Best Chicken Breeds for Families with Kids

Nearly every backyard urban chicken keeper I know has kids. Part of that is probably my demographic (mid-thirties suburban mom in yoga pants – I’m a walking cliche) but I think part of it is that parents my age want their kids to see where food comes from in a way that maybe we didn’t, growing up in the Age of The TV Dinner.

And it’s true: many people are shockingly ignorant about what it takes to get food to a dinner plate. Take the genius behind this rant:

hunters vs meat eaters

Go ahead, smack your head against your desk for awhile. I can wait.

Hens are such an easy, fun way to reintroduce some food-system reality back into the average kid’s life, it’s really no wonder so many parents are saying yes to the backyard coop. Plus, you know, eggs.

If you are like me, you want your kids to have a good experience with the hens and be eager to interact with them, so the breed of chicken you select is important.

Chickens and Kids

Different folks are looking for different things from their chickens, but if you have kids, you probably want a hen that is calm, docile, not-flighty and does generally well with backyard-scale confinement. Birds that your kids can catch, pick up, hold and interact with without fear are critical to everyone having a good experience raising chickens.

Some of the most popular chicken breeds fit this particular bill nicely, including Cochins, Orpingtons, Australorps, Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks, Sex Links, Delawares, Faverolles and Sussex. These birds tend to be heavier, dual-purpose birds (suitable for egg or meat production) with a mellow personality.

Even though they are amazingly productive layers, I’d stay away from light-weight commercial egg producers like White Leghorns, which tend to be flighty and nervous. Leghorn Crosses, like the Austrawhite (A White Leghorn – Black Australorp cross) can give you a personable bird with great egg laying productivity.

I’d also avoid breeds known to be aggressive or bossy like Rhode Island Reds and Game breeds, as these can bully other birds in a mixed flock.

Chickens and Kids

Everyone better get along or so help me, I will pull this car over.

Picking the right breed of bird is only part of the equation to a kid-friendly flock, though. Chickens are individuals and have their own personalities. We have one Buff Orpington that is a dream chicken – in a home where chickens are not pets, she’s a pet. We have another Buff Orp – same breed – that I cannot stand. She’s not actually violent, but she’s nervous, flighty, nearly impossible to pick up, loud as hell, and phenomenally, mind-bendingly stupid.

So chickens have their own little personalities, and you don’t always know what you’re gonna get even within a breed. But you do want to bring out the best in your family flock, and that means not stressing your birds. Make sure your hens have enough room and are not overcrowded. Allow a natural pecking order to establish (hens need to know where they stand in the Mean-Girls-ranking) but don’t allow bully-birds to terrorize a flock.

Kids have to do their part, too, so teach them to be calm, gentle, and slow-moving around the birds. My daughter is like the chicken whisperer. She naturally has a calm, mature, old-soul type personality and can get close to all our hens, even the ones that are a bit more skittish.

My son (three years old and prone to charging the chickens like a Golden Retriever Puppy) has different results in his interaction with the chickens as you might imagine. We are working with him to use his walking feet and not scare the birds.

Chickens and Kids

Awwwwwwe. Don’t you wish they could stay little forever?

I have mixed feelings on how much early handling of the birds really makes a difference in personality. For sure, let your kids pet and hold and snuggle with chicks (gently and with appropriate supervision, of course). It’s adorable!

But in my experience the amount of handling doesn’t directly relate to the eventual demeanor of a grown hen. I have a theory that chickens are more influenced by what other chickens think, and so in any given flock, birds lower in the pecking order will tend to be more docile with kids. I don’t have any evidence for this, it’s just been our observation.

We have tried to build a mixed flock that would be great with our kids. Our flock currently consists of Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Austrawhite, Easter Egger, Black Sex Link and Red Sex Link hens.

Sex Link hens get mixed reviews on personality – they are hybrid birds but the lines used to breed them out aren’t set in stone, so I think this explains why some people call them boring or standoffish and some people love them. We adore both our Red and Black Sex Links. We have found ours to be curious, calm – the Reds are especially docile - quiet and exceptional layers. We will be getting more when we refresh our flock this spring.

What breeds of hens do you think are particularly good for families with kids?

Comments

  1. I love my Australorps and Orpingtons. I think Orpingtons are the sweetest chickens. I learned the hard way that Wynadotts do not do well in small spaces. Where I live, the city has strict rules about the size of the coop and free ranging is forbidden. My two Wynadotts were both so mean to the other chickens. When I found them a new home with some one that could let them free range during the day, they were totally different.

  2. Wow. That anti-hunter rant is truly mind-blowing. Not only could they stand some time out back at the chicken coop, they need to Google ‘slaughter house’.

    Buff Orpington gets my vote for docile – but not soon to be a contender at the spelling bee. We’ve got 2 pure Americanas that love human contact and will run over and basically ask to be picked up. Our Easter Egger (a ‘mutt’ breed) is a bit more aloof but is the smartest and the first one to figure out new things.

  3. The anti hunter lady sounds like the lady that wonders why so many people worry about the farmers, she doesn’t buy from a farmer, she gets her food at the grocery store. OK, now lets talk about storage of eggs. I read all about rubbing your eggs with mineral oil and placing in a cool place. My basement is 68 degrees. Yesterday I cracked open my first egg stored this way. Horrible. No way could you use these eggs. 4 months on the shelf, and what a waste of time. Any other suggestions? My ladies are spreading their legs, and I am wasting their eggs.

  4. I liberated (poached?, rescued?) four industrial breed chicks a few years ago (with full permission of the farmer, who is a friend). These birds have turned into wonderfully charismatic friendly hens. They rush out to my daughter, who is a typical ungentle toddler, and let her pat them. My two younger wyndottes are much more standoffish.

  5. Melanie says:

    I love my Australorps and Sex Links, but I agree, you can just never tell with chicken breeds. I have 3 Plymouth Rocks and one of them is the Demon Chicken from hell.

  6. I love Orpingtons of any kind along with black Astralorpe but my red sexlinks are bullys. Attacking and pulling out feathers. I keep them because they are replacing the eggs that my older hens are no longer laying but I don’t like them much. One of them is ok. She seems to be nice.

  7. We have Australorps and Americanas. Based on my past experience with them, we’re planning on adding barred rocks and Orpingtons to the flock over time. Our Americanas are lower in the pecking order and very docile with the kids, allow them to pet and hold them. The Australorps are still gentle but less inclined to cuddle. I think it has to do with the pecking order as much as the breed so long as you start with a gentle breed.

    Erica, how many chickens do you currently have? And remind me your coop size? Just trying to get an idea of what we can manage with a happy flick.

  8. Okay, I have to say it. I grew up with dozens of chickens, I was in chicken 4-H in the Seattle area… you are missing silkies!!! Ideal for kids! =)

    Silkies are some of the sweetest, most even-tempered birds you can get. They aren’t awesome for egg production (tiny eggs), but they are beautiful and very sweet. Plus they’re fluffy! Literally. They look like they’re furry.

    So if you have room for them and you’re willing to sacrifice the egg production (and meat, they’re all fluff), I would totally recommend getting a couple for the kiddos. =)

    • We raised a couple of silkies. Yes, they were gentle and docile, but I have never had to give a chicken so many baths. We kept their brooder clean with fresh chips every other day and they would still end up with poop matted on their leg fluff that I’d have to just cut off, and their vents were in constant risk of becoming blocked. We raised several other breeds with them that also had leg feathering that never had the same problems. It was so bad I got rid of them before ever getting an egg.

      • Oh no, that’s awful! =( I had a brood of 4 silkie hens and never had a problem with them getting very dirty, unless there was a really bad rainstorm & they tore up their yard. We bathed them in the bathtub 3-4 times a year for shows, but that’s about it.

        I might wonder if it’s the kind of yard/run you have, but if it didn’t happen to any of your other extra-fluffy cluckers I can’t see that being a problem. Ours was about a 30×50 space with several elevated brooding boxes, and we had plain straw hay on the ground in the sheltered area with the brood boxes. Otherwise it was just a big grassy fenced-in area.

  9. I’m so excited! I’m picking up 5 chicks on the 15th – our first chicks ever! I’ve talked a lot about different breeds I was interested in, but in the end I was limited because I chose to go through the Seattle Farm Coop. They were only offering 6 breeds for pre-order, so I went with 3 Black Sex Links for their egg production (and guaranteed sex) and 2 Easter Eggers for egg color. Others they offered were Gold Sex Link, Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Brown Leghorn. I have two boys, ages 7 and 11, who are used dogs and cats and are really good with animals in general, so I’m hoping these little babies will grown in to friendly little egg producers!

    • I have a Danish Brown Leghorn and she’s a great layer! Very good feed-to-egg conversion. We call her the roadrunner though, as she’s fast and likes to escape. Sweet though.

  10. You already have Cochin on the list, our bantam cochin is a favorite here with the kids as is our bantam Phoenix (also my best brooder) and our bantam d’uccle. Maybe it’s the bantams. LOL We also had a Delaware that had an incredible personality and was VERY bold and the kids loved her, she allowed quite a bit of handling and was very funny. Sadly we lost her recently and I’m almost afraid to get another for fear that her awesomeness was a fluke. Of course, our Buff Orp is also amazing and my great gardening partner, I dig the soil, she eats the bugs. :)

  11. All my birds are losers on the IQ distribution, and we have no children, but when you show up at the feed store with 20 options, don’t overthink the descriptions. If the label on the chick cage says “flighty” it is not a nice way of saying scatterbrained. It means they want to fly. Learned the hard way with Andalusians. Won’t be getting their kind again.

  12. wow, and crikey. is it wrong to say “shot me now” in this comment? otherwise, please fast forward directly to the glad-wrap stage of this natural experiance… or is that wrong too? i may need a drink after this…..

  13. Our Blue Cochin is an absolute favourite with the kids. They can walk right up to her and she’ll squat (as though she’s expecting to be mounted!) and let them pick her up. Her fuzzy ‘pants’ make us all giggle, especially when she comes running at snack time. She is quiet, stupid, and the most easy-going of the flock. New additions always wind up hanging out beside her because she will tolerate (and cuddle/warm) anybody without discrimination.

    Our Buff Brahma is an absolute b!t@h, the instant we released her with an already established flock she started beating on everyone until she made it known she was not to be trifled with. Funnily enough, the only one that she can roost with is the Cochin, everyone else runs away to another perch when she shows up.

    In between we have a Black Marans, Dominique, Splash Ameraucana, Salmon Faverolles & a Black Faverolles. They’re all semi-skittish (would rather NOT be picked up, thank you very much) but will tolerate the monthly inspection for bugs &c), but none of them truly flighty, they do not try to escape their enclosure and will come running and get underfoot when they hear me call for snacks.

  14. Early in my chicken keeping, I got an Ameraucana from show lines (yes, they have chicken shows). On the plus side she was lovely and laid the most gorgeous sky-blue eggs, in no way green or olive colored. On the negative side, she was flighty and freaky and so terribly noisy (all the time, like she had just laid an egg, all day every day) that I had to find her a new home.

    We enjoyed Black Australorps, Easter Eggers, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Columbian Wyandottes, Marans, and many others over the 12 years that we kept hens. The show bird was the only one we needed to re-home.

  15. Silkies are fun. Dumb as stumps and poor layers, but poofy, sweet-natured and good mamas if you want to go the egg-hatching route. The breed that I’ve had that has been the most consistently personable and interactive is the Speckled Sussex. If I head for the garden with a shovel, they’re the ones smart enough to come flapping along because they know I’ll dig up worms and they’re also the ones that jump in the hole while I’m digging because they aren’t afraid of me or my shovel.

  16. I have a mixed flock of 2 buff orpingtons, 2 rhode island reds, 2 silver laced wyandottes, a small mixed breed black hen and an americauna. All of them are calm and curious but the buff girls will come sit with me when I need a time out in the coop. I recently added a roo that was given to me. He is quite the gentleman but of dubious parentage.

  17. My first chicken was a Cochin Banty. She had been raised by my 5-year-old niece, slept in the house, and got kissed on the lips every day. She was severely picked-on by her flock, so I inherited her. I’ve had many chickens since then, but none quiet as human-friendly as she was. She came running when she heard me shift the concrete block caps where the slug eggs hide, and she bluck-blucked and insisted on standing right on the shovel when I turned new ground. We noticed that all the ‘chickens-who-knew-Banty’ were friendlier than all the ones that followed after she was gone. I’m certain she did influence the others – she was always head hen in our coop even though she was tiny. But the biggest difference we see is between chickens raised under lights and those raised by mama hens. We raise our own with brood hens and don’t spend much time handling them, so they stay quite wary of us. I miss Banty – best chicken ever.

  18. I’m sure a thousand comments will say the same thing, but I have to put my vote in for Orpingtons. I have two Buff Orp hens and a rooster, and they’re all so docile that I can let my 2-year-old and 4-year-old free-range with them. I never thought a rooster could be so gentle with rambunctious preschoolers! I have 3 Marans as well, (one Cuckoo and two BCM/Cuckoo mixes) and they’re also very tolerant, but a bit less friendly. They try to avoid the kids as much as they can, and don’t seem to like being handled much.

  19. I’m glad I ran across this post. I live in a good sized city in the South and they passed a law recently that allows us to raise chickens in this urban setting and I do have kids and wasn’t sure what a good choice was for me to raise. I don’t know much about which breeds may be more aggressive than others. Thanks for sharing this, Erika!

  20. Barred Rocks and Murray McMurray Black Stars. The Barred Rocks hold long conversations with the kids – but have soft voices. The Black Stars have a bit more vinegary, entertaining personality than the Barred Rocks.

    Cochins, Brahmas, bantam or large fowl, are very cuddly. Orpingtons are cuddly. Some Speckled Sussex are cuddly.

    The Rocks and Black Stars aren’t as easy to pick up as some of the others, but they make up for it by talking and following kids around the yard. The shine of delight in a kid’s eyes when they have gained the trust of the flock is awesome; there is nothing like the first time a kid is sitting down with the flock around them and a biddy spontaneously jumps up into his/her lap.

  21. We have a little backyard flock of 6 Rhode Island Reds (one of the 2 options available at Tractor Supply). We absolutely love them. Don’t know how they’d react with other breeds, but together, they’re amazing. So gentle with the children, never peck or scratch at anyone, and a couple of them are particularly affectionate, especially with my husband (who played with them incessantly as chicks). My 2 year old can pick them up without any issues. I never knew chickens could be so easy going.

  22. Aggressive? My RRs are some of the chattiest, friendliest chickens I’ve ever had. They seem to be in the middle of the pecking order. I’ve only seen one peck at my Orpington ONCE and she didn’t even hit her.

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