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Chicken Breeds for Producing Brown Eggs

By Kelly Klober

For large brown egg production, my list of breeds and varieties would have to include; White Plymouth Rocks, Black Australorps, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Single Comb Rhode Island Whites, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Welsummers, and Buff Orpingtons. Not every line within each of these breeds will suit the modern brown egg producer and you might have to work through several lines to find the one that actually works on your farm or in your poultry yard. You may even have to begin with but a few good specimens and launch a breeding up program.

About the White-Feathered Breeds

While many consider them just a tad too “plain vanilla,” I have always been most partial to the white-feathered chicken breeds. The White Leghorn, White Plymouth Rock, and White Wyandotte formed an economic troika that drove much of the development of modern poultry production.

Some may question just how many white-feathered chicken breeds are actually needed — most of them produced their bonafides back when the modest sized, working flock was the economic backbone of a great many American small farms and the families they supported. The Rosecomb Rhode Island White, the breed variety currently sanctioned by the American Poultry Association would be a good choice for those needing a moderate egg layer to produce in cold and harsh climates. The Single Comb variety was discussed in some detail previously and is a most utilitarian layer.

White Plymouth Rocks

A White Plymouth Rock Hen
A White Plymouth Rock Hen

White Plymouth Rock genetics remain perhaps the most accessible of all purebred poultry genetics, but time will still be needed to find the best fit for a particular farm. Breeding flocks and hatcheries based in northern climes sometimes offer more hardy birds due to the environments they face there. Smaller hatcheries with modest breed lists are good sources as they often offer top breeding from owned and controlled flocks of just those few breeds.

Barred Plymouth Rocks

barred hen
A Barred Plymouth Rock hen. Photo credit: Steph Merkle

The Barred Plymouth Rock was an avian first love of mine and the quest for the clean, bright barred and clean yellow shanked and beaked birds I remember from my youth continues for many of my generation. The Barred Rock — not Dominecker — is a farm fowl deluxe from well back in the nineteenth century.

The Barred was the Rock breed for a great many people. Some truly legendary Barred Plymouth Rock flocks were developed and maintained well into the latter half of the twentieth century. They were a plain, tough chicken (in the good sense) and the breed has produced some of the most durable hens that I have ever seen. The vigor is still largely there and while some hatcheries are promoting their Barred Rocks on past glories, this breed has much to offer to those willing to put the time into them.

Black Australorps

Black Australorp
A Black Australorp Hen

The Black Australorp was a bird selectively bred out of the Black Orpington breed specifically for exceptional egg laying performance. They were developed in Australia and hence the name Australorp. Many old timers believe that dark feathered, particularly black birds, will fare better and produce more than the lighter colored breeds in cold weather.

Be very mindful of size and type potential for egg laying when selecting Black Australorps. They aren’t giants and taking them to excessively large size can be at odds with their role as egg producers. Good, black feathered birds have an appeal all of their own and this is one breed that also fits quite nicely in the multiuse category.

Rhode Island Reds and Others

The Rhode Island Red and the New Hampshire are the classic, American red hen breeds although they do vary markedly in shading and color intensity. The Rhode Island Red came first in development and the New Hampshire then came about due to a desire for a red feathered bird with a bit more size for meat production and a durable nature to suit the family farms of that rugged New England state. The Rhode Island Reds by far have the broader gene pool, but neither should be confused with the hybridized “Production” or “Performance Reds.”

Two Rhode Island Red hens

A great deal has already been said here about the Buff Orpington, but for many, the Welsummer is a new name, although it is a quite venerable breed with some deep roots here and even more so abroad. The Welsummer is rather similar to the Light Brown Leghorn in coloring although with perhaps a bit more of a golden cast to the lighter colored areas. Some have encountered size issues with certain lines within the breed and for the past few years these birds have ridden along primarily on the demand for birds capable of laying distinctly colored eggs.

wellsummer hen
A Wellsummer hen

They need to be continuously selectively bred for the darkest eggshell color possible and this certainly is a factor in their choice and propagation. However, this is not a factor that should prove detrimental in developing good, egg-laying flocks of this breed. Fortunately, many egg laying traits have a very high degree of genetic inheritability and by acquiring good foundation stock, selecting for size and vigor, and keeping replacement males from only the largest, most well shaped, and darkest brown egg produced flock, building this still relatively rare breed can continue apace.

All large chicken breeds, of course, lay eggs and differences in performance among birds and lines within a breed can often be even greater than the laying performance between some breeds. A line of Black Cochins, a breed not noted for its laying ability, could be developed that lays modestly well or even much above average for the breed. It will take much time and perhaps several false starts but it is possible. This line, however, could never be expected to lay as well as birds of even median performance for a breed like the White Leghorn or even some lines of White Rock.

A good producing, well-documented laying line of Cochins (of any of the very large breeds actually), of any color would have substantial value as long as they were of a good breed type. To a few this would be a challenge well worth undertaking, but for most, if the need is for brown eggs in goodly numbers then it is best to begin with a breed already proven and strong in that area.

Sex-Link Varieties

Many who are now producing brown table eggs are doing so with one of the sex-link varieties with names like Comets or Cinnamon Queens. These are crossbreds and the crosses are made to produce baby chicks that can be sexed on sight at the time of hatching. Their strengths as egg layers come not from the cross, but the merits of their purebred parents. Heritage breeds may have been used in making these sex-linked crosses, but the birds cannot be considered as heritage material as they will not reproduce in kind.

Sex-link birds are a shortcut taken for economic ends and the crosses that produce them will never be exactly repeated. Many producers, who year-after-year purchase the same sex-link cross from the same hatchery, will undoubtedly relate how each new flock performs so differently from the others before. They are often rather high strung birds, have limited salvage value, and often produce eggs excessively large for their reduced body size. Many report losing large numbers of these birds to simple prolapse as they begin to lay.

Those needing the greatest number of eggs possible from a modest size area or to produce the most feed efficient egg-laying birds will best be served by the selection of birds from one of the white egg-laying breeds. This is the role for which they were developed and at which they excel!

Source: Talking Chicken