The breed of chickens that a producer selects for his flock depends upon the purpose for which the chickens are intended. The types of chicken breeds to select from falls into one of three categories: 1) egg laying stock, 2) meat-type birds and 3) dual purpose breeds. Each type of bird is genetically developed to satisfy the best attributes for which they are intended. However, no single breed of bird will provide the best characteristics for all three purposes. Each category of birds will be discussed below.
The egg laying breeds of birds have ancestries that trace them to the Mediterranean Class of chickens as classified by the American Standard of Perfection. They have been genetically selected for high egg productivity, but usually have small bodies that make them undesirable as meat producers. The small bodies benefit these breeds because very few nutrients are wasted for producing great body mass. Instead, they direct more of their dietary nutrients into the egg production. The egg producing breeds are further divided into birds that produce white shelled eggs or brown shelled eggs. The best white shell egg breeds are descended from the Leghorn breed with several different feather color patterns to select from. The best brown shell egg production breeds are developed from Rhode Island Red stock. Regardless of which shell color breed selected, there are many modern varieties from which to choose.
The meat-type breeds of chickens are not really breeds at all. Instead, they are hybrid varieties or combinations of many different breeds. The combinations of breeds are selected to produce a variety (strain) with meat characteristics that the producer desires most. Some breeds grow faster and larger while others emphasis traits like larger breast meat yield, more efficient feed conversion, or more disease resistance. The strains are named after the breeding companies that genetically develop them, like Arbor Acres, Ross, Peterson and Hubbard, to name a few. The weakness of these varieties is that they do not lay as many eggs per hen as the egg laying breeds discussed above. These strains are used by broiler producing companies that commercially produce broilers sold in supermarkets.
The third type of chicken breeds are those that are dual purpose. They are not as good in producing eggs as the Leghorn or Rhode Island Red breeds, but they have much better meatiness. They are also inferior in meat production characteristics as compared to the commercial meat-type hybrid varieties, but they are much better egg producers. Typical breeds in this dual purpose category are New Hampshires, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes.
The producer should select the characteristic that is most important for him and then contact a nearby hatchery to see if a suitable breed or variety is available. The hatchery manager will be able to advise the producer about the birds that are available. If a suitable breed is not available at the hatchery, contact the county Extension office for an alternate source of the breed you desire. The publication Breeds and Varieties of Chickens is a listing of all breeds/varieties recognized by the American Poultry Association.