Keeping backyard chickens for eggs and meat is a rewarding hobby and helps supplement your diet with high-quality food. If you live in an area with long, cold winters, you’re probably wondering what chickens will do best. Luckily, several breeds are cold-hardy and keep laying even through winter.
The top cold hardy chicken breeds for egg production are the Canadian Chanteclers and Easter Eggers. Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks are good multi-purpose birds, while Jersey Giants and Brahmas are excellent for meat. Good choices for pets include Cochins and Marans
Choosing the right kind of chicken for your climate can make keeping a backyard flock more profitable. The birds will be healthier and happier if they are bred for more extreme climates, making looking after them more manageable. Here are several breeds that do well in even the most frigid climates.
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The Best Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds For Your Backyard Flock
If you experience icy winters, it’s best to choose breeds with smaller combs and wattles to avoid frostbite. Look for larger breeds with densely-packed feathers, as these will do better in cold temperatures. Even the hardiest chickens will need a warm coop with dry bedding.
A dual-purpose breed that is a good choice for eggs and meat, the Ameraucana is a relatively recent breed that does well in cold climates. They produce pale blue eggs and weigh between 5.5-6.5lbs.
This beautiful breed comes in many different color varieties. Still, it can be recognized by the ‘beard’ of feathers that give its face a chipmunk-like appearance. Ameraucanas are an excellent choice for a free-range backyard flock, as they are known to be predator-wary and sociable flock birds
With fantastic egg-laying and meat production, the well-known Plymouth Rock is a famous American heritage breed for cold climates. They lay around 200 eggs a year and weigh 7.5-9.5 lbs/
The barred Plymouth Rock is easy to care for and striking with its distinctive barred feathers. They are long-lived and poor flyers, making them ideal for the backyard. Due to the larger wattles and comb, don’t choose Plymouth Rocks for areas that experience incredibly frigid winters.
This ancient English breed is friendly, curious, and cold-hardy, and the hens are good layers with tasty meat. A speckled Sussex will lay 4-5 eggs a week and weigh 7-9lb.
The Speckled Sussex has mahogany feathers with a white tip, giving it a speckled appearance. The birds do exceptionally well when kept free range and are cold-adapted. They don’t do well in heat, so avoid them if you have hot summers.
Orpingtons are large, buff-colored chickens known to be cold-hardy. The females lay 200-300 eggs annually and weigh 8 lbs, while roosters can weigh 10 lbs.
These heavy, broad birds were considered endangered until as late as 2016, but thanks to backyard chicken keepers, they have become more readily available. This breed is friendly and peaceful and good with children. They do well in smaller spaces, making them an excellent choice if you want a dual-purpose bird.
The Delaware is a relatively recent dual-purpose breed that does well in cold climates. However, you may need to protect their wattles and combs to prevent frostbite. Expect 4 large eggs a week and birds to weigh between 6-7lbs.
Friendly and curious birds with an intelligent disposition, the Delaware is relatively hard to find as its popularity declined rapidly. They have white/silver feathers and black barring along the neck, wings, and tail. They make good free-range birds and are sociable and good with children.
Another ancient breed that is excellent for dual-purpose flocks chooses the Brahma if you want a large, calm breed that is friendly and will lay eggs even in winter. Expect 200+ eggs annually and a bird that weighs 8-10 lbs.
The Brahma is cold-hardy, but will not do as well in hot temperatures, so don’t choose this bird if you have hot summers. Brahmas have dense plumage, feathered feet, and a pea comb; these large birds can easily feed a family. However, due to their feathered feet, they can have trouble in snow.
Rhode Island Red
Choose the Rhode Island Red if you want a friendly, dual-purpose breed with excellent egg-laying that will do well in cold and warm environments. This popular breed is easy to care for and very healthy.
These distinctive large red chickens will lay 150-250 eggs annually and are good meat birds, though some may not prefer the yellow skin. This breed will forage readily, making them good free-range flocks. Rhode Island Reds are curious and friendly birds, but roosters can be aggressive.
If you want a rare, heritage chicken known for its hardiness, the Chantecler is a great choice as it is productive and does very well in cold climates. Thanks to their small comb and wattles, they are resistant to frostbite.
Chanteclers are calm and docile chickens, do best in northern climates, and are bred for the Canadian climate. They will not do well in warm weather, but they get on with other chicken breeds, lays 200+ eggs annually, and will lay during winter.
Look for the Wyandotte if you want an attractive, all-around bird that will produce eggs and table meat. You can expect 200+ eggs annually from this cold-hardy species. This American heritage breed weighs in between 6.4-8,5 lbs.
These beautiful chickens fell out of favor after the industrialization of chicken keeping. Still, backyard farmers have kept this wonderful breed going. They are friendly, hardy, and less prone to disease, making them ideal for keeping free-range.
Choose the Cochin if you want a unique chicken with a friendly disposition. These large fluffy chickens only lay about 180-200 eggs annually, but they lay through winter. They make excellent pets and beginner chickens.
While you’re unlikely to keep Cochin for eggs or meat, they provide both and can weigh in at a hefty 8.5 lbs. Their true appeal lies in their affectionate, cuddly nature, making them ideal for beginner keepers and those with small children.
If you want a bird that lays eggs in different colors, look for breeds marketed as Easter Eggers. They are not a true chicken breed, but any type carrying the gene that allows for blue eggs. They were bred from Araucana and Ameraucana stock, mixed with other breeds.
Easter Eggers generally lay around 200+ large eggs annually but are lighter birds, weighing only 4-5 lbs. Thanks to their pea combs, hardiness, and small size, they tolerate both heat and cold. They are friendly, popular birds that will do well kept with other sociable breeds like Cochins.
This is the breed to pick if you want a striking, giant bird with a gentle disposition. Females weigh 11 lbs, while roosters can reach 13-15 lbs. They lay huge eggs, but their natural appeal is their meat, though it can take 6 months for a bird to mature.
The Jersey Giant lives up to its name, and the jet black feathers and docile nature make them a popular choice for backyard poultry keepers. Their large size keeps them cold-hardy and helps them avoid avian predators, making them excellent free-range birds
The Maran is a lovely heritage bird that you should buy if you are looking for a quiet, gentle, winter-hardy bird and average layers. Expect about 15-200 dark brown eggs annually.
They are known to be friendly, cuddly birds, making them popular as backyard pets and excellent foragers. More expensive birds will produce finer eggs with a coveted deep chocolate shell color. However, their large combs can be susceptible to frostbite, so extra care must be taken to protect them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Chickens Lay Best In Cold Weather?
When choosing a chicken breed that will keep laying eggs even in cold weather, you’ll want a cold-hardy breed with good egg production. Specific breed characteristics will help birds do better in icy conditions.
- Smaller wattles and comb will be less likely to get frostbitten
- Densely packed feathers keep the chicken warmer
- Trailing, silky feathers, and feathered feet can be a problem in snowy and icy areas, so avoid these
- Larger birds with more densely-packed muscles will survive colder temperatures. This is why many of the top cold-hardy chickens are dual-purpose birds.
Some of the top breeds for laying eggs even in winter are the Canadian-bred Chantecler, Orpingtons, and the Rhode Island Red.
What Is The Hardiest Egg-Laying Chicken?
Some chickens do very well in cold climates but are not tolerant of warmer temperatures, like the Cantecler. Other breeds do well in a range of temperatures and are known to be hardy and not susceptible to disease.
Many chicken breeds that are good free-range foraging birds will be hardy. Look for breeds such as the Rhode Island Red, which can easily lay 250 eggs annually. Other hardy breeds to consider for egg-laying are:
- Plymouth Rocks
- Buff Orpingtons
Even if your chosen breed is cold-hardy, you should provide your chickens with a warm, insulated coop with clean bedding. This will ensure they survive even the coldest snaps and have a safe place to hide if necessary.
What Chicken Breeds Are Not Cold Hardy?
Chickens bred to do well in warmer climates will not tolerate the cold very well and may be more prone to frostbite and disease. If you live in a colder climate, avoid breeds from hotter countries.
Chickens are adaptable birds, but the breeds with large wattles and combs are more likely t suffer from frostbite. Smaller birds like bantams can also struggle in the cold.
If you live in a northern climate, avoid the following breeds:
Birds with feathered feet, like the Brahmas, will do less well in snowy areas as the snow gets trapped. Some chickens have long crests or trailing feathers, which are also prone to getting ice and snow trapped in them.
Are Olive Egger Chickens Cold-Hardy?
The Olive Egger is a very popular cross, similar to an Easter Egger, that produces olive green eggs. They are hybrid that crosses breeds that produce blue eggs with breeds that produce brown eggs, with resulting green eggs.
Because many different breeds can be used to make this cross, how hardy your Olive Egger will be, depends on the breeds. In general, they are considered cold-hardy birds but take care to provide them with an insulated coop in freezing weather.
Many breeds of chickens will do well in cold climates but will still need a coop for additional protection from the elements. If you have extreme weather, you may want to invest in a coop heater. If you live in a place with frequent snowfall, avoid birds with feathered crests or feet, as these can get snow-bound.