Choosing the Best Chickens for your Backyard Flock

Which chicken breed is best for you? Use our handy guide to find out.

Spring is here, and with that comes spring chicks! Whether you’re considering your first backyard flock or you’re a long-time chicken farmer, figuring out what type of hens to buy can feel intimidating. Here’s a simple guide of breeds we’ve handpicked for backyard chicken farmers in Minnesota. With info that covers everything from egg production to hardiness to temperament, our guide will help you find a breed that’s perfect for what you need.

Buff Orpington

Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery

Looking to add a sweet-tempered cuddlebug to your flock? The Buff Orpington might be the breed for you! These docile, gregarious chickens are known for their friendly demeanor and patience with small children. They are large birds and reliable egg-layers, producing an average of 250 brown eggs per year. Their lush feathering makes them well-suited for Minnesota’s colder climate, as long as they can stay dry.

Buff Orpingtons are great birds for beginners, and they adapt well to small city yards. However, it’s best not to pair these gentle-natured chickens with more aggressive Rhode Island Reds, as they are likely to get bullied. For a happy, healthy flock, be sure to give them access to plenty of shade in the summer, offer dust baths, and check them regularly for mites and lice in those dense feathers.

Americana

Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery

If you’re looking for beautiful variation in egg color, then Americana is the perfect chicken to add to your flock. Also known as “Easter eggers” or “rainbow layers,” these good-natured layers produce an average of 240 eggs per year that range in color from light pink to olive to turquoise. Each hen produces an egg color that is unique to her, so a flock of Americanas could give you a true rainbow assortment of colors and shades.

The Americana is a hybrid between the Aracauna and the hardier Ameraucana, and they are well-suited to Minnesota’s climate extremes. Hens are small and fairly quiet, which makes them a great addition to an urban flock. They are friendly and curious chickens who enjoy interacting with people; once they are comfortable in their environments, your Americanas may enjoy eating out of your hand, sitting in your lap, or playing with chicken toys. This makes them an excellent fit for beginners or families with small children. These gentle, easygoing birds would pair well with Buff Orpingtons or other sweet-tempered breeds.

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Photo courtesy of Red Gum Poultry

Silver Laced Wyandotte is arguably one of the prettiest chicken breeds out there today. With its distinctive lacy feather pattern, it is an arresting sight in a backyard flock and always brings a flood of compliments and questions from passers-by. Wyandottes are heritage breeds, hardy all-around farm birds. Like many heritage breeds, Wynadottes were almost completely eradicated by the rise of industrialized farming and specialized “production breeds”. However, as more folks have embraced local, sustainable farming practices, we’ve seen a resurgence of heritage breeds, and the Silver Laced Wyandotte is no longer considered rare or endangered.

Silver Laced Wyandottes are reliable egg-layers, producing about 200 dark brown eggs per year. This is a broodier breed, but hens will lay throughout the winter. Adding supplemental lighting in the coop will increase production during the cold months, or you can give the girls a rest from laying and let winter be a time for them to relax and recharge. Temperament-wise, they are assertive birds and a bit more talkative than other breeds, but they aren’t known to be bullies. While not cuddly, these calm, tolerant birds are healthy and easy to care for, making them great for beginners.

Wyandottes’ short comb and thick feathers make them well-adapted for Minnesota’s cold temperatures, and they also do well in our hot summers as long as they have access to shade and plenty of cool water. Dust baths and regular checks for lice or mites will help keep their beautiful feathers in tip top shape. Wyandottes are good foragers but not super attentive to threats, which can make them easy marks for predators. They may require some extra babysitting when they’re out in the yard.

Cinnamon Queen

Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery

A more recent hybrid breed, the Cinnamon Queen is a friendly, hardy, reliable egg-layer that makes a solid addition to your backyard flock. These easygoing chickens are heat- and cold-tolerant and lay between 250 and 300 dark brown eggs per year. Bred specifically for egg production, they grow quickly and start laying young, at around 16-18 weeks of age. If you treat them well and let them produce naturally, you will have healthy, happy hens that will comfortably lay for three years or more.

