Gallinaceous birds, like the chicken, were among the first domesticated animals. There are hundreds of chicken breeds around the world, and all domestic chickens (Gallus domesticus) are derived from the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) of Southeast Asia (Fig 1).
A chicken breed is a group of birds with distinctive characteristics (Box 1). There are more than 500 chicken breeds throughout the world. There are laying breeds, meat breeds, and ornamental breeds. Some breeds are also considered dual purpose or raised for both eggs and meat. Each breed is further subdivided into varieties based on physical characteristic, such as color, comb type, leg feathering, presence of a beard or muffs, or comb type (i.e. single comb white leghorn). Many breeds have a single comb. Rose combs are typically flat and close to the bird’s head.
Box 1. Chicken breed vocabulary
|Breed||Group of chickens with distinctive characteristics|
|Variety||Subdivision of breed with differences in characteristics like plumage, color, comb type (i.e. single comb White Leghorn)|
|Strain||Subgroup of breed and variety that has been maintained for several generations without the introduction of new stock|
In North America, designation of poultry breeds is recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) and/or the American Bantam Association (ABA). Founded in 1873, the APA is the oldest livestock organization in the United States. According to the American Poultry Association (APA) Standard of Perfection, chicken breeds are classified first as to whether they are standard size or bantam. Bantams are typically one-quarter to one-half the size of the standard bird. Their petite size makes bantams good pet chickens, particularly in residential neighborhoods.
When presented some of the common chicken breeds in clinical practice, it is also helpful to be aware of a few basic poultry vocabulary terms (Box 2).
Box 2. Common poultry terms
|Cock||Male fowl > 12 months of age|
|Hen||Female fowl > 12 months of age|
Originally from India, the name of this breed comes from the Brahmaptura River. The Brahma is sometimes referred to as the “King of Chickens” because of its large size. Roosters reach 4.5-5.4 kg (10-12 lb.), hens 3.2-4.1 kg (7-9 lb.), Bantams 0.9-1.0 kg (32-38 oz). Brahmas come in an assortment of colors, however the eyes are red and there is a small, single pea comb; small, red wattles; and large, long, red ear lobes. This fancy breed has profuse, fluffy feathering and feathered legs and feet, making them tolerant to the cold (Fig 2).
Brahma roosters are relatively gentle and easy to handle making them a good pet chicken. Although initially bred for meat production, Brahma hens are fairly good egg-layers. Brahmas do not fly and are content when housed behind a 2-foot fence.
This Chinese breed became famous in the 1800s when they were given as a gift to Queen Victoria of England. Cochins are a heavy breed with roosters reaching up to 5 kg (11 lb.), hens 3.9 kg (8.5 lb.), and bantams 0.8-0.9 (28-32 oz). A poultry show favorite, Cochins come in black, white, buff, or partridge colors and they possess a single comb, feathered feet, and a short, fluffy tail (Fig 3). Cochins are also popular because of their sweet-natured personalities.
Cochins can live well in confined conditions. Cochin hens do not lay egg wells, passing medium-sized, brown eggs for only short period of time. However, hens do make excellent mothers and will even foster chicks of other breeds.
This American breed can achieve a weight of up to 6 kilograms (13 pounds). Their large size makes Jersey giants a popular backyard breed for meat production (Fig 4). Hens are also decent layers of brown eggs. Jersey Giants possess a single comb; medium-sized, red wattles, red ear lobes, and clean (feather free) legs. Jersey Giants tend to be good-natured birds.
Originally from Italy, the leghorn rooster typically reaches 3.4 kg (7.5 lb.), hens 2.5 kg (5.5 lb.), and bantams 0.5 kg (1 lb.). America, leghorns come in white, black, brown, or red color varieties, as well as the Columbian (mostly white body with black tail or black tips on tail), partridge (black stripes), silver partridge, or black-tailed red with white skin. The comb can be single, typically flopping to one side, or rose (flat on top and fleshy with small round protuberances). Leghorns have clean legs (free of feathers) and red eyes, white, oval ear lobes, and medium-sized, red wattles (Fig 5, Fig 6).
Leghorns are laying breeds. White leghorns have one of the highest rates of egg production of any chicken breed (Fig 7). In fact, this breed has contributed to the development of most egg-laying chicken strains.
The leghorn breed can be excitable, noisy, and somewhat shy around humans. Leghorn roosters are somewhat aggressive. Bantam leghorns tend to be calmer than their larger counterparts. Leghorns do best in large, tall, secure chicken coops that allow movement. They should also ideally have some trees with branches for perching, which will help to satisfy their desire to fly.
Orpingtons are a relatively large breed developed in England. Oringtons are dual-purpose birds, meaning they can be a good source of meat and eggs, which are brown. The rooster reaches 4.5 kg (10 lb.), hens 3.6 kg (8 lb.), and bantams 0.96-1.1 kg (34-38 oz). Color varieties include black, blue, white, and the popular buff (Fig 8). Birds possess heavy feathering that makes this breed a good choice for harsh winter climates. This breed possesses white skin, clean or featherless legs, and medium-sized red ear lobes. Orpingtons are also a calm, gentle breed and therefore a good choice for families with small children.
The heritage of the Plymouth Rock breed is unclear, however this dual-purpose chicken is one of the most popular breeds on small farms today. Their large size makes Plymouth Rocks an excellent meat bird. These birds are also excellent egg layers, producing large, brown eggs.
Roosters reach 4.3 kg (9.5 lb.), hens 3.4 kg (7.5 lb.), and Bantams 0.9-1.0 kg (32-36 oz). The most popular variety is the barred Plymouth Rock or “Barred Rock” with a black and white feather pattern (Fig 9). This breed has clean (featherless) legs; long, red, oval ear lobes; and long, red wattles.
The Plymouth Rock is considered a dual purpose bird (for eggs and meat). Although some individuals can be aggressive, the Plymouth Rock is generally a docile, friendly bird that makes a great starter bird for new hobbyists. These birds are also able to withstand cold weather well. Although able to tolerate confinement, Plymouth Rocks do best when allowed free range.
Rhode Island red
The Rhode Island red is a common farmyard breed that was developed in the American states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. Roosters reach 3.9 kg (8.5 lb.), hen 2.9 kg (6.5 lb.), and bantams 0.85-0.96 kg (30-34 oz). The breed has distinctive, dark red feathers, clean legs, red ear lobes, and medium-sized, red wattles (Fig 10). There is often a single, lobed comb but a rose comb may also be seen.
The Rhode Island red is fairly docile and a good breed for beginners. Valued for their meat, Rhode Island reds also lay brown eggs exceptionally well and they are extremely hardy. Rhode Island reds can withstand a wide range of living conditions and diets without halting egg production and hens begin egg laying as young as 6 months of age.
The silkie chicken is an ornamental breed that is believed to have originated from China in the 1200s. Most silkies kept in the US are bantam sized. Male silkie bantams reach 1 kg (36 oz) and females 0.9 kg (32 oz). Silkies come in many color varieties, including white, black, buff, blue, partridge, or gray. The feathers have a distinctive texture that is similar to fur, and birds typically possess a top knot of feathers on top of the head. In fact, the face can be completely covered by this puff of feathers on the head. The eyes are blue or black, and the skin is black (Fig 11). Another unique feature of the silkie chicken is the five toes on each foot instead of the four toes seen in most breeds.
Silkie chickens are docile and they cannot fly. They make wonderful pets for families with children. Silkies lay tinted or cream-colored eggs. Silkie hens make wonderful brooders and mothers, and have even been known to adopt ducklings, if given the opportunity.
Wyandottes are a dual purpose bird, raised for both their meat and eggs. This breed is a favorite among backyard flock owners because of their dependable egg laying, docile, easygoing nature, and hardiness. Developed in the United States in the 1870s, Wyandotte roosters reach 3.9 kg (8.5 lb.), hens 2.9 kg (6.5 lb.), and bantams 0.7-0.85 kg (26-30 oz). There are eight recognized colors and a variety of beautiful feather patterns. Wyandottes also possess a rose comb, yellow skin, and clean or featherless, yellow legs (Fig 12).
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