If you are looking to raise chickens in your backyard, there is an astounding variety of different chicken breeds to choose from. The chicken breeds that you choose to raise will depend on many factors, from egg production to temperament, meat production, or even appearance, and you’ll first need to be clear on what your purpose is for the chickens that you intend to raise. In most cases, heritage breeds are the best options for your homestead.
There is a great deal of confusion and conflicting arguments around what exactly constitutes a heritage breed, and there are different definitions in the United States versus the rest of the world. Recently, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy defined a heritage chicken breed as one “hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established before the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated and with a long productive outdoor life.” This definition does not include a few breeds that are recognized by many poultry groups abroad, such as the Maran, but many enthusiasts still consider them heritage breeds.
If you are looking for a heritage breed of chicken to add to your backyard, we put together this list of all the ones that we could find to help you make your decision. Let’s dive in!
The 45 Heritage Chicken Breeds
1. American Game Fowl
Once bred for cockfighting, which has thankfully been outlawed, these beautiful birds are now bred primarily as a show breed. They are expert foragers and lay roughly 70 white to cream eggs a year. Just be sure to keep males separated to prevent fighting!
Anconas are hardy, active, and energetic birds that do well in harsh temperatures and are excellent winter layers. They produce medium-sized white eggs and have a distinctly dark, mottled plumage that makes them experts at hiding from predators. They can be a fairly wild breed at times, with a large foraging range, and are surprisingly capable of flight.
The Andalusian is an ancient and rugged chicken breed known for their high egg productivity. These birds are prolific layers, even in winter, and they lay large white eggs. They are hardy birds that are excellent foragers and tolerate cold temperatures well, but they do not do well in a confined space.
The Aseel is an ancient breed first developed in India expressly for cockfighting. They are hardy and tenacious birds that do well on the range foraging, although they can be highly aggressive at times. They lay small brown eggs but are poor layers in general, and they are best used for meat, albeit being comparably slow growing. They make excellent mothers, though, and have even been known to fight off snakes to protect their young.
One of the only chickens to lay colored eggs, which can be various shades of blue, green, and red, the Araucana is a particularly beautiful chicken, with variations of black, blue, silver, and gold plumage. They are excellent layers and great meat birds and will even continue to lay in cold winters.
Image Credit: PixabayDeveloped in Australia from the Black Orpington breed, the Australorp is prized for their egg-laying capabilities and is the winner of many egg-laying competitions. Not only are they prolific layers, but their eggs are also large, often averaging around 27 ounces in weight per dozen. Australorps are only found in one variety: black.
7. Black Minorca
The hardy, resourceful Black Minorca is a long-time favorite among chicken keepers, largely due to their beautiful plumage and outdoor foraging capabilities. These chickens lay large, white eggs — arguably one of the largest eggs — and are highly adaptable to confinement or range foraging.
The Brahma is commonly referred to as the “king of all poultry” due to their large size, great strength, and hardy plumage. The Brahma is known as having an incredible tolerance to cold, making them ideal fowls for northern climates. They lay large, brown eggs and are excellent meat birds too.
The Buckeye is a highly active breed that does not do well in confinement and needs a great deal of room to roam and forage. They are also very friendly toward humans and are often compared to cats in their mice-hunting capability, making them ideal companions on farms. They are hardy, dual-purpose chickens that are used for both meat and eggs.
The Cochin is a truly unique chicken breed, and there is arguably no other breed that has inspired more people to keep poultry. They are massive birds with large plumes of beautiful feathers and a calm, tolerant personality. They are hardy animals that tolerate cold climates well, and they lay large brown eggs. They are commonly kept as pets due to their unmatched friendliness and gentle disposition.
Known as the “Pioneer’s chicken,” the Dominique is commonly recognized as America’s first chicken. They are hardy dual-purpose fowls with a unique “cuckoo” patterning that makes them almost invisible to predators on the range. They adapt well to hot and humid climates and are known for their resistance to frostbite, making them highly adaptable birds. They lay medium-sized brown eggs and are commonly used for meat too.
An ancient breed developed in Sussex, England, the Dorking is found in several different colors, including white, colored, and silver/grey. Early breeders were so fond of the chickens that it was near impossible to purchase any live specimens, and it is rumored there was even a law in the town of Dorking prohibiting their sale at one stage! They are excellent layers and produce delicate, tender meat.
Originating in the village of Faverolles, France, these chickens come in many color varieties, but in the United States, only the salmon and white varieties have been embraced. They are medium-sized chickens that mature early, are very hardy, and have great egg-laying capabilities, with delicate meat too, making them a valuable addition to any homestead.
