The A to Z of chicken breeds
There are a lot of chicken breeds! There are 120 breeds recognised by the American Poultry Association and more than 500 chicken breeds throughout the world and not every breed is officially recognised in all countries.
Table of Contents
- What is a chicken?
- What are the types of chicken?
- What is the difference between a chicken and a hen?
- How are chicken breeds classified?
- How are chicken breeds different?
- How do I know what breed my chicken is?
- The complete list of chicken breeds from Ancona to Yokohama.
- Hybrids or Cross-breeds:
- Eggs producing breeds:
- Meat producing chickens or broilers:
- True Bantams:
What is a chicken?
The chicken, Scientific name Gallus gallus domesticus, is a type of domesticated bird used for their meat and eggs and less commonly as pets. There are more chickens in the world than any other bird and about 4 times as many chickens than humans.
Below: A standard egg laying hybrid chicken. This is the "Lohmann brown" type, responsible for around half the worlds eggs. Other brands are available.
What are the types of chicken?
The three main types of chickens are:
- Broilers. Broilers are meat birds, bred to put on as much meat as possible in the shortest amount of time.
- Layers. Layers are birds bred to have very little meat, but to lay as many eggs as possible in the shortest amount of time.
- Dual-Purpose. Are bred to do both, lay a reasonable amount of eggs and have a reasonable amount of meat, so that you can keep the hens for laying and raise the cockerels for meat.
There is also a fourth type of chicken. Those that are kept purely for show like the Serama, Belgian bantams and Sebrights, Although they could be eaten, there is probably less meat on them than pigeons and they do lay eggs but only limited numbers of very small eggs.
These types of chickens can be further classified by whether they are rare breeds like the Wyandotte or commercially produced hybrids like the Hubbard broiler.
What is the difference between a chicken and a hen?
A chicken is the breed and a hen is the female of the species. Female chickens are known as pullets when young and hens when they are older.
There is much debate over when a pullet becomes a hen, some say it is when they have started their laying cycle at around 22 to 26 weeks and some define it as when the breast bone hardens (it is soft in young birds).
With chickens the young males are called cockerels and then roosters when they are old enough to roost with the flock.
How are chicken breeds classified?
Chicken breeds are classified by either Size or use. They are either large fowl, bantam or true bantam and used for eggs, for showing by fanciers, for meat or dual purpose.
They are then classified by their characteristics like combs, origin and feather types.
How are chicken breeds different?
Breeds of chickens differ in several ways:
- Size. The smallest chicken I have is a Serama around 7 inches tall and the largest a Brahma, around 30 inches tall.
- Weight. The Serama weights about 550 grams and the my Jersey giant tops the scale at around 17Lb.
- Stance. Chickens can be tall and upright like the Asian types or boat shaped and stocky like the La Bresse Gauloise.
- Feathers. Soft feathers, hard feathered or Frizzle .
- Patterns. The pattern on the feathers sometimes defines chickens although it may be common to more than one type.
- Use. Some chickens are kept by fanciers purely for show, other just for eggs or meat and some fulfil more than one purpose.
How do I know what breed my chicken is?
Breed identification is always a little tricky with chickens as many of them share characteristics, colours and feather patterns.
Chickens can be identified by shape, stance, size, feather type and pattern.
The complete list of chicken breeds from Ancona to Yokohama.
Altsteirer or Styrian Chicken. An ancient breed from the Styria in Austria.
Andalusian Chickens. Stunning blue mediterranean breed.
Appenzeller Barthuhner Chickens
Appenzeller Spitzhauben Chickens
Asian Hard Feather
Asil (Aseel) Chickens
Australian Pit Game
Brahma Chickens. Big and tall with personality.
Carlisle Old English Game
Cream Crested legbar. Productive coloured eggs layers.
Croad Langshan Chickens
German Langshan Chickens
Indian Game Chickens
Jersey Giant Chickens
La Flèche Chickens
Lincolnshire Buff Chickens
Marsh Daisy Chickens
Modern Game Chickens
New Hampshire Red Chickens
Norfolk Grey Chickens
Old English Game Bantams
Oxford Old English Game
Plymouth Rock Chickens
Poland or Polish Chickens. Personality with a big crest.
Rhode Island Red Chickens
Rumpless Araucana Chickens
Scots Grey Chickens
Silkie Chickens. Our Silkie page and a website dedicated to Silkies.
Yamato Gunkei Chickens
Hybrids or Cross-breeds:
I am including cross breeds and hybrids in the list as they are commonly searched for types of chickens. Cross breeds and hybrids are uniform types of mass produced chickens bred for egg production.
None breed true or are recognised by poultry breed standards but like produces like with chickens and many backyard flock keepers successfully breed their own hybrids. They are extremely common in flocks because of their high productivity.
Cross-breeds do not technically meet the definition of a breed, most hybrid strains are sex linked, allowing for easy chick sexing and therefore cost saving.
Black Sex Link, Black Stars or Black Rocks in the UK
Cinnamon Queen - A modern egg laying hybrid.
Olive Egger - Any chicken laying an olive green egg.
Red Sex Link or Red Stars
Eggs producing breeds:
In past days there would have been no such thing as an egg only chicken, they would have all been eaten when they were past their most productive. Meat birds produce eggs as well although they tend to be seasonal layers.
Below: The production of eggs has become an art form as these Marans eggs show.
Over the years many breeds were selected and began to be used primarily for producing eggs, these are mostly light-weight birds whose hens do not go broody often.
Asturian Painted Hen
White-Faced Black Spanish
Meat producing chickens or broilers:
Most backyard keepers and homesteads use dual-purpose breeds for meat production. These are some breeds are raised exclusively for meat. The list includes hybrid broilers.
Cornish or Indian Game
Ross - Ross/cobb
These are the usual breeds found in backyards the world over as adaptable utility birds good at producing both meat and eggs. Some may be slightly better for one purpose but they are still called dual-purpose breeds.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island White
Since the 19th century, poultry fancy, the breeding and competitive exhibition of poultry as a hobby, has grown to be a huge influence on chicken breeds. Many breeds have always been kept for ornamental purposes, and others have been shifted from their original use to become first and foremost exhibition fowl, even if they may retain some inherent utility.
Since the sport of cockfighting has been outlawed in the developed world, most breeds first developed for this purpose, called game fowl, are now seen principally in the show ring rather than the cock pit as fighting cocks.
Modern Game Fowl
Barbu de Watermael
Belgian Bearded d'Anvers
Blue Hen of Delaware
Old English Game
Below: A Golden Sebright cockerel.
Most large chicken breeds have a bantam counterpart that are usually one-fifth to one-quarter the size of the standard breed, but they are expected to exhibit all of the standard breed's characteristics.
True bantams have no large fowl counterpart, they include:
Bantam (The ancestor of all bantam breeds)
Belgian Bearded d'Anvers
Belgian Bearded d'Uccle