Common Chicken Traits
Posted on: September 29th 2021
When you think about chickens, you probably envision a specific breed even if you don’t realize it. Chickens are one of the oldest domesticated creatures, and more than 200 breeds have been developed over the course of history. Some chickens are best suited to becoming meat, and some are best suited to laying eggs. Others can fill both roles depending on need.
Have you ever wondered why chickens look similar? Despite their differences, many chickens share characteristics across breeds. Find out that information and more in our guide to common chicken traits.
Factors That Affect a Chicken’s Traits
Several categories define a chicken’s classification. They may be sorted based on their production, for example. A “layer” is bred to lay eggs, and lots of them. Broiler chickens are for meat production only. Egg and meat chickens are versatile and can be used for both, making them popular choices for backyards.
For the most part, a chicken’s physically identifiable traits will differ according to their breed. A chicken’s breed affects almost everything about them, from size to feather quality and the color and quality of the eggs they lay. Here are three traits to know in addition to feather type and coloration:
- Comb: The comb is the little fleshy growth on top of a chicken’s head. It regulates body temperature, and many breeds use it to determine if a mate is suitable. Some breeds feature a single comb and others have two side by side.
- Wattle: The wattle is the fleshy growth that dangles under the bird’s beak and chin. The size of wattles can vary greatly.
- Earlobes: The earlobe is behind and below the eye on the side of the head. They come in four colors — white, black, blue, and red — and are sometimes an indicator of the breed’s egg color.
There are four groups of large chicken breed, classified by their geographical origins: Asiatic, English, Mediterranean, and American. Chickens are also grouped by physical characteristics, such as feather type and length of tail.
Bantam chickens are any variety of small chicken, sometimes called a miniature. They are usually one third to one half of the size of a standard chicken but display all the same traits. Bantams are an excellent option for those who want to raise chickens in a smaller space, as they are smaller versions of the larger breed. Let’s dive into the multitude of chicken breed groups to see some of the immense variety you’ll find among chicken traits.
Soft-Feather Light Breeds
Soft-feather breeds have the feathers you’re used to seeing when you think of a chicken. The feathers are soft and somewhat silky and are fluffier at the bottom of each feather, leading the bird to appear larger. Soft-feather birds are often described as having a “petticoat” look to their bottoms due to the fluffed nature of the feathers. Here are some examples of the light breeds of soft-feather chickens:
- Ameraucana: These birds were developed in America from chickens imported from Chile. They have beards and muffs, pea combs, small red earlobes and legs that run from pale blue to gray. They typically lay more than 200 light blue or turquoise eggs throughout the year.
- Australian Langshan: These medium-sized birds are extremely popular in Australia but not elsewhere in the world. They carry themselves upright, displaying long legs with a mid-size single comb and wattle. The outer toe of each of their feet is feathered, and they can be white, blue or black.
- Leghorn: The notorious cartoon character “Foghorn Leghorn” is perhaps the most famous example of this breed, although it comes in a huge variety of colors other than white. The white ones lay up to 250 eggs a year, but other colors also produce a lot of eggs, about 180 or so per year.
Rare Soft-Feather Light Breeds
These chickens are similar to their counterparts, though you rarely find them in backyards and farms. They still display the same relatively fluffy and soft feathering. These are the most common types:
- Andalusian: This breed is a beautiful blue bird thought to have a graceful and elegant posture. They have red wattles and faces with white earlobes and grey-blue legs. They lay up to 200 white eggs per year and continue laying even through the winter months.
- Friesian: These chickens are an ancient breed originating about 1,000 years ago from the Netherlands. They have held onto many wild instincts, like their impressive foraging ability. The Friesian comes in gold, silver, and chamois-penciled.
- Houdan: This breed is named for its region of origin in France and boasts an appearance many would consider silly. It has a fluffy collection of feathers on top of its head, a v-shaped comb, a beard, and five toes on each of its feet.
Soft-Feather Heavy Breeds
These breeds display the same soft feathers but are larger, heavier, and well-suited for eating in most cases. They eat more as well as produce larger eggs. Heavy breeds are great for showing. These are some common soft-feather heavy breeds:
- Brahma: The Brahma is sometimes referred to as “the king of all poultry” due to its immense size. These birds usually weigh 8 to 10 pounds. They have profuse feathering all over the body, including the feet.
- Dorking: The Dorking is a common chicken breed loved both as a table fowl and an egg-layer. Its rectangular body features red earlobes with a single comb in the red and silver-duckwing coloration or a rose comb in cuckoo and white.
- Rhode Island White: The Rhode Island White is a breed developed partially from white Leghorns. They make an excellent dual-purpose chicken as they are quite large and can lay up to 250 light brown eggs per year.
Rare Soft-Feather Heavy Breeds
Some of the soft-feather heavy breeds are much less common in commercial production as well as in hobbyists’ backyards. Examples include:
- Buckeye: This rare bird is named for its origin in the buckeye state, Ohio. They display both strong laying abilities and excellent meat production qualities. They have a pea comb, red earlobes and tiny or nonexistent wattles.
