This post was most recently updated on March 2nd, 2020
Choosing the right egg laying chicken breeds for your backyard is an overwhelming task. There are literally hundreds of chicken breeds available and they all lay eggs. When you are looking for a hen that lays lots of eggs, you need a layer breed rather than a meat or dual purpose breed.
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What is the Difference Between a Dual Purpose Chicken and an Egg Laying Chicken?
Dual purpose birds are bred for both meat and eggs. They are large and most will go broody and breed readily. They are a great option for homesteads as you can replace your layers easily. Then you can simply prepare the roosters for the dinner table.
However a dual purpose chicken usually lays a maximum of 250 eggs per year. But usually they lay closer to 180-200 eggs. If you want a dual purpose bird – I have you covered with the top 3 dual purpose options too.
Specific heritage laying birds will give you 250-300 eggs per year for many years. Commercial layers will give you 300-350 eggs per year for the first 20 months, then their production drops off sharply.
Laying chickens are just that, they are small, high-energy and built for turning their food into eggs. Egg laying chicken breeds do not make great eating, or good mothers for that matter. They have been bred to not go broody, as that will reduce the amount of time that they are productively laying eggs.
Some people prefer to keep ducks for laying eggs instead of chickens.
Benefits to Heritage Egg Laying Chicken Breeds
There are many benefits to choosing to raise heritage egg laying chicken breeds in your backyard or on your homestead.
Commercial laying chickens are hybrids are bred to live indoors, and can be too sensitive to free range in many areas, whereas heritage birds are not so fragile.
Heritage chickens are designed to thrive in an outdoor environment, they are wise when it comes to avoiding predators and are hardy in a variety of weather.
Hybrid commercial chickens are a specific cross of particular breeds, so if you cross two of the hybrids, the offspring will not exhibit the same characteristics as the parents.
Hybrids also walk such a fine line that if you continue to breed the hybrid line, you will quickly develop genetic anomalies. This will cause problems and you will end up with a weak and sickly line of chickens.
Commercial hybrids are not designed to free range and are simply designed to convert as little feed into as many eggs as possible.
Because commercial birds’ ability to produce eggs starts dropping steeply after 20 months, you will need to replace your birds every 2 years.
In contrast, heritage chickens will continue to lay well for you for 5-6 or more years. And you can breed your own replacements.
If you keep a rooster in with your egg laying hens, you will get fertile eggs. Then you can place them either in an incubator or under a broody hen or bantam.
Simply save up 8-10 eggs for a broody hen, keeping them at room temperature until you have enough. Then place them all at once under a broody hen. She will do the rest of the work.
Commercial chickens reach point of lay at about 20 weeks, where as heritage breeds take closer to 26-28 weeks. Also heritage chickens cost more initially, but if you can get a rooster you will not have to buy more.
So here are my picks for the best heritage egg layers. Hybrids do have their place, but if you want to be sustainable and save money then heritage are the way to go!
Top 3 Heritage Egg Laying Chicken Breeds
If you are looking for egg laying efficiency, the leghorns win hands down. Available in 10 colors, the most common by far is white.
The leghorn will lay 280-320 eggs per year. They seldom go broody – great for egg production, but if you want to breed them you will need a broody hen or incubator.
Leghorns are friendly but very agile, and they will fly over low fences that would otherwise contain larger/heavier birds.
2. Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red was originally bred as a dual purpose chicken, with enough meat on it’s frame to make the roosters and old layers worth eating. However, all recent breeding since the 1940’s has focused on the breeds’ laying ability.
These days a Rhode Island Red can be expected to lay up to 300 eggs per year. As a breed they can be bird aggressive, so watch them with more docile breeds like the Sussex. Rhode Island Reds are hardy and adaptable.
3. Ameraucana or the Araucana
The Ameraucana has been bred from the Araucana, but with the aim or removing the lethal genes that some Araucana carry. These genes are the ones responsible for the rumplessness and ear tufts that some birds have. A double dose of these genes are lethal in chicks, so they do not exist.
Both of these breeds lay pretty blue-green eggs and will lay around 250 eggs per year. They are friendly little birds, though they are more suited to more mild to warm climates.
At the moment we have commercial hybrids as that is what is easily available here. We hope to get a breeding set of leghorns in the coming spring.
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What egg laying chicken breeds do you have at your place? Share your chicken experiences with me in the comments below!
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