Over the past year, more and more people have reached out to ask us about our chickens. One question we get repeatedly is "what are the best chicken breeds for backyard coop chickens?"
Chickens really don't need much. Water, a coop, a yard, and chicken feed. (See our homemade chicken feed recipe post for ideas.)
However, the best chicken breeds for backyard coop chickens depends on several things. And some breeds of backyard chickens are easier to look after than others. Each type has its own needs and temperament.
Last year, we got serious about prepping for the long-term and securing our family food supply. Since we live very far north, (above the 60th parallel), we needed to get cold-hardy chicken breeds for our off grid homestead.
Here are the top five best chicken breeds for backyard coop chickens in extreme cold climates.
5 Best Chicken Breeds for Backyard Coop Setups in the North
Rhode Island Red
Beginner homesteaders often find the classic chicken, the Rhode Island Red, an easy chicken to raise.
They tolerate heat and cold climates very well. In addition, as a dual-purpose backyard chicken breed, they provide tasty meat and a good supply of eggs. For those looking for egg layers only, the road island red will lay upwards of 250 eggs per year.
Similar in appearance to a Rhode Island Red, this meat laying cold hardy chicken breed has been one of our favourites. In fact, we ordered 20 day-old Western Rustic chicks from a hatchery down in Edmonton, Alberta last year. Every one of those chicks survived the trip and grew into large, healthy birds.
Although sold as a meat chicken, our Western Rustics lay great eggs. And they survived our extremely cold winter temperatures (down to -50 C this winter.)
A smaller backyard chicken breed, White Lohmanns produce lovely white eggs. We acquired six full-grown White Lohmanns at the end of last summer. It's tough to keep chickens alive through the winters here in the Northwest Territories. And they often stop laying due to the cold and long dark days.
Of the six White Lohmanns, we lost just one over the winter. And with our heat lamp set up, the girls kept producing eggs all winter long.
Backyard chicken farmers who simply want eggs should look to the Leghorn breed.
Not only do they produce over 300 eggs on average annually, they produce extra large eggs as well.
This hardy breed tolerates both heat and cold very well. Leghorn chickens will indeed put up with confinement to a coop but they do ultimately prefer to range free. If allowed to do so, they will often forage their own food, making them easy to care for.
With that said, leghorn chickens have a reputation for flightiness and nervousness. They can also make a lot of noise. If you live in a city or suburb, your neighbours might not appreciate this.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Our second batch of chicks last spring included 10 day-old Barred Plymouth Rocks. And this was a great option.
One of the best chicken breeds for backyard coop poultry in the north, this breeds has a beautiful black and white barred colouring.
Barred Plymouth Rock chickens suit the cold well, and enjoy a reputation as a watchdog breed for chickens. This means they will help take care of the rest of your flock. And they will alert you to predators. In our area this includes bear, wolves, coyotes, pine Martens, lynx, and eagles.
Barred Rocks also make great pets. Their temperament works well with children and other pets including a mixed breed flock. Barred Plymouth Rock breeds also suit city or suburban environments as they don't make much noise. They do, however, prefer to free range but will tolerate being confined if needed.
Egg wise, your Barred Plymouth Rock chickens will lay four to five large brown eggs each weekly. That means each chicken could lay approximately 280 per year. This makes them another strong dual purpose chicken breed for backyard coops in the north. In fact, our biggest Barred Rock Chickens weighed in at close to seven pounds.
For more information on types of chicken breeds suitable in North America, visit the Library of Congress site.
Fun fact: Did you know that store-bought chicken often includes Barred Plymouth Rock chicken bred with Cornish Chickens? It's true!
Raising Chickens to Secure Your Food Supply
Getting (and keeping) backyard chickens has become a goal for more people than ever before. We got our chickens to help secure our food supply as part of our off grid homestead. After all, backyard chicken breeds offer a steady source of protein through fresh eggs and fresh meat.
Although we have the space that allowed us to build a DIY chicken coop, raising chickens can also work well in an urban or suburban backyard.
The best chicken breed for your backyard coop depends on your chicken goals, available space, and climate.
What to Know Before Choosing the Best Chicken Breeds for Backyard Coop Success
Before arranging for mail order chicks or buying older laying hens, consider these points.
Not all chicken breeds suit all climates. Take note of your average high and low temperatures. Also, consider statistics such as average rainfall and snowfall.
Some backyard chicken breeds just don't tolerate certain weather conditions. Research this now to save headaches later.
Meat Chicken Breeds vs. Laying Hens
When we chose our chicken breeds, we wanted a mix of meat chickens and laying hens. Since our meals include anywhere from five to eight people, we go through a lot of food. Especially eggs. And it is expensive to buy meat and produce this far north due to shipping costs.
So ask yourself these questions when choosing the best chicken breeds for your backyard coop.
- Are you getting backyard chickens so you always have a fresh supply of eggs?
- Do you want a fresh meat source?
- Do you need a breed of chicken that serves both purposes?
How Big is Your Backyard?
While the amount of space doesn't necessarily impact your choice of backyard chicken breed, it does affect the number of chickens you can successfully keep.
An overcrowded chicken coop and run can lead to health issues, and your chickens bickering or even killing each other.
Do you have enough space for a good sized run? Most chicken breeds prefer free ranging. However, if you don't have room for a chicken tractor or chicken run, choose a breed that tolerates being confined.