Recommended Breeds

 L to R: Barred Rock hen, Buff Orpington rooster, Rhode Island Red hen and an Australorp hen

L to R: Barred Rock hen, Buff Orpington rooster, Rhode Island Red hen and an Australorp hen

Many of the most popular chicken breeds do well in Alaska and in northern climates.  A general rule of thumb is that  large, robust birds with thick feathers do best.  Also, the small-combed breeds are a better choice, as large wattled and combed birds are susceptible to frost bite.  The list below is by no means exhaustive, but gives some of the easier, more popular breeds with which to begin your flock.

NOTE: Observations about breed characteristics are my own – culled from years of keeping chickens and discussing them with other flock owners. You may hear otherwise, or have other experiences.

Barred Rock: Alternate or short-hand  name for the Plymouth Rock.  The Barred Rock was the first commercial meat production bird.  It is a good dual purpose bird, and does not mind confinement, making it a good choice for Alaskan flocks.   Barred rock hens are excellent egg producers, but they  are seldom broody.   They lay light brown eggs.  Their manner is mild and fairly gentle, but they are a curious bird and often peck at things inquisitively.

Rhode Island Red: The classic red hen, Rhode Island Reds are tough birds that are reliable and prolific egg layers.  They are, however, feisty in nature and can be pecky.  Rhode Island Red roosters have a well-deserved reputation of being extremely defensive of their flock. This may be a good choice of rooster for a free-ranging flock but not so much for a flock that is contained within a pen, where you have to deal with a protective rooster on a daily basis within a enclosed space. Rhode Island Reds are large birds, and thus make good meat birds as well as layers.  They lay brown eggs.

Rhode Island Red, Aracuna, Cuckoo Moran

L to R: Rhode Island Red, Ameraucuna, and a Cuckoo Marran, all hens

(Buff) Orpington: These lovely caramel-colored birds are generally calm, even-tempered and gentle; even the roosters tend to be laid back, mild and not aggressive.  Orpingtons come in several colors (blue, white, black and buff), but buff is often the most common breed carried by feed stores.  Orpingtons  are a good  choice if you have children that want to be involved in your hen yard.  Also a dual purpose bird, they lay light brown eggs; broodiness is occasional. They tolerate confinement well.

Ameraucana: Often called the Easter Egger because of the color range of eggs: lilac, pink, blue, turquoise, green or brown.  In reality, there are three breeds: Ameraucanas, Aracunas and Easter Eggers; the latter are mixed breeds resulting from crosses between Ameraucanas or Aaracunas and other breeds.   As a result, you will find these birds come in a range of feather colors.  Their distinguishing features, in addition to their colorful eggs, are the tufts of ear and/or chin feathers.  Many Ameraucanas appear to be sporting mutton chops or soul patches beneath their beaks.  They are a great choice for Alaska because of their tiny, pea combs and because they don’t mind confinement.  They are a single purpose bird (eggs), and generally are mild and calm birds – roosters as well.

Australorp: Developed in Australia from Black Orpington stock, this is an amazingly hardy, long-lived and productive breed that is one of my top favorites.  They are beautiful large black birds with glossy, iridescent feathers and large soulful eyes.  Their manner is sweet, even tempered, and they tolerate being handled, making them a good choice for children.  A brown egg layer, they often lay very elongate eggs; they are also good meat birds.  I had one hen live to 10 years old; at seven and eight she still occasionally produced an egg.  They are a wonderful addition to any backyard flock.

Chochin: One of the three more  common breeds in the Asiatic Standard Breed class, this breed, as with the Langshan (see below) originated in China.  Cochins come in a wide variety of colors, including Partridge, Barred,  Golden-Laced,  Buff, and White.  They are distinguished by having heavily feathered legs and feet.  I avoided having feathered-feet birds for a long time, imagining very dirty and poop-clogged feathers, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that they seem to have no trouble keeping their feathery  toes clean.  They are not as prolific in egg laying as the other breeds listed here, but they are a handsome and interesting addition to a flock.  They are not a particularly large breed; their profuse feathers underlain by thick down make them look larger than they actually are.

Black Langshan hen with chicks, Lugu Hu, Yunnan Province

Black Langshan hen with chicks, Lugu Hu, Yunnan Province

Langshan: Langshans are native to  China and are believed to be a pure race of domesticated poultry.  They are thought to have originated in the eponymous district north of the Yangtze River.  The Black Langshan (sometimes called Croad Langshan after  Major Croad who first introduced the   breed to England in 1872) is the most common variety, although Blue and White Langshan are also recognized as breed standards. Langshans have feathered legs, but are not as heavily feathered as cochins.  Their most distinctive feature is an extremely upright and tall tail, which can often top out as high as their head.  This gives Langshans a “U” shape that is unique among chickens.  They are excellent layers of dark  brown eggs and are  very gentle and sweet.  They are also fairly  quiet birds, although some will make a peculiar “whah” sound that is very different from the more common clucking sounds of other breeds.

Wyandotte: Although this chicken bears the name of the Wyandotte Nation, a tribe originally from the Lake Huron area but forcibly relocated to Oklahoma and Kansas,  it most likely reflects the  midwest locale  where the breed first appeared in the late 1870′s,   It is a medium-sized bird that is dual purpose.  Wyandottes lay light brown eggs  and can average 200 eggs a year.  They are reported to be excellent mothers, and I have observed this in my own flock.  Last spring, one of my silver lace  Wyandottes, well past egg laying age,  adopted and protected the seven new chicks I added to the flock.  Wyandottes are popular show birds and come in a variety of colors: white, partridge, buff, brown, golden and silver lace.  The latter two are particularly handsome feather patterning:  edging of black around ovals of white or brown.  Wyandottes softly cluck a lot and are friendly and engaged with their flock owner – making them a good choice for beginning flock owners.

Although not more fully described here, other breeds that do very well in northern climates are  Chanteclers, Jersey Giants, Brahmas,  and Red and Black Sex Links. You can find more information on these breeds on the web.

3 thoughts on “Recommended Breeds

  1. I’d like to start keeping chickens for their eggs so I’ll be wintering them over. I’m starting small (I had to talk the husband into it!) with only 3-4 hens. How big should I build the coop for that many hens especially if they have to stay in it all winter?

    If I decide to have more chickens in the future is there a magic number of feet per chicken rule?

    Should I have one nesting box per hen or just a couple that they can share?

    I’ll be building a small coop, not a shed or building that is tall enough for a person to walk in. So is it best to build the coop elevated off the ground or on the ground? Does one stay warmer in the winter?

    Thank you in advance for any information. I’ve enjoyed finding and reading your blog!

    Lisa

    • Hello: For layers, the recommended floor space requirement is about 2.5 square feet per bird. I do slightly more than that since the birds are contained all winter. It is a fine balance between having it large enough for them to move around in, and for you to take care of them (clean the inside, refill water, etc) and not having it too big that you have really high heating bills. My coop is about 6 feet x 8 feet – and that holds up to 13 birds (9 is optimal). I have had as few as 5 in it – but I have noticed when I have that few of birds, it is much harder to keep warm. You will want to make sure you can get inside the coop and have enough room to tend to things inside as well. For about three to four birds, 3 nesting boxes would be fine, but if you think you might want to go as high as 6 birds at some point – 4 would be a better #. Also, make sure that however you configure your coop, you have sufficient space around your heat lamp – you dont want it too close to the birds, or to flammable material (like nesting material or the wall) – they transmit a fair bit of heat and you dont want it to be a potential fire hazard.

      As for whether it should be on the ground or off – if it is off the ground, it will have to be very well insulated on the floor. I do know of a few small elevated coops that house about 4 to 6 birds and they had no difficulties keeping it warm in the winter – however, these properties were also in the hills – where it is warmer. So depending on your location, and how cold it gets, you might want to consider putting the coop on the ground. That is what I did with my henhouse. I feel like it helps keep the place warmer. Regardless, you will need a heat lamp. Generally, if the coop is well insulated and not too big for the 3 of birds, one can get by without a heat lamp until zero or colder. That is assuming you have a heater under the waterer, however.

      Hope this helps. I am hoping soon to start posting pictures of various coops around Fairbanks to help people get an idea of what works up here. I might even try and do that this week – Cheers

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