Cinnamon Queens are affectionate, sweet-natured chickens who get along well with other breeds. They are terrific for beginners and families with small children. They are heavier, denser birds and require more space than some of the smaller breeds, so make sure you have a generous coop with ample nest boxes and sturdy perches. Adding lights to your coop will help keep your girls laying throughout Minnesota’s frigid winters, or you can just let them follow their natural seasonal laying cycles. As with all breeds, be sure your coop is insulated and that you offer plenty of shade to protect from our climate’s temperature extremes.

Rhode Island Red

Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery

The Rhode Island Red is one of the few chicken breeds that non-chicken folks know by name. These beautiful red and black hens are beloved for their delightful temperaments as well as their solid egg production, with an average of 265 brown eggs per year. As with all the breeds we carry, they are cold- and heat-tolerant, with a hardy constitution well-suited for Minnesota’s climate extremes.

This popular heritage hen is less affectionate than other breeds and has been described as curious, exuberant, bossy, and assertive. As a result, they should NOT be paired with gentler breeds like the Americana or Buff Orpington. Rhode Island Reds do best in single-breed flocks or paired with other, more assertive breeds. They are an active bunch that don’t like to be crowded, so be sure to offer a roomy coop and plenty of space for outdoor foraging. They are excellent foragers and fun to watch. Curious and intelligent, they also enjoy chicken toys and other enrichment activities. While Rhode Island Reds might be a good fit for adults or older children, they might be too sassy and aggressive for families with little ones at home.

Barred Rock

Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery

The Barred Rock is a classic heritage breed that hails from New England, where even blizzards can’t deter this hardy little bird. With distinctive black-and-white plumage and a bright red comb, this beautiful hen is an attractive addition to a backyard flock, and its unique feather pattern helps camouflage it from hawks and other aerial predators. Hens produce about 200 light brown eggs per year, laying an average of four eggs per week.

Barred Rocks are skilled foragers who also tolerate confinement fairly well. A spacious, well-insulated coop with ample forage space will keep your hens very happy. Patient, quiet and sweet, this breed is an excellent choice for an urban flock. Friendly and curious, they enjoy treats and are happy to ask for an occasional cuddle. As a result, these reliable, low-maintenance hens are great for beginners or families with small children.

Conclusion

There are plenty of hardy chicken breeds that can thrive in Minnesota’s climate extremes. While you can’t do wrong with any of the breeds above, understanding what you’re looking for and what you can offer your hens makes it easier to find a match.

If you’re a beginner or have small children at home, it’s a good idea to choose more docile and affectionate breeds who are patient with your mistakes. The best chicken breeds for you might be Buff Orpington, Americana, or Barred Rock.

If you’re a seasoned urban farmer or want a single-breed flock, you can branch out and try out breeds that require a little more maintenance and expertise. Your best chicken breeds might be Rhode Island Red, Silver Laced Wyandotte or Cinnamon Queen. Whatever hens you choose for your flock, Jack’s is here to support you with classes, supplies, chicken feed subscriptions, and a knowledgeable staff of farmers ready to help.

Found your dream breed? Preorder your chicks from Jack’s Hardware and Farm Supply. Need supplies or have more questions? Connect with our farmers, and we’ll get you going with whatever you need. Have a favorite chicken breed or some chicken advice to share? Let us know in the comments!

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Kat Shepherd

Kat Shepherd

Kat Shepherd (she/her) is the Director of Operations for Jack's Hardware and Farm Supply and its sister company, Raven Construction. Unlike her coworkers, Kat is relatively new to backyard farming and DIY. Before Jack's she spent over twenty years as an educator, and she is the author of both the BABYSITTING NIGHTMARES and the GEMINI MYSTERIES book series for middle grade readers. Her current homestead projects include planting a treat garden for her three guinea pigs, converting a shed to a backyard chicken coop, and expanding her dog training curriculum to teach at Jack's.

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