider all other factors carefully. 

6. Pets

These are chickens who are happy interacting with their ‘peeps’, being cuddled and ‘spoilt’. They make great pets and therapy animals. Of course they will lay eggs and do other chicken ‘stuff’, but if you are wanting pets for company or ‘ambiance’ these are a great addition.


To learn more about different breeds and their characteristics visit Schoolhouse Farm here: