The Best Breeds of Laying Hens

By Deborah Stephenson

With so many breeds of chicken to choose from, determining which breed is best suited to your lifestyle requires careful consideration of several things from the space needed for housing and exercise, to your personal preferences for hen or egg colors.

Best Heritage Breeds of Egg Layers

Leghorn Chickens

No 'best of' list would be complete without mention of the leghorn. This breed, introduced into the United States in 1852, quickly earned a place as the breed of choice for both backyard and commercial egg production. Today, this breed still tops the list as the most prolific layer of white eggs worldwide. Leghorns are:

  • Excellent layers of white eggs:¬†up to six per week, or about 300 medium-to-large eggs per year.
  • Nonbrooders: Don't expect chicks from these distinctly unmotherly hens.
  • Vigorous, extremely active and hardy.
  • Brown or white in color: Both varieties lay white eggs.
  • Economical to feed: They eat less than many similar-sized breeds.
  • Small in size. They need less space, but are not dual-purpose egg/meat birds.

Rhode Island Red Chickens

A beautiful red-brown chicken, the Rhode Island red, which boasts brown Leghorn ancestors in its heritage, is among the most popular breeds for farms and backyard alike. Rhode Island reds are:

  • Very good to excellent layers of brown eggs: up to five per week, or about 200 to 300 large eggs per year.
  • Infrequent brooders: Noncommercial strains are more apt to be broody.
  • Hardy, calm and tolerant of handling and confinement.
  • Medium-large, dual-purpose¬† birds.

Australorp Chickens

In Australia, late in the 19th century, the black Orpington was refined into a top-layer using leghorn, Minorcan and Langshan genes. The resulting Australorp little resembles a black Orpington, but rivals the Leghorn for egg production. Australorps are:

  • Excellent to astounding layers of large to jumbo brown eggs: usually up to five per week. One record-setting Australorp hen laid 364 eggs in one year.
  • Nonbrooders: Broodiness bred out to increase egg production.
  • Active, but easily handled and of docile temperament.
  • Quick-maturing, medium-large, dual-purpose birds.

Plymouth Rock Chickens

An attractive bird with distinctive black and white striping and a bright red comb, the Plymouth Rock is a popular choice for backyard poultry flocks. Plymouth Rocks are:

  • Very good to excellent layers of large brown eggs: about five per week, or between 200 to 260 eggs per year.
  • Also available as buff, barred, white and other color breeds.
  • Brooders said to make excellent mothers.
  • Cold-hardy and docile, easily tamed.
  • Large, multipurpose birds for eggs, meat and brood hens.

Cream Legbar Chickens

  • One of the few purebred autosexing breeds: bred from leghorns and barred rock/Araucana mixes.
  • Lays medium-sized blue eggs: an average of five per week.
  • A medium-sized bird with distinctive crest.

The following nonhybrid chickens all lay between five and six eggs per week, making them among the top laying breeds.

A Note About Hybrid Egg-Layers

Golden Comet Hybrid Chickens

  • Cross between a production red male and Rhode Island white female produces a sex-linked mottled brown and white hen.
  • Lays as many as six large brown eggs per week.

Cherry Egger Hybrid Chickens

  • Parentage varies among high-production, red-feathered breeds.
  • Excellent egg production: 200 to 280 jumbo brown eggs per year.
  • Large body weight for dual purpose use.

Red Star Hybrid Chickens

  • Parentage varies among high-production, red-feathered breeds.
  • Excellent egg production: 250 to 300 large brown eggs per year.
  • Large dual purpose birds.

White Star Hybrid Chickens

  • A white leghorn cross.
  • Relatively small hens take up little space.
  • Excellent layer of medium to large pure white eggs: as many as 320 per year.
  • Somewhat nervous or flighty disposition.
  • Great feed to egg ratio: a little feed produces lots of eggs.

Hybrid chickens are not technically breeds because they are produced by mating males of one breed with females of another to produce offspring with one or more desirable traits. One advantage to hybrids is that they often exhibit sex-linked traits affecting plumage color, making it easier to separate males from females almost immediately after hatching.

The problem is that hybrids, while capable of producing offspring, will not breed true, but gradually revert to one or the other parental lineage, often losing desirable traits. Therefore, anyone wanting a continual supply of a particular variety must keep and breed stock from the specific purebred parent breeds.

Among sex-linked crossbreeds, the following varieties have been bred for increased egg production: