Chicken breeds are defined by poultry standards that tell us how a breed should look. In the United Kingdom, breed create the standard and the Poultry Club of Great Britain approves it. The British Poultry Standards book has all of these standards together with photos of most breeds. By joining a breed club you should receive a copy of the breed standard for your chosen breed.
This page provides some information about the more popular UK chicken breeds for the beginner. There are of course many more available and if you want to see them all, I would recommend you visit the poultrykeeper chicken breeds pages where you can see all of the UK Standardised breeds and get more in-depth information.
The Ancona is named after the Italian City of Ancona in the East of Italy. It is thought they first reached our shores in 1851. It is a good layer and an active forager and are usually very friendly birds. Anconas are hard to find, there aren’t that many breeders around. Many people believe the Ancona to be related to the Leghorn.
The large comb of the male birds can suffer from frostbite.
The Araucana originates in South America. Named after the Araucano tribe of Native South Americans. A good looking bird that has an attractive beard and crest.
The Araucana is a hardy breed that lays a good number of medium sized blue to green coloured egg which makes an attractive addition to any egg box. They should ideally be kept alone as they can be bullied due to impaired eye sight from their ‘head-gear’.
The Australorp was developed in Australia from imports of Orpingtons. The British continued to develop the Orpington for show making them profusely feathered and it is said that the Australorp was left alone, much more like the original Orpingtons that William Cook had created with better utility qualities.
A good layer that is a docile breed suitable for beginners. Australorps are active foragers and are reasonably hardy. Being a heavy breed, they cannot fly well so can be contained within low fencing.
The Belgian bantam comes in 5 varieties. They are a true bantam, which means they have no large counterpart. They are not difficult to keep but some varieties have feathered feet so must be kept out of mud.
They are active birds and can become very tame if handled regularly from young although some cocks can be aggressive during the breeding season.
The Croad Langshan chicken arrived in England in 1872 when they were imported by a British Army major called ‘Croad’. They are strong, heavy birds and are docile in nature. They do not fly so can be kept behind low fences although their feathered feet mean they should not be kept in muddy conditions.
This breed of chicken is a ‘dual purpose utility breed’, useful for both the table and as an egg layer.
The black Croad Langshan is the most popular but white is also available.
The Crested Cream Legbar is the most popular variety of Legbar and many consider them a separate breed. They have a small crest and thanks to their Araucana origins, lay blue to green coloured eggs. A big benefit of the Cream Legbar is that it is an autosexing breed – that is – day old chicks can be sexed by the colour of their down. This means if you plan on hatching chicks, you don’t have to feed or dispatch unwanted male birds for 10-12 weeks as with other breeds.
Together with the Rhode Island Red, the Leghorn has been one of the most instrumental in commercial egg producing breeds. They are small and produce large numbers of white eggs so have a good ‘feed efficiency’. The comb is upright on the male and flops over on the female. The leghorn can be quite flighty and can fly well so make sure they can be kept securely in a run with a roof, or clip the primary flight feathers of one wing once their feathers have stopped growing to keep them on the ground.
This breed comes from South West France where they take their name from the town of Marans.
Marans are good layers of dark chocolate brown coloured eggs, the Copper Black Marans variety lays the darkest coloured eggs. The French Marans have feathered feet but the English standard calls for unfeathered feet. Originally a dual purpose breed but now used more for eggs than meat for the table.
The Orpington is named after the town in Kent where it was developed by William Cook in 1886. They come in a variety of colours and are profusely feathered. Orpingtons were kept by the late Queen Mother.
Orpingtons require more space than other breeds and prefer to perch on low perches. They cannot tolerate getting wet very well so should always be provided with plenty of shelter.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is a good layer of large brown eggs and together with the Leghorn, has been one of the most used birds for creating commercial hybrids.
The Rhode Island Red is well suited to smallholdings since it is a hardy bird that is good at foraging in a free range environment. It doesn’t fly too well so can be kept within a low fence.
A Rhode Island White exists but is seldom seen, especially in the UK.
Of all the chicken breeds, the Sussex is one of my personal favourites. The Light Sussex (shown left) is by far the most popular. They are a hardy breed that will be happy to forage for some of their food around the garden. The Sussex is called a ‘dual purpose utility breed’ that is, it is useful for both the table and as an egg layer. A good choice for beginners that are also available as bantams if a small garden is all you have.
The silver laced Wyandotte was the first colour variety to be developed in America, being standardised in 1883. The Wyandotte is a popular breed and since then, a multitude of colour varieties have been created.
Wyandottes are docile and friendly birds that can become very tame if handled regularly. They are good layers but are prone to broodiness which isn’t always desirable as hens will stop laying whilst sitting and their condition deteriorates.