14. Golden Phoenix
Used predominantly as a show bird, the Golden Phoenix is a highly ornamental and strikingly beautiful fowl, with an extraordinarily long tail. They are docile birds that are also hardy and adaptable and are best suited to homes where they have plenty of space to roam.
The Hamburg chicken is known to be both highly alert and active, with the unique habit of preferring to roost high up in trees. They are prolific egg-layers that keep laying a large number of eggs for several years, making them highly valuable for home egg production. They are robust and hardy animals that do not do well in confinement, but rather are adaptable birds that do well on the open range.
As the name suggests, the Icelandic chicken originated in Iceland as early as the 10th century and is revered for their adaptability and excellent egg production in cold climates. They are robust fowls that are excellent foragers and lay medium to large white eggs, and they are great meat fowls too.
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Widely considered the second oldest breed of chicken developed in the U.S., the Java is a premiere homesteading bird. They do well when given the ability to range freely and are known for the striking beetle-green sheen of their feathers. Although they mature slower than many other heritage breeds, they are still commonly used for meat and lay fairly well.
18. Jersey Giant
As the name implies, these birds were developed in New Jersey in the U.S., and are impressively sized, with a calm and mellow disposition. They are dual-purpose birds that excel at laying, and due to their large size, they are ideal for meat production too. That said, they are rather slow-growing and take around 9 months to reach full maturity.
Lakenvelders are as beautiful as they are useful, with pure white bodies, dark black hackles and tails, and blue legs. They are noted for their prolific egg production of porcelain white, medium-sized eggs, and they are active foragers that do well on the range. They are very wary, though, and are easily frightened. They are sometimes used for meat, although they are much smaller than other common meat birds.
The Langshan is a tall breed of chicken with unusually long legs and a stocky, heavy body. They are prolific layers that produce large dark brown eggs and are as adaptable and hardy as they come. They handle confinement well, although they are expert foragers that do well on the open range. They are dual-purpose birds that are kept for their large eggs as well as their meat.
Known for their hard-working and active dispositions, Leghorns are seemingly always scratching and hunting and are expert foragers. The breed is prolific, hardy, and highly fertile, with excellent laying capability. The Leghorn is a popular industrial breed and responsible for most of the white eggs produced in the United States, although the non-industrial variety is also prized by breeders throughout the U.S.
22. Manx Rumpy
Also known as the “Persian Rumpless”, the Manx Rumpy is a tailless chicken with a history stretching back hundreds of years. They can vary fairly widely in size and have muscular and game-like meat, and they lay medium to large light brown eggs. They are not recognized by the American Poultry Association.
The tall and lanky Malay is an ancient breed that originated in India an estimated 3,500 years ago. They are large, active, and extremely tall fowls, arguably the tallest of all chicken breeds. These birds can be aggressive at times and are prone to fighting, which is especially apparent if they are kept in close confinement. They are hardy animals that are usually used for meat, as they are seasonal and poor layers.
24. Modern Game
The Modern Game chicken is a purely ornamental breed with a unique appearance. They are tightly feathered with extremely long legs and a long neck, giving them a tall and unbalanced appearance. They do not tolerate cold weather well due to their short feathers and need a great deal of regular exercise to maintain muscle tone.
Thought to be one of the oldest breeds of Bantam chickens, the Nankin is an ancient breed that is revered for their rich chestnut coloring. They have a calm and friendly disposition and rarely wander far from their flock, preferring to stay close together as a group. They are primarily kept for eggs because they are good layers, and their small eggs are creamy-white and tend to be rounder in shape.
26. New Hampshire
A relatively new breed, New Hampshires were admitted to the Standard in the mid-1930s. These birds make excellent mothers and are known for their deep, broad body, leading them to be kept primarily for meat. They are fair egg layers that lay large, brown eggs, but they cannot compete with champion laying breeds. They are known to be highly competitive and even aggressive at times.
27. Old English Game
Raised mostly for their exotic appearance, Old English Game Fowl were used for a long time in cockfighting. Because of this history, they tend to be fairly aggressive, and females tend to lay very few eggs. These chickens are hardy, excellent foragers, and extremely long-lived, with lifespans reaching up to 15 years or more.
28. Plymouth Rock
Developed in the U.S. in the mid 19th century, the Plymouth Rock chicken is a popular homestead chicken due to their hardiness, docile nature, excellent egg production, and juicy and tasty meat. These birds were one of the foundation breeds in broiler production in the early 1920s.
