When it comes to raising chickens, there are so many choices it can be mind-boggling! The first thing the small farmer must consider is the purpose of the birds: meat birds, layers, or both (also known as dual-purpose)?
For egg layers, we have loved our Buff Orpingtons. They're very cold-hardy, and they are good dual-purpose birds, making a rich and delicious stock or a tender and delicate coq au vin. They lay well even through our dark, snowy winters, and their feet haven't gotten frostbitten like some of our other birds (Speckled Sussex, I'm lookin' at you!). I actually love our Speckled Sussex; they've been the funnest (personality-wise) and friendliest breed of all, but they are a British breed and I am not sure if it's just our three hens, but their feet have not stood up well to our bracing Vermont winters.
We also got some Ameracauanas, aka Easter Eggers, for their blue and green eggs. These birds have had a wide variety of personalities though. In our first flock, the Ameracaunas were super-friendly and sweet. But in the second, from a different hatchery, they have been skittish and wild. Just crazy birds!
We also have Barred Rocks and Partridge Rocks, which are beautiful birds, but the Partridges have been a little on the not-so-smart side. They are the ones that keep getting cornered by my puppy (who is learning not to give chase to the chickens when they wander into his territory, but he doesn't always succeed in restraining his hunting impulses!).
Two years ago we raised Cornish Rocks for meat, and while we loved the broad breasts and succulent flesh of these birds, we felt they were genetic freaks and couldn't get over how little natural instincts they seemed to possess. If we put the waterer too far from the feeder, they'd die of thirst. They didn't forage, fly or move much at all. They just parked their fat little bodies in front of the feeder and ate as much as possible.
This year, we're planning to raise Freedom Rangers, a meat-bird breed that many homesteaders and small farmers have spoken highly of. For a dual-purpose breeding flock, some folks really like Javas, an endangered breed that's making a bit of a comeback.
Learn more about breed choices, dual-purpose versus meat versus pure high-volume egg layers, and other factors to consider in choosing a chicken breed.