Breeders, after more than 5,000 years of domesticating chickens, have created more than 50 different breeds. Many breeds come in two forms: standard, or large-sized, and bantam, or small-sized. Every chicken breed was developed for a primary purpose -- laying, table, game or ornamental -- although many breeds do serve multipurpose functions today.
These breeds, developed for their exceptional laying abilities, lay eggs often. The authors of "The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens" report that layer chicken breeds are light and good flyers, aloof and surprisingly not "broody." A broody chicken sits on her eggs and rarely leaves her eggs. This trait has been bred out of the layer chickens to facilitate easy egg collection. Layers include the anaconda, araucana, barnevelder, brakel and leghorn breeds.
Table chickens, or meat breeds, are meant for the dinner table. A chicken of this category is large with a well-developed breast. Table chickens, which grow quickly, have difficulty flying due to their size. They tend to be calm and easygoing birds. Table breeds include the dorking, faverolles, Houdan, Sussex and Jersey giant breeds.
These breeds originally were developed for fighting. This ancient sport may have been the original purpose of all domestic chickens, according to the authors of "The Complete Encyclopedia of Chickens." These are tall, muscular and confident chickens; owners must keep them separate from other chickens in the flock because they will fight. Game chicken breeds include the aseel, Cornish, modern English game fowl and shamo.
The most striking of chicken breeds, ornamental chickens are bred not for any utility purpose, such as egg laying or eating, but solely solely for their looks, making ornamental chickens the most diverse of the chicken breed groups. The silkie breed has frayed feathers, giving it a silky look. The Cochin breed looks like a large round ball of feathers. A Dutch crested fowl has a ball of feathers on its head. The naked neck, also called a turken, is a breed that can make people look twice, because it has no feathers from its face to its lower neck. Despite their less-than-appealing look, naked necks make great pets, according to Sue Weaver in "Chickens: Tending a Small-scale Flock for Pleasure and Profit."