- Jersey Giant: Even larger than the Brahma, the Jersey Giant is another heavily feathered bird that can reach up to 15 pounds. Their enormous size and slow growth rate has led this breed to fall out of fashion in the broiler industry. The most common color variant is black feathers with black legs that have yellow undersides of the feet.
- Russian Orloff: This breed is tall, strong, and hardy against the cold. They are primarily used for meat production even though they grow slowly. The roosters are easily identified by the long red feathers that form a cape around their necks.
Hard-feather chickens have tight and close feathering that conforms to the shape of their body. The texture of the feathers is tougher than that of soft-feather chickens and more similar to game birds. They also tend to have a smaller amount of feathers overall. In general, hard-feather hens can only cope with hatching a few eggs at a time, so breeders often must rely on incubators to hatch chicks. These are three of the most common hard-feather chicken breeds:
- American Game: If you’re looking for a hardy breed, the American Game will satisfy. They are generally ornamental birds that come in a huge array of color varieties and are perfectly capable of surviving on their own in the wild.
- Indian Game (Cornish): Somewhat confusingly, the Indian Game, or Cornish, is a breed developed in the United Kingdom. They’re currently one of the most widely used breeds in the meat industry. They are poor layers, only managing up to 90 brown eggs per year.
- Old English Game: This breed, originally developed for cockfighting, comes in every color variety under the sun. Although they lay a reasonable number of eggs per year at about 160, they are primarily used for showing and ornamentation.
Mediterranean chicken breeds are associated mostly with Italy and Spain, which both have warm climates suitable for the birds to develop. The most specific trait in these breeds is that they are “non-sitting,” so they will not hatch their own eggs. This class of chickens includes the Leghorn, a soft-feather light breed, and the Andalusian, a rare soft-feather light breed, demonstrating how some breeds can fall into two or more categories. Here are three other Mediterranean breeds of note:
- Catalana: These medium-heavy chickens are one of the only Mediterranean breeds developed for the production of both meat and eggs. They only come in the buff color variety, giving them delightful golden plumage with a dark greenish tail as well as white earlobes and slate-blue legs.
- Minorca: This breed has a distinctive body shape that’s large and especially long — making them unsuitable for eating. The most common color variety is black with striking white patches on the face and neck, which contribute to their status as a mainly ornamental bird.
- Sicilian Buttercup: A rare breed originating in Italy, the Sicilian Buttercup hens have magnificent golden feathering and the unusual comb shape that earned them the title “Buttercup.” Roosters display deep orange feathers and a tail that runs from green to black.
As you can imagine, this subset of chicken breeds is defined by its majestic, long-feathered tails. Long-taileds tend to be more slender and taller than other types of chicken and thus aren’t well-suited for meat use. Their egg production varies but is certainly not the reason they are kept. In almost every case, long-tailed breeds are exclusively for ornament or exhibition. The following are considered some of the most beautiful in the category:
- Cubalaya: This extremely rare breed of chicken originated in Cuba. It is one of the better meat birds in the long-tailed category and was also historically used for eggs. It has red earlobes, pale yellow legs, and small wattles.
- Phoenix: The Phoenix’s tail can be anywhere from 2 to 5 feet long, making for a striking accompaniment to its many color varieties. Phoenixes are quite small and require very high and dry perches to keep their feathers looking pristine.
- Sumatra: This exotic breed originally hailed from Indonesia. Its black color variety is the most sought-after for its intriguing green sheen. Its long and flowing feather curvature makes a striking silhouette for showing.
Rare Long Crowers
The unique trait in these birds is that they can hold a single crow for a very long time, sometimes up to almost a full minute. They are most commonly found in Asia, where they frequently participate in crowing contests. A few common varieties include:
- Ayam Ketawa: These Indonesian birds are known for their eerily human-sounding laugh, which is recognized in their name, meaning “laughing chicken.” They are entirely ornamental and were once kept as a status symbol of the royal family. Today they are a prized crowing competition breed.
- Berat: This breed came from Albania and has a deeper crow than most other breeds. It is quite tall with an upright posture and long, light green legs.
- Shokoku: These long crowers also have long tails. They have bright yellow legs and red earlobes, and the most common color variety is the beautiful black-breasted silver.
It’s notoriously difficult to determine the sex of baby chicks since they have no external sex organs. Auto-sexing chicken breeds can be sexed right after hatching thanks to their very different colorations. A few common varieties are:
- Amrock: These large, dual-purpose chickens have barred plumage, just one comb and red earlobes. Male chicks come out lighter and have more white color on their heads. As they get older, hens develop wider black bars and roosters develop wider white bars.
- California Gray: Another dual-purpose fowl, this breed is a bit larger than the Leghorn from which they’re descended. The male chicks are distinguishable from females by their much lighter coloring.
- Polbar: This Polish breed has a single comb with red earlobes and yellow legs with a grayish tint. You can distinguish their sex at just a day old, as females have a longer stripe of black on their eyes.
Bantams often come from larger chicken breeds that already exist. True bantams are distinct because they were always small to begin with, and many of the true bantam breeds are actually older than modern chicken breeds. Varieties include:
- Barbu d’Anvers: This bird has an impressive profusion of feathers that creates a beard extending over its earlobes, along with wattles that are small or simply nonexistent. It is completely ornamental, with its most popular color variety being the quail. Due to its quirky appearance, it’s commonly kept as a pet.
- Booted Bantam: This relatively rare breed is popular in the Netherlands and Germany. Its name comes from the flamboyant feathering on the feet. These beautiful birds are great for backyard gardeners, as their “boots” actually cause them to do less damage from walking around on plants.
- Rosecomb Bantam: These birds have a very large and distinctive rose-like comb. They can be difficult to raise as the chicks take longer to mature and need extra-warm and dry housing, but many enthusiasts consider the effort worth it as the birds are very beautiful as adults.
Junglefowls may be the original prototype from which we domesticated all modern breeds of domestic chicken. They exist both in the wild and in domesticated settings. Junglefowls are small and agile, and the males are characterized by bright, distinctive coloring. There are three main types of junglefowl, classified by their main coloring:
- Red Junglefowl: This breed is native to nearly all of Asia. It is a very lean bird with slate or dark legs and is good at evading predators. The rooster shimmers in red, gold, maroon, and metallic green while the hens are a modest variety of brown.
- Grey Junglefowl: This tropical fowl is endemic to India and is a member of the pheasant family. The male is quite flashy, with a dark tail, black-and-white chest piece, and a gold-spotted neck topped with a vibrant comb. The female has a much shorter tail and hardly any of the extreme coloration.
- Green Junglefowl: The rooster of this breed roams the forests of Indonesia. The males are unique for their combs containing an icy blue center and a wattle that has a blue border around the edges. Females are a rich, nutty brown with no comb.
Gender Traits in Chickens
As the previous section has tipped you off, there are some substantial differences between chickens based on gender, even when they occur within the same breed. Coloring is the most obvious difference in many breeds, but there are more subtle traits that vary between genders:
- Combs and wattles: Male chicks develop their combs earlier. They are bigger, more defined, and darker in most cases.
- Hackle feathers: Hackle feathers start growing around a chicken’s neck as they near sexual maturity, at about 4 to 6 months of age. A hen’s hackle feathers are shorter and rounded at the ends, whereas a rooster’s are long and pointy.
- Saddle feathers: Saddle feathers grow on a chicken’s back near the tail. Both roosters and hens have saddle feathers, but a rooster’s are longer and more pointed.
- Tail feathers: Most male chickens have long and shiny tail feathers, also known as sickles.
- Legs and feet: Males have legs and feet that are longer and thicker than female chickens’.
- Crowing: Hens don’t crow while males do. Different breeds and individuals within a breed start crowing at different times as they approach maturity.
- Posture: It’s not always easy to identify early on, but males tend to have a more upright and jaunty posture in response to seeing or hearing something surprising.
One non-physical trait that varies between genders is aggressiveness. Breed and individual personality can influence this, but young male chickens are more likely to be more assertive or aggressive at a young age. While this trait alone cannot distinguish the gender of a chicken, it can help when you’re trying to determine if young chickens are male or female.
Uncommon Chicken Traits
Knowing the most common traits of chickens is handy, but you might be surprised by some of the less-common characteristics chickens can share. Here are some interesting variances:
- Crested: These chickens have a crown or crest of feathers on top of their heads that can resemble a top hat or a mohawk. It gives the birds a bit of a mad scientist look that can vary from subtle to a bit outrageous.
- Bearded: Bearded chickens, like the Ameraucanas we discussed before, have fluffy feathering on their cheeks that meets in the middle underneath the beak. Both hens and roosters of a species have beards.
- Frizzled: Frizzled chickens have distinctively curled feathers that stick out at multiple angles, making them look tousled at all times.
- Silkied: These chickens have super-soft feathers almost reminiscent of fur, making them sought-after by those looking for pets. Silkied feathering combined with frizzled feathering results in “sizzles” with the traits of both.
- Feather-footed: As the name implies, these chickens have feathers growing up and down their feet and legs. The feathers usually match those of the body, making the entire bird look much bigger than it is.
- Naked neck: These birds have normal feathering everywhere except the neck. This trait makes them look a little bit like turkeys. An even stranger appearance occurs when naked neck is combined with a trait like sizzled feathers.
- Fibromelanosis: Most chickens have skin that’s pink or somewhat yellow in tone, but a handful of breeds have a gene for hyperpigmentation. It gives them black skin as well as combs, wattles, beaks, and legs.
Find Sauder’s Eggs at a Store Near You
At Sauder’s Eggs, we have an intimate understanding of the different breeds of chicken and the traits that make each unique. We use that knowledge to take care of our chickens every day on every farm. We invite you to learn more about the philosophy and process behind our farming to see the difference expertise and quality care make in the final product.
If you’re interested in finding eggs produced by happy, healthy chickens, try out any of our quality products to see the Sauder difference. You can easily find Sauder’s eggs at a store near you, thanks to our convenient store locator.