Gardening with Free-Range Chickens For Dummies
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If you asked 20 poultry enthusiasts which breed was their favorite, you might get 20 different answers. It really is an individual preference. Research some of the breeds you aren’t familiar with, and don’t let limited availability deter you. Many hatcheries have great selections of popular and rare breeds for sale as day-old chicks.

If you don’t find the breed you want locally, try ordering through the mail. Sending them through the mail requires sending certain quantities — like a baker’s dozen (13) or sometimes 25. Sending chicks in predetermined quantities ensures that they’re handled in the best way possible to keep them warm and protected. If you can’t raise a flock that size, plan ahead by asking your neighbors and friends to go in with you.

With that said, some online companies will ship smaller quantities depending on where you live.

To help you choose the right breeds, start by asking yourself some of these questions:

Where do you live?

Do you have children who will be helping care for the chickens?

Have you ever raised chickens before, or are you an experienced poultry enthusiast?

Does ornamental appearance count with your chickens, or are you more concerned about whether they’re good egg layers?

Does it matter if your chickens lay white eggs, or do you want only blue eggs?

Will your chickens be free-ranging most of the time?

Your answers will help you select the breeds best for your garden.

Best free-ranging breeds

Best free-ranging breeds

Generally speaking, most of the free-ranging birds here are dual-purpose breeds with docile natures. Dual-purpose is a term used for poultry breeds that are considered good egg layers and also are well muscled for good eating. Most of these breeds lay varying degrees of brown eggs.

The exception is the Easter Egger, whose eggs are green-blue. The Easter Egger isn’t recognized as an official breed; it’s considered a mutt in the chicken world because its genetic makeup is a combination of unknown breeds. Here is a short list of the best chicken breeds for free-range chicken gardens. In the list (h) = heat tolerant, (c) = cold tolerant, and (b) = dual hardy:

Barred Rock (c)

Black Australorp (c)

Buff Orpington (c)

Easter Egger (c)

Marans (c)

Plymouth Rock (b)

Rhode Island Red (b)

Silver-Laced Wyandotte (c)

Welsummer (b)

Avoid chicken breeds that are white-feathered for free-ranging in gardens. White-feathered chickens are much more visible to predators. Darker brown, black, and honey-colored chickens blend in better in a garden.

Family-friendly breeds

Family-friendly breeds

Children are drawn to the wilder- and wackier-looking breeds, yet most are docile in nature. Here are some suggested chicken breeds that are especially good for children:

Buff Orpingtons: The Buff Orpington breed could be the Labrador dog of the chicken world. They’re docile, people-friendly, and good foragers.

Cochins: Cochins are a favorite with the children because they’re showy and have feathered legs. They’re also good foragers.

Houdans: Houdans have a docile nature with an extra bonus of wild-like ornamental feathers and an aggressive foraging ability.

Polish: The Polish breeds are beautiful and usually comical with that mop of feathers on their heads. Sometimes they’re at a real disadvantage in the garden, simply because they can’t see very well with that headdress. Give them a trim to help them see well.

Silkies: Silkies are very docile chickens that make good pets. They’re reminiscent of Persian cats. They’re quite different in appearance from other chickens, with their fluffy plumage, dark blue flesh and bones, and five toes on each foot (all other chickens have four toes on each foot). They can be a good free-ranging breed for a garden if you can keep them dry and out of inclement weather.

Cold-hardy breeds

Cold-hardy breeds

For cold climates, choose cold-hardy breeds for your flock. These breeds are usually dual-purpose, heavy-feathered chickens with short combs. Here is a list of some breeds that do well in cold weather:







Plymouth Rock


Heat-tolerant breeds

Heat-tolerant breeds

If you live in the desert or a place where summer temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks at a time, you must take extra measures to keep your chicken flock cool. Make sure you have more than one source of water for your chickens.

If they’re able to roam freely in your garden, your chickens will probably try to bury themselves in cool soil under a large, shaded shrub.

If they’re in a chicken coop in high temperatures, provide plenty of water and fresh-air circulation — either natural or with fans. An automatic misting fogger system is also a good solution for extreme heat. Chickens in heat distress pant and lift their wings away from their bodies. In high temperatures, chickens stop eating and laying eggs too.

Following are some suggestions for heat-tolerant chicken breeds that originate from hot climates:







Breeds that lay different-colored eggs

Breeds that lay different-colored eggs

If you want chicken breeds that give you a variety of egg colors, like a basket of Easter eggs every day, choose breeds that give you a variety of colors.

Most eggshell colors fall under some variation of white, brown, or blue-green, specific to each chicken breed.

Here are some suggestions for breeds with different colors of eggs:

Blue-green eggs: Ameraucana, Araucana, Easter Egger

Brown eggs: Barred Rock, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, Cochin, Dark Star Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Silver-Laced Wyandotte

Dark-chocolate eggs: Barnevelder, Penedesenca, Welsumer, and some varieties of Marans

Off-white eggs: Hamburg

White eggs: Ancona, Polish, Silkie, White Leghorn

Heritage breeds

Heritage breeds

Even with the amazing number of chicken breeds today, nearly three dozen chicken breeds are in danger of extinction. Heritage chicken breeds, also called heirloom chicken breeds, are breeds in danger.

These breeds tend to be larger birds that are slower to mature, yet they’re productive longer in life. They originate from purebred genetic lines that existed prior to 1940. Heritage chickens are good foragers and do well in free-range and pasturing environments. With the industrialization of chickens in the mid-20th century, many of these heirloom breeds were deemed less desirable.








Jersey Giant

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Bonnie Jo Manion has been featured in national garden magazines with her gardens, organic practices, chickens, and designs. Follow Bonnie at Rob Ludlow is the owner of, a top source on chicken raising, and the coauthor of Raising Chickens For Dummies.

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