Several species of intestinal spirochaetes, Brachyspira (B.) alvinipulli, B. intermedia and B. pilosicoli, may cause reduced egg production and faecal staining of eggshells in chickens. The aim of this study was to characterize potentially pathogenic and presumably non-pathogenic Brachyspira spp. from commercial laying hens. Selective culture, phenotyping, PCR and 16S rRNA gene sequencing were used and clinical data were collected. Phenotypic profiles were