10 Breeds of Poultry for the Urban Coop
By Denise Beno
There are many hundreds of breeds of poultry. People have been breeding chickens for desired traits for thousands of years. Variety abounds! Breeds that developed in warm climates have smaller bodies and larger combs. Chicken breeds developed in moderate and cold climates have larger bodies; typically lay brown eggs and have smaller combs and waddles. Early on, most chickens were bred as layers and meat birds. More recently, chicken breeds have developed to be ornamental and eye catching, more appropriate for the show ring. With so many types to choose from, there’s certainly a breed to meet nearly anyone’s fancy.
Chickens have gained popularity in the urban setting. Urban chicken keeping is not a new thing, but has seen a resurgence in recent years. This chicken trend is producing new poultry fanciers who take interest in raising one’s own food from the garden to the coop. Urban chickens often have more roles to fill than those on a farm, doubling as family pets. Since the urban setting requires an adaptable and friendly bird, I’ve come up with a list of my top ten breeds of poultry recommended for the urban coop. There are so many great birds out there, I couldn’t fit them all into a top 10 list, so I have included an Honorable Mention list. Take a look at those breeds too.
10. Buff Orpington
This is a really sweet breed of chicken. The hens are super friendly and decent layers of medium sized brown eggs. Even the roosters are friendly. They have a calm disposition and are more comfortable just being one of the flock, not the leader. I put this breed in 10th because of their predicable broodiness. Count on Buff Orpingtons to go broody several times a year. This is hard on the hens and frustrating to the owners, and reduces egg production. If you want to hatch eggs, or expand your flock naturally, these are your girls.
Pronounced “legg-ern”, this breed can’t be beat for egg production! Leghorns are a Mediterranean breed. They have small bodies, large combs and are excellent layers of large white eggs. If you want eggs and don’t mind the color, this is the hen for you! On the other hand, they are hard to keep cooped up. A leghorn hen will always find a hole to sneak out. They are timid and somewhat nervous birds. Leghorns are the “early to bed, early to rise” chickens. Excellent foragers, and egg layers, not so great as pets. If you want Leghorns, I suggest checking out the Brown Leghorn or the new Blue Leghorn. The Brown Leghorn has a larger body. Most of the drawbacks of the White Leghorn are minimized in the Brown, at a similar rate of lay.
The Ameraucana is known for its colored eggs. This is actually a hybrid variety of chicken. The purebred is called “Araucana” and is a tailless, rumples bird laying blue-green eggs. The Ameraucana developed from crossing an Araucana with an American heavy breed, thus improving the laying and adding a tail. This also affects the egg color. The Ameraucana will lay a blue-green, green, olive or pinkish color egg. Be warned! These birds are not good layers. In addition, they are large birds so will eat more and produce less. They are also timid birds in the pecking order. You will not find an Ameraucana as dominant hen in any flock. They come in many different colors, with my favorite being a blue or gray Ameraucana. They can be friendly and would enjoy sitting in your lap.
The Delaware breed is one of the American Heavy heritage breeds. The Delaware is from similar stock as the Rhode Island Red, but without the aggressive tendencies. Most of the meat broilers sold in America before the 1950’s were of Delaware stock. They are a curious breed. The hens are fluffy and sweet and may be drama queens. They are good layers of medium sized light brown eggs. They add a nice white coloring to the chicken yard. Great soup hens too.
This is a good looking, albeit average, reddish-brown colored chicken. But don’t be fooled by it’s plain colors, as its eggs are very beautiful! This Dutch breed is known for its “rich deep flower-pot red brown” eggs, many of which are speckled. The Welsummer is a fairly calm bird, somewhat friendly and about the size of an American heavy breed. It has beautiful red, gold, and black colored feathers that glisten in the sun. If you want to add some color to your daily egg collection, and a little red-brown to your chicken yard, I strongly recommend this breed.
5. Speckled Sussex
These are some of the sweetest hens and oh so beautiful! I’m only familiar with the Speckled Sussex, but the other varieties of Sussex are beautiful too. This is a heavy English heritage breed. They are intelligent and make excellent pets. They love the company of people and will follow you around. They are comfortable as dominant hens, with minimal aggression. A Speckled Sussex hen adds an eye-catching splash to your chicken yard. Good layer of light brown eggs.
4. Plymouth Rocks
You need a Rock in your flock! Plymouth Rocks are an American heavy and come in a variety of color varieties. The most commonly known is the Barred Plymouth Rock. Other popular varieties include the White Rock, Columbian Rock, and Partridge Rock. Plymouth Rocks are good layers of large brown eggs. They are winter hardy and love to forage. Noisy but sweet, these popular chickens are great triple purpose chickens—layers, meat and pet birds.
3. New Hampshire Red
Are you thinking about getting a Rhode Island Red? How about trying a New Hampshire Red instead? This is a very handsome red bird. They look similar to a Rhode Island Red, but a little larger with a smaller comb-developed for cold New Hampshire winters. These are nice, calm, red hens that will sit in your lap. They are non aggressive and good layers of light brown eggs. This American heavy is winter hardy and a great triple-purpose bird.
2. Black Australorp
This is a fantastic breed of chicken for any setting. The Black Australorp was developed in Australia using Orpington stock. It’s black plumage shimmers with green in the sun. It’s an excellent layer, especially during the winter months. A Black Australorp holds the record for highest number of eggs laid in one year, 365. This hen is great as a pet and will engage you in conversation while sitting in your lap. The Black Australorp is comfortable as a dominant hen, without being overly aggressive. They lay a somewhat elongated, medium sized, light brown egg. Black Australorp can be noisy, but not enough to tarnish this fine choice. A really great layer and pet.
And my Number 1 best breed for the urban coop is…
1. Golden Comet
The Golden Comet, also known as Golden Buff, is my all-time, number one, brown egg layer in any setting. The hens are a golden buff color, the roosters are cream colored. This color difference in the sexes was developed by selective breeding of Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White stock. Male and female chicks are different colors which makes sexing chicks very easy. This is known as “sex-linked”. Comet hens are very friendly and curious. They are excellent layers of large brown eggs, some laying at 18 weeks of age! This hybrid was developed as a brown egg producer for the egg laying industry, but you’d think it was breed to sit in your lap. This breed can’t be beat for brown egg production. The hens are medium sized, and feed conversation ratio is great. This is an excellent choice as a layer and pet.
Cochins—nice temperament, good pets, fluffy, come in a variety of colors, broody
Most breeds are great for children, very cute miniature chickens. drawbacks: hawk bait and broody
Salmon Faverolles—Tasty meat, beautiful puffy hens
Curious, friendly, outgoing, decent layer of med sized brown eggs, rather plain, the color of buckeye nut with a pea comb. Of Ohio origin, this breed is winter hardy.
Having been raised on a small family farm in Northern Indiana, Denise developed an appreciation and knowledge of animal husbandry and land stewardship. She has kept chickens for over 20 years and is former owner of 2silos, an organic egg farm in Morrow County, Ohio. Denise has served on the board of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association and gives regular workshops and classes at City Folks Farm Shop in Clintonville. She currently authors the urban livestock blog, “Pets with Benefits“.