Largely used for exhibition purposes and their feathers, the Phoenix chicken is a remarkably beautiful fowl with distinctively long tail feathers and golden yellow plumage. They are alert yet docile birds that are hardy and thrive when given a great deal of space and freedom.
Polish chickens are known for the massive crest of splayed feathers on the tops of their heads. They are not from Poland but earn their name from this crest that resembles the feathered caps traditionally worn by Polish soldiers. They lay medium-sized white eggs and are excellent, persistent layers. Unfortunately, their characteristic crest obscures their eyesight and makes them particularly vulnerable to predators.
An English breed of chicken known for producing large amounts of medium to large white eggs, the Redcap was once considered one of the most profitable species of chicken to own. They are active, alert chickens that are known to have a somewhat “wild” temperament at times.
32. Rhode Island Red
One of America’s (and the world’s) best-known chicken breeds, the Rhode Island Red is one of the most successful dual-purpose birds. They lay large brown eggs — 200 to 300 per year, starting at 6 months old — are hardy and robust, and are great meat birds too, making them ideal for a small homestead.
33. Rhode Island White
The Rhode Island White is a medium-sized, completely white bird that lays large and extra-large eggs, making them ideal for egg production. They have a calm and docile temperament and are hardy and adaptable, still laying plenty of eggs during winter, and they make an excellent meat fowl too.
34. Russian Orloff
The only distinctly Russian fowl found in the U.S., the Russian Orloff chicken is a tall bird with a heavily feathered neck. They come in three color varieties: red, white, and spangled. These birds are extremely hardy and can handle cold climates that most other breeds would perish in and are calm yet active birds.
Often referred to as the Saipan Jungle Fowl but not to be confused with the actual Jungle Fowl, the Saipan is a rare breed that can be difficult to obtain. They have uniquely long necks and very short tails and are extremely tall, standing between 2 and 3 feet. They are slow-growing fowls, and it can take up to 3 years for them to reach full maturity.
One of the oldest British bantam breeds, the Sebright is a beautiful bird that is commonly used for exhibition but for eggs too, although they lay extremely small eggs in limited numbers. The hens and cocks are similar in appearance, and both are active birds that are easily tamed.
37. Silver Campine
The Silver Campine has had a tumultuous history in the U.S. and was dropped from the APA standard in the late 1890s due to a lack of popularity. They then had a resurgence in popularity due to breeders improving their hardiness and their medium to large egg-laying capabilities and were eventually recognized by the AMA in 1914.
One of the most unique heritage chickens around, the Sumatra is a beautiful fowl, with long flowing curved feathers, a rich green sheen, and distinctive long tail feathers. They were initially promoted as a fighting breed but are now mostly ornamental and used for showing. They lay an abundance of small, white eggs and are excellent winter layers.
A highly rare breed, the Sultan chicken is native to Turkey and has pure white feathers, blue shanks and toes, and five toes on each foot. They are primarily used ornamentally, but they also lay large white eggs and once had a reputation of being a great meat fowl.
Sussex chickens lay large brown eggs and put on fat easily, making them excellent meat birds too. They are active birds with a calm and curious nature and are great foragers, making them an excellent choice for small homesteads.
Originating in Japan, the Shamo is commonly used ornamentally and for their delicious meat. They are poor egg layers but make great mothers, and although they are generally friendly, they are known to be somewhat aggressive toward, and will fight, chickens of the same sex.
The Black Spanish chicken has a beautiful black/green color with tight-fitting feathers and flowing tails. They are well known for their ability to lay large numbers of large white eggs, although they are fairly sensitive and not hardy animals. They are active and noisy birds that are generally friendly toward humans and exceedingly curious.
Originating in Switzerland, the Spitzhauben are beautiful and richly feathered birds with silver, gold, and black plumage. They are flighty and active fowls that do not do well in confinement, and they lay large-sized white eggs, even through winter. They are known to be hardy birds and excellent foragers, making them ideal for small homesteads.
The Welsummer is a Dutch breed of chicken that is known for their friendly and calm temperament — although not docile — and high intelligence. They lay around 160 eggs per year and are commonly used for meat too, making them a great dual-purpose breed for a small homestead. They are also active birds that are great foragers and are one of the best free-range fowls available.
With their pure white plumage and long, flowing tail feathers, the Yokohama has long been used as a prized ornamental fowl. They are active and alert birds that are not great layers and do not do well in confinement. They are well suited to homesteads where they have plenty of space to roam and show off their beautiful tails!
If you’re looking to add a heritage chicken breed to your home flock, we hope this list helped you find some great options. Whether you’re looking for eggs, meat, or just a more decorative chicken, there are plenty to choose from!
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay