If you’ve been raising Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds for a long time now, as has every chicken keeper you know, and you’re feeling ready to spice up your backyard chicken flock, this list is for you! These unusual and interesting chickens are ideal candidates for adding some diversity to your yard, without having to get on a waiting list for a $3000 Ayam Cemani chicken. While some of these are better for beginners, all of them will make your flock stand out to neighbors and fellow chicken-keepers alike.
Dominque: Dominiques or dominikers are one of the oldest American chicken breeds, believed to have arrived in North America by way of early English settlers. In their long history, they have gone to one of the most popular breeds to being at various levels of threatened on the Livestock Conservancy watchlist throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. However, dominiques are generally docile dual-purpose birds, which makes them an excellent addition to any backyard flock – especially if you have a small backyard. They lay between 4-5 eggs a week, and have beautiful barred plumage that also makes them less susceptible to hawks and other predators.
Vorwerk: As the name suggests, Vorwerks are a German breed, popular in Europe but still relatively rare in the United States. Bred from Lakenvelders in the early 20th century, specifically to be more practical for small operations, Vorwerks are a dual-purpose breed that lay 3-4 white eggs a week. Their black and buff coloring helps keep them from showing the dirt, as well as making them an attractive addition to your backyard. Vorwerks are docile and active, and can find much of their food through foraging, though they fly well enough that keepers looking to let them free range should be careful.
Cochin: Cochin hens have a long history as ornamental or pet birds, which helps explain their docile, even cuddly nature – great for kids looking to get involved with chickens. Cochins are particularly visually striking, and their many beautiful feathers make them ideal for colder environments – they should be guarded against overheating in warm climates. Relatively inactive, cochins prefer feeders to foraging and are unable to fly. Their low productivity – only two eggs per week – led to decline in popularity; they are now listed as “recovering” by the Livestock Conservancy. Their winning personalities and visual beauty, though, make them great candidates for any backyard.
Salmon Faverolle: As the name suggests, Faverolle chickens are French in origin, emerging in the 19th century from a melting pot of breeds selected for meat production, though they are excellent layers as well, producing 4 eggs per week. Although Faverolles come in many colors, the unique coloring of the Salmon Faverolle has overshadowed the White, the only other Faverolle recognized in the United States. Despite their striking appearance, including a unique fifth toe, gentle, child-friendly personalities, and excellent utility as a dual—purpose birds, Faverolles are listed as in need of conservation – just another reason to add them to your flock.
Polish: Known for their striking crested heads, Polish chickens offer an excellent combination of gorgeous appearance and persistent laying – usually three eggs a week. They can be nervous and flighty, largely because their facial feathers can limit their vision and make them more susceptible to predators – or bullying from other chickens. Because of this and their lower egg production, they have lost popularity over the years and are now listed on the Livestock Conservancy watch list. However, their vulnerability to predators means they thrive when confined and make an excellent backyard chicken.
Rhode Island White: You’ve probably heard of the Rhode Island Red, one of the most popular chicken breeds for smallholders and homesteaders. Known for its hardiness and steady production, the Red has so thoroughly eclipsed its cousin, the Rhode Island White, in popularity that Whites are actually in danger of disappearing, with only a few thousand remaining in the United States. However, Whites share many desirable traits with their cool-girl cousins, including a steady production of 4-5 large eggs per week and the versatility of a dual-purpose bird, as well as being a docile, easy-going alternative to the bullying Red.
Of course, these are only six of the hundreds of incredible chicken breeds available to you, and if none of these strikes your fancy, more fascinating and unique chickens are often only a click away. And if this list has inspired you to start keeping chickens for yourself, remember that there are a lot of steps between deciding you want chickens in your backyard and actually being ready to put them there. However, if you decide to get started now, if may be only a few years before you’re looking for rare chickens of your own!
Chris Lesley has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is Chickens And More poultry expert. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including 3 Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.