Chicken Breeds

Yesterday I took Betsy, one of my Bantam White Leghorns, to a preschool. I read Tillie Lays an Egg to two classrooms of three-year olds. I don’t know if sitting politely in chairs is their normal behavior, or whether the sight of a chicken had them transfixed and immobilized, but they were very well behaved children! At the end of the program, each child got to pet Betsy. The kids (and the teachers) were beaming. It’s always a thrill to see that connection.

A Bantam Leghorn is the perfect chicken to introduce poultry to small children. Large hens are often quite scary to them, but here’s nothing frightening about a little white bird sitting in the palm of my hand. The children relate to the smallness of the animal – it’s just like them! After having read so many noisy rooster books (what child doesn’t know how to cock-a-doodle-doo?) they are relieved that the chicken in their classroom is quiet.

I find the Bantam Leghorns particularly well-suited to school visits. My leghorns don’t mind being removed from the flock, traveling in the car, and being in new places. They are outgoing, curious, individual birds. I’d never be able to do this with my Australorps who can’t bear to be far from their coop and friends. I joke that if Coco (my Leghorn) could be reincarnated, she’d come back as one of those tiny dogs carried around in a purse in Beverly Hills. She’d love that!

Other bantams breeds are also wonderful for small children. Silkies, in particular, are placid and sweet. (But they do need extra warmth and care in the winter!)

When choosing which chicken breed(s) to get, people first look at their ornamental value. You can get chickens speckled, striped, glossy black or pure white. They have black legs, yellow legs, white legs. Their combs can be  flat or spiked, or not there at all. Chickens can have big poufs of feathers on their heads, or have naked necks.

You can also select hens by the color of egg they lay. I like to keep a blue-egg laying breed in my flock, just to have that egg in the carton.

But once people get chickens, what they notice is their temperaments. I’ve heard, “I don’t like Americanas, they’re too aloof,” and “I love my Orpingtons, such gentle birds!” My own personal favorites are the basic big brown layers. I like how they go about their day. They’re good, solid citizens of the barnyard.

Sometimes you fall in love with a breed by sheer happenstance. One day, Hope Sandrow found a Paduan rooster while on a walk near her home. Eventually, she moved him into a coop in her backyard. Hope fell in love with this breed and got more Paduans. Hope is an artist; she has work in major museums. I don’t know if a big brown hen would have become her muse, but that Paduan rooster has changed her life. Even her coop has become an art installation.

Has there been a special chicken that changed your life?


  1. My Buff Orpington, Faith, is my stop and smell the roses bird. When I’m in a hurry with the world around me she will come and squat in front of me for me to pet her. She will stay there to till I bend down and pet her. It’s almost like she is trying to tell me to stop, rest, smell the roses, look at the pretty day. That is why I call her my stop and smell the roses day chicken.

    • Some chickens die young, around 3 years. They don’t get sick, it’s more like they wear out from producing eggs. However, most chickens live to about 6 years. A few chickens live to a very old age of 10 to 14. But, by the age of three, chickens stop laying eggs every day. I have 8 older chickens that don’t lay at all! A “real” farmer couldn’t keep them around, but I do because they’re pets.

      • Thanks for the explanation! And your chickens are beautiful too. I’m in love with them.

  2. Even though I have been keeping hens for 18 years, I would have to say my current flock is my favorite- especially Lacey. These are the first hens that I have raised since day one, and they are personable and sweet. Lacey is at the bottom of the pecking order, though by no means abused by the other hens. She will often come and stand beside me when we are all in the yard and just “be”.

  3. Henny Penny showed up at my husbands work, we took her home and made a coop and henhouse. We live in Fort Worth Central!! But many of my neighbors kept chickens so I got five more. I just adore them all. Each has her name and my Light Brahma is the friendly one. She is so sweet and she laid my first egg yesterday! :)


  4. Sweetie. Everyone has had a Sweetie. As a late entry to the henhouse, the only Ameraucana at the time was bullied a bit and knew that I was her protector. She happily came out of the coop and sat with me in a comfy chair at the farm store ( or had customers hand feed her berries and greens. She followed me when called kissed anyone willing to put their face close. Once she was with me as I cleaned and boxed eggs behind the farm store and I had to walk away for a minute. When I returned, she was gone. Nervously looking all around outside, near the veggies for sale, back near the coop and lettuce fields, she seemed to have disappeared. Workers helped and called, “Sweetie” but to no avail. I returned to the farm store to worry and maybe shed a tear and there was Sweetie, sitting in the comfy chair just waiting for me.
    The savory pies sound wonderful!

  5. Tracy and Hylla,
    what sweet stories!
    Jeanette- it’s so funny hearing about hens who “appear” in one’s life. Stray dogs are commonplace. But chickens? :)

    • I came home from work one day and as usual changed my clothes and headed for the chicken coop. I immediately noticed a red hen that was “not mine”. I stood there an looked at her and wondered how in the world or who in the world put this chicken in my coop. I live in a suburb of St Louis so chickens are not that common, yet!
      Within minutes I heard, “Sir” I turned and looked and their stood my municipalities animal conrol officer. She told me “I found your hen dodging traffic at the intersection of Fee Fee and the Rock Road”(VERY BUSY INTERSECTION). I resonded “that’s not my chicken”. She had the most surprised look on her face. Honestly, at first I was not happy about who knows what diseases this hen could have been carrying but fortunately nothing horrible came of the introduction. To this day I/we have no idea where this hen came from.
      So to the point, this hen could not have been more friendly or tame. When I collected eggs she would always fly up to the perch in front of the nest boxes and purr and loved to be petted. She was a red sex link or at least that is what she appeared to be.

  6. Ginger was my special hen. She was the “free rare breed” that was tossed in the box of chicks from Murray McMuray, and she turned out to be a Mille Fleur D’Uccle (a bantam). Such a sweet breed…all the children loved her because she was so gentle. We lost her to a virus that took most of our flock, but we have acquired a couple of D’Uccle hens since then and they are just the sweetest!

  7. I love my Plymouth Rock bantams, they are very gentle and lay regularly, but my favourite is my little Old English Game bantam. She looks like a tiny toy hen on stilts and has such a personality – she is so nosy and likes to be the centre of attention!

  8. Bonnie you were lucky. When I use to order chicks each year I always called my order in and requested they not include the free chick. I like Terry always got a rooster.

  9. So many lovely chicken tales…!

    One of my first hens was a Black Cochin, we called her (Queen) Victoria – she had such a fine frock with a bustle of shimmering black! It was New Year and Victoria had still to lay her first egg – we’d got her in October ‘point of lay’. I had to take my Mum to hospital to find out the result of some tests (I new in my heart the news wasn’t going to be good). Before we set off I walked round my garden holding Victoria in my arms – I said ‘please lay an egg today for my Mum – it will cheer her up so much’.

    The news was very bad – Mum had cancer and she had a major operation to face and months of treatment ahead. We arrived back to my house in silence and I said ‘Mum, lets see if Victoria has laid an egg for you’ – and she had! It was the best thing ever! – we smiled and gave Victoria treats and couldn’t wait to tell my husband when he came home from work.

    Victoria was the original ‘Magic Cochin’, much love and missed. My Mum has recovered well and still loves watching my hens, no longer Cochins but a mix of Marans and some gorgeous Aracauna x Crested Cream Legbar hybrids. They are all different and I love them all!


    • I also had a hen named Queen Victoria – she was a black Silkie and not only had the appropriate dress, but also the attitude. Sweet with people, but above dealing with the rowdy masses in the coop.

  10. We just started our flock this past spring we have 17 when they were chicks there was always one that stuck out from the rest and we named her Fancy. She is a Araucana, we also have New Hampshire Reds and Black sexlinks. So most of our chicks are red or black and our other Araucanas are brown and black, but Fancy is all sorts of shades of grey! She still stands out amoung the rest and is still fancy! She is a shy bird but we have had so much fun with them all!!! We also adopted a baby bunny and he lives in with the chickens too he is the king of the coop we are not sure if he knows hes a bunny!!! Love your websit Happy Holidays