The American Poultry Association lists more than 60 breeds of chicken worldwide. All of these breeds likely descended from one single wild species, the red jungle-fowl. Selective breeding from this initial species created the diversity of breeds. Today's chicken breeds are often prized for specific traits which can be commercially beneficial or more competitive in nature.
Top Egg Laying Breeds
Some breeds of chicken are highly prized for producing large numbers of quality eggs. The Australian Australorp is a large breed that produces big quality eggs. The Ancona is also a prolific layer as are the Rhode Island and Star breeds. All three lay large eggs with the Rhode Island often producing extra large ones. Other breeds prized as egg-layers include the Cataluna, Delaware, Easter Egger, Hamburg and Plymouth Rock varieties. Some of these breeds are also dual purpose and are used for meat as well.
Meat Producing Breeds
Chicken is a common poultry on dinner tables around the world and some breeds are bred specifically for eating. The Jersey Giant was bred as a large meat bird and grows to over 3.63kg. in weight. Because it is a slow growing species, however, it is not commercially farmed. The Cornish, Cubulaya and Malay breeds are all prized for their meat in their home ranges. Other species that are also used for meat and sometimes eggs include the Dominique, Longshun, Orpington and New Hampshire Red breeds.
Show competitions have led to some breeds being produced for attractive plumage. The Coachin, for example, is a breed with thick plumage that can be jet black, red or blue as well as many other colours. Breeds such as the Silky Bantam also have fluff ball-type plumage with large head plumes. Several breeds exist that are only used for ornamental or competitive purposes, including the Phoenix, Polish and Yokohama breeds. These ornamental breeds tend to produce small, poor quality eggs and are not prized for meat.
With so many different breeds it is common for certain varieties to become less popular, and as a result be bred less, and become rare. Breeds such as the Andalusian, which is prized for eggs and ornamental purposes, are rare. This is because breeding birds that have the desired colours can be hard to breed, so few people try. Other breeds such as the Crevecoer were historically viable for meat and eggs but have been replaced by better breeds. Other rare breeds include the Java, Sumatra, Appenzeller and Redcap.