There are countless varieties of hens that differ in coloring, physical characteristics, temperament, egg-laying propensity, stamina and ease of husbandry. The domestic chicken has been the subject of countless crosses over the centuries for the purpose of changing its feather color, aggressiveness, fecundity, for food, economic, religious and ornamental purposes.

Therefore, if you’re wondering which are the best chicken breeds, you especially need to know by what criteria to evaluate each species of hen.

Let’s find out them together!

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How many chicken breeds exist?

There are many types of hens: 38 Italian and 162 varieties from other countries, as well as dwarf breeds, each with its own peculiarities in coloration, plumage, size, egg production, hatching habits, temperament, etc.

The American Poultry Association recognizes 65 chicken varieties, to which is added the Cobb 500 variety, highly valued by commercial meat producers.

Chicken breeds can be divided into light (they produce an appreciable number of eggs and are intelligent), heavy (they are docile but imposing, and are prized for producing eggs and meat), dwarf (small in size and attractive in appearance, recommended for small flocks), and fighters (they have a warlike disposition).

Which breeds of hens to start with?

Among so many breeds of hens available, you are spoiled for choice (and doubt which one is best suited for beginners).

First of all, you need to decide what is the purpose for which you want to purchase hens. Are you looking for an aesthetically pleasing species, one that produces lots of eggs, or a variety with soft, high-quality meat? In this guide we will see which are the most reputable varieties of hens in relation to each need.

If you are looking for very productive hens, you can lean toward Leghorn, Australorp and Ancona hens. The most suitable hens for breeding purposes are those that are over a year old and thus acclimated to the difficulties of moulting and laying eggs.

If you want to struggle as little as possible, Amrock hens are known for their quiet and affectionate disposition, making them an ideal choice for those planning to start breeding.

Ornamental chicken breeds: the best ones to know

Ornamental hens are so called because they are sought after for their beauty and the distinctive aesthetic features they sport.

Paduan ornamental hen breeds

Paduan hens have a long history behind breeding as ornamental hens: their liveries can be of various hues: white, black, silver, pearl.

Paduan ornamental hen breeds
NamePaduan
Typeornamental
Feather colorwhite, black, silver, pearl
Nr. eggs per year150/180 (rarely 220)
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorwhite

Ornamental Chicken Breeds Frizzle

The Frizzle breed is a type of hen with very whimsical curled plumage. These hens discount their beauty with a constant need for protection, as they have no waterproof feathers and are unable to conserve body heat in adverse weather conditions.

Frizzle Ornamental Chicken
NameFrizzle
Typeornamental
Feather colorblack, white, blue, sparrowhawk
Nr. eggs per year150
Egg weight58 grams
Egg colorwhite, brown, yellowish

Lakenfelder ornamental hen breeds

The Lakenfelder is a variety (probably of Dutch origin) that produces 160/180 medium-sized eggs per year; because of its charming appearance it is-secondarily-appreciated also as an ornamental hen. They are free-range animals and can reach as high as three meters in the air when stationary, so a suitable fence must be attached to the chicken coop. In addition to understanding how to properly protect the enclosure, also find out about the essential accessories in a chicken coop.

Lakenfelder ornamental hen breeds
NameLakenfelder
Typeornamental
Feather colorwhite and black
Nr. eggs per year160/180
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorwhite

Langshan ornamental hen breeds

Langshan hens have long, strong tarsiers, a graceful stature joint with a respectable size, a high tail and a medium-sized crest. Despite its imposing aura, it is a very peaceful hen that can live even in small yards. They lay 150/180 eggs a year that are approximately dark brown in color. The chicks are robust and have black, white or yellow plumage.

Langshan ornamental chicken
NameLangshan
Typeornamental
Feather colorblack, white, yellow
Nr. eggs per year150/180
Egg weight58 grams
Egg colordark brown

Orloff ornamental hen breeds

Orloff hens are a poultry breed of Russian origin that is very strong and cold hardy. Males have thick plumage and a quiet if alert disposition. They produce 160/180 light brown eggs for year. The wings are long and adjacent to the body, the skin is orange and the eyes orange-red. Because of these aesthetic characteristics it is valued as an ornamental hen.

Orloff ornamental hen breeds
NameOrloff
Typeornamental
Feather colorred, white, mottled
Nr. eggs per year160/180
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorlight brown

Giant Cocincina ornamental hen breeds

The giant cocincina breed comes from China and is renowned for its exquisitely regular proportions, majestic plumage and elegant feathered paws. It can also be easily raised in the garden, and because of its mild temperament it can also tolerate the presence of other breeds. There are variations of it in many colors: blue, white, tawny, partridge, sparrowhawk, black-rimmed silver, and black-rimmed gold.

The rooster exceeds 5 kg while the female reaches 4 kg.

Cocincina giant chicken
NameGiant Cocincina
Typeornamental
Feather colorblue, white, tawny, partridge, sparrowhawk, silver black rim, gold black rim
Nr. eggs per year100
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorreddish, brown

Breeds of hens that lay big eggs

Among the breeds of hens that make large eggs are the:

  • Livornese (produce large, white-shelled eggs, widely used in baking);
  • Barnevelder (large and brownish in color);
  • Gâtinaise (rustic cut specimens with tasty meat);
  • Egger (about 180-200 eggs per year with a greenish shell);
  • Marans (eggs of about 100 grams).

What breeds of hens lay the most eggs?

Laying hens are so named because they tend to produce a virtually daily average number of eggs (about 300 per year) and therefore are an excellent investment for the farmer. In general, the number of eggs produced depends on the time of year (more sunlight increases poultry production while low light reduces it) and the age of the hen (after the second year, fecundity begins to decline).

After the fifth year of age, in fact, the hen hardly produces any more eggs, which is why in industrial farms they are exploited to exhaustion within the first 24 months of life.

Naked Neck Chicken

The italian Naked Neck chicken (so called because of the recurring featherless neck), although it does not give much aesthetic satisfaction, redeems itself with a generous egg production (180/220 eggs per year).

Naked Neck Chicken
NameNaked neck
Typelaying hen
Feather colorblack and edged blue
Nr. eggs per year180/220
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colordark brown

Rhode Island chicken

The Rhode Island is a poultry variant recognizable by its intense mahogany-red color that bears living in both wide fields and domestic fences: it produces up to 260 dark reddish pigmented eggs per year. There is a variant with mahogany-red feathers and another with white feathers.

Rhode Island Chicken
NameRhode Island
Typelaying hen
Feather colorred
Nr. eggs per year260
Egg weight60 grams
Egg colordark brown

Australorp chicken

The Australorp breed turns out to be one of the best egg producers ever (some specimens have gone so far as to produce as many as 364 eggs in a year, practically one a day!). They are very easy to train, so they are the right choice for budding breeders looking for tame specimens.

There are some variants that are highly prized both in egg production and loveliness, so they are suitable both as laying and ornamental hens.

These include:

  • the Sussex (about 260 eggs per year)
  • the Wyandotte (about 240 eggs per year) easily recognizable by its picturesque plumage, is valued both for its intense egg production and for its distinctive appearance, which also make it appreciated as an ornamental hen.
Australorp chicken
NameAustralorp
Typelaying hen
Feather colorblack, blue, white
Nr. eggs per year364
Egg weight60 grams
Egg colorlight brown

Laying hen breeds: the best ones to know

So-called laying hens are the female Gallus gallus domesticus, and their name is traced back to the fact that they produce a large quantity of eggs, many more than other variants (we are talking about something like 200-300 eggs a year).

Its origins date back to Southeast Asia (it was already known 9,000 years ago in China) and saw a spread throughout Europe in the 6th century B.C. and later in America.

Clearly, laying hens are favored by farmers who want to achieve conspicuous egg production.

How to choose a breed of laying hen

Obviously, the fecundity of laying hens is affected by health conditions, so they must be properly fed and protected to enable them to give birth to a large number of eggs!

Laying hens produce about one egg per day (although they drop the rate during periods of cold weather and with darkness). A laying hen typically lives between 5 and 11 years, although they begin to drop in the rate of production after the second year of life (although they increase the size of eggs produced).

Paduan breed of laying hen

Paduan laying hens, despite their name, originated in Poland, and since the 1400s were bred in the Veneto region by Marquis Dondi dell’Orologio. They are famous as pet and show hens because of the characteristic bony spike at the front of the skull from which long feathers sprout, giving them an appearance reminiscent of a chrysanthemum.

Females of the species have a very low propensity to hatch. They can be white, blue edged, chamois edged white, sparrowhawk, pearl gray, silver edged black. Specimens lay about 180/220 eggs per year that are white in color.

Paduan ornamental hen breeds
NamePaduan
Typelaying hen/dwarf
Feather colorwhite, blue edged, white edged suede, sparrowhawk, pearl gray, black edged silver
Nr. eggs per year180/220
Egg weight60 grams
Egg colorwhite

Ancona laying hen breeds

Ancona laying hens are native to the province of Ancona in the Marche region of Italy. These hens are comfortable in open spaces and love to claw. They produce 180 to 250 white-colored eggs a year, and beyond that they are aesthetically very attractive, thanks to their black plumage with metallic hues and white V-shaped ornaments.

Ancona hen
NameAncona
Typelaying hen
Feather colorblack with white spot
Nr. eggs per year180/250
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorwhite

Livorno laying hen breed

Livorno hens (so called because they originate from trade between Livorno (Italy), America and Britain) are highly renowned as they are considered the most productive hens in the world.

The hens go as far as producing 300 eggs a year weighing about 55 grams. They are small in size but quite lively in disposition. Just think, when raised in rural environments, they can lay as many as 320 eggs a year! They have plumage of different colors depending on the subbreed (the most common of which is white, followed by black, silvery, tawny and golden).

Livorno hens are light and very intelligent. Visually they have white earlobes, the crest hanging to the side and yellow tarsi. They are generally very small in size, justifying the nickname “dwarf Paduan hen.” Its eggs are white in color with an average weight of 55 grams.

Livorno hen
NameLivorno
Typelaying hen
Feather colorwhite, black, silver, tawny, golden
Nr. eggs per year300
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorwhite

Plymouth Rock laying hen breed

Plymouth Rock laying hens have a very calm disposition that makes them suitable for those who want to raise poultry without problems. They are not able to fly much, so they can be easily kept under control. They produce about 200 eggs a year.

Plymouth hen
NamePlymouth Rock
Typelaying hen
Feather colorblack, white, blue, columbia, barred, tawny, tawny columbia, partridge and silver partridge
Nr. eggs per years170/200
Egg weight58/62 grams
Egg colorocream

Leghorn laying hen breed

Leghorn hens (so called because they originate from trade between Leghorn, America and Britain) are highly renowned as they are considered the most productive hens in the world.

The hens go as far as producing 300 eggs a year weighing about 55 grams. They are small in size but quite lively in disposition. Just think, when raised in rural environments, they can lay as many as 320 eggs a year! They have plumage of different colors depending on the subbreed (the most common of which is white, followed by black, silvery, tawny and golden).

Leghorn hens are light and very intelligent. Visually they have white earlobes, the crest hanging to the side and yellow tarsi. They are generally very small in size, justifying the nickname “dwarf Paduan hen.” Its eggs are white in color with an average weight of 55 grams.

Galline LeghornG
NameLeghorn
Typelaying hen
Feather colorwhite
Nr. eggs per year230/300
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorwhite

Isa brown laying hen breed

The isa brown laying hens are famous for producing as many as 300 eggs, with an average weight of about 60 grams and a dark pinkish to light brown color.

They are a hybrid breed generated by purposeful mating to increase laying qualities. They are a rare variant in Italy, so they are easier to find in some backyards than in the market. Here are some tips on how to breed the Isa Brown hens. 

Isa brown hen
NameIsa brown
Typelaying hen
Feather colorreddish
Nr. eggs per year300
Egg weight60 grammi
Egg colordark pink, light brown

Sicilian laying hen breed

The Sicilian laying hen is another candidate for the podium as the largest producer of eggs (about 280 eggs a year!). It is a very old European variety that was once widespread in Sicily but is not commercially available in Italy. It is probably the result of mixing North African and Sicilian chickens.

It presents a rather noble appearance, a robust constitution and a predilection for open spaces. It proves resistant to cold climates. It is not a good flier but is able to obtain much of its daily nourishment by itself.

The eggs weigh an average of 50 grams and are white in color.

Sicilian
NameSicilians
Typelaying hen
feather colorbrown, white, black, blue
Nr. eggs per year280
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorccream

Blue laying hen breed

Laying hens that produce blue eggs are highly valued and sought after for the elegance and distinctiveness of that color.

Legbar Cream – Blue-egg laying hen breed

The Legbar Cream is recognizable by its elegant golden plumage and distinctive crest folded back on itself. They produce pastel blue eggs and in large numbers (160/200 eggs per year) and like to live in open spaces. In addition, the sex of the chicks is easily recognizable: males have a small light spot on the head, and females have an obvious dark tone streak on the head. They present a muscular physiognomy and broad wings juxtaposed to the body.

Legbar Cream Hen
NameCream Legbar
Typelaying hen
Feather colorcream
Nr. eggs per year160/200
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorblue

Araucana – Blue-egg laying hen breed

The Araucana hen is a particular variant with a robust build that allows it to live even on the inaccessible peaks of the Andes. It lays blue eggs approximately every four days.

Araucana hen
NameAraucana
Typehen
Feather color blue, white, black, sparrowhawk, wild, red black, red blue, golden wheat
Nr. eggs per year200
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorlight blue, light gray, greenish

Black laying hen breed

Some black laying breeds that produce abundantly are the Padovana, Siciliana, Anona, Livornese and Valdarno Nera.

Black Valdarno – Black laying hen breed

Black Valdarno hens are renowned as high egg-laying Italian hens (about 55 grams): the specimens are usually lively and like to move outdoors.

Black Valdarno
NameBlack Valdarno
Typelaying hen
Feather colorblack
Nr. eggs per year180/200
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorwhite

Red laying hen breeds

Some renowned red laying breeds are New Hampshire and Marans.

New Hampshire – Red laying hen breed

New Hampshire red laying hens are a breed created in the 20th century by a series of purposeful crosses so as to improve speed of growth, plumage, hardiness and egg size. It is a very peaceful and easy to domesticate variety that is very prolific in brown eggs (about 220 per year).

New Hampshire hen
NameNew Hampshire
Typelaying hen
Feather color golden-brown, golden-brown blue and white
Nr. eggs per year200/220
Egg weight65/70 grams
Egg colorwhite

Marans – Red-egg laying hen breed

The Marans breed has white tarsi, deep red earlobes, orange-red eyes and the thing with regal bearing. Marans with brass-black feathers lacking typical green highlights are mainly common in Italy.

They are quiet-tempered ornamental hens that grow strong and robust, producing reddish-brown eggs. There are two breeding lines of them, one English and one French: the French one-the most common in Italy-does not have feathers on the entire foot but only on the outer toe.

Marans laying hens have sparrowhawk, black, brass-black, golden cuckoo and silver-colored feathers. They lay brownish eggs (160-180 per year) of a round shape weighing 75-100 grams.

Marans chicken breed
NameMarans
Typelaying hen
Feather color white, golden wheat, copper black, silver black, silver sparrowhawk
Nr. eggs per year160/180
Egg weight75/100 grams
Egg colorrust red or liver red/td>

How much do laying hen breeds cost?

The price of a laying hen is influenced by several factors. We usually start from 5 euros to reach several tens of euros.

Generally, however, those who start a breeding farm from scratch do not aim to populate it immediately with valuable specimens; instead they aim to buy laying hens costing between 5 and 10 euros approximately.

The price also varies according to age: chicks can cost between 2 and 3 euros, while a hen around six months old, when she starts to be fertile, definitely costs more. After a year, the price already begins to decrease due to reduced reproductive capacity.

Dwarf chicken breeds: the best ones to know

Dwarf hens are a variety of small domestic fowl more valued for the charm of plumage than for egg production.There are naturally bred frog hens and others obtained through purposeful crosses.

Authentically bred dwarf hens exist in nature with that small size (Nagasaki, Moroseta, Ohiki, Peking).

Non-natural dwarf hens, on the other hand, are obtained by a process of “miniaturization,” through a series of targeted crosses to obtain smaller-stature specimens from larger species such as Brahma, Livorno or Cocincina.

Dwarf breed hen Barbu D’Anvers

The Belgian Barbu D’Anvers is at least three hundreds year old. These are ornamental hens with a peaceful nature that makes them suitable as pets. Since they are very small hens they can also be kept in confined environments. They are sociable animals that seek human contact and lay relatively large eggs for their size (about 35 gr.).

Barbuta D'Anversa
NameBarbu d’Anvers
Typedwarf
Feather color black, white, speckled blue, Andalusian blue, millefiori, porcelain
Nr. eggs per year90/100
Egg weight35 grams
Egg colorcream white

Hamburg dwarf breed hen

Hamburg hens are a hardy species of hens native to northern Europe, with blue tarsiers and white earlobes, while the feathers can take on gold or black speckled silver colorations.

Hamburg dwarf hen
Name Hamburg
Typedwarf
Feather color white, silver paietted black, gold paietted black, blue edged black
Nr. eggs per year200
Egg weight56 grams
Egg colorcream white

Amrock dwarf hen breed

Amrock hens have parallel black and gray stripes, a robust physique and a fast growth rate. They produce about 200 eggs a year weighing at least 55 grams, brownish or cream in color.

Amrock dwarf hen
Name Amrock
Typedwarf
Feather color white, black, fawn, barred, painted black mesh
Nr. eggs per year200
Egg weight55 grams
Egg colorcreamy brownish

Paduan dwarf hen breed

Dwarf Paduan hens have a nice appereance given by the tuft of long feathers drooping over their eyes. Frequent grooming is recommended to prevent the feathers from obstructing their vision, making them too reactive to surrounding movements.

Dwarf cocincina hen breed

The cocincina hen is the pride of breeders of docile and good-looking chickens. It dates back to the region of the same name in China from which it came to Europe around the 19th century, triggering a process of purposeful selection by breeders.

There are two variants of it: the dwarf cocincina and the giant cocincina, which are in fact two separate breeds. In fact, through increasing selection, what was originally just a miniature version of its larger sister eventually specialized toward a lower, rounder profile.

The eggs are reddish in color and the thick plumage is decidedly soft and abundant. They are decidedly robust and tend to hatch at least a hundred eggs a year. The rooster weighs one kilogram while the hen is around 900 grams.

Cocincina dwarf hen
Cocincina giant chicken
NameCocincina
Typedwarf
Feather colorfawn, black, blue, white, black knitted beaded, sparrowhawk, black edged gold, black edged silver
Nr.eggs per year100
Egg weight50/55 grams
Egg colorcream/reddish or brownish

Breeds of chickens with feathered feet

Despite the countless varieties of existing hens, only a small number of them have feathery legs. Let’s find out which ones they are!

Brahma chickens with feathered feet

The Brahma breed has the famous feathered feet: this detail, together with the light and dark plumage, gives it sophistication and elegance. These hens have white, white columbia, blue and black mesh partridge, silver black mesh, and sparrowhawk coloration.

They produce an average of 250 small, cream-colored eggs per year.

Brahma hen
NameBrahma
Feather color white, white columbia black, white columbia blue, fawn columbia blue, partridge silver blue mesh
Nr. eggs per year250
Egg weight60 grams
Egg coloryellow brown, yellow red

Sultan hens with feathered feet

Sultan hens are a Turkish breed with thick plumage that has not four, but five fingers, all covered in feathers. The hens are small in size, with a prominent tail and long wings kept low along the body. The recognized coloration is white (although selection has led to the emergence of blue and black specimens). They produce white eggs weighing about 50 grams.

Galline
NameSultan
Feather colorwhite, black
Nr. eggs per year120/150
Egg weight50 grams
Egg colorwhite

Silkie hens with feathered feet

Silkie chickens are undoubtedly the easiest to recognize at first glance: in fact, their bodies are covered in dense silky plumage in black, blue, golden partridge, silver, red, tawny, and pearl-gray sparrowhawk colors. Their soft appearance and docile nature make them the darlings of the chicken coop (think of them even helping to hatch the eggs of other types of birds!).

Silkie hen
NameSilkie
Feather color white, blue, silver partridge, golden partridge, white, black spotted, fawn
Nr. eggs per year100
Egg weight40 grams
Egg colorlight brown

Now that you know every detail about the main breeds of hens, you can evaluate which one is best according to your needs.

If you need to raise hens for breeding purposes of the same breed, you can use an egg incubator: it ensures a high rate of egg hatching, limiting egg breakage or accidental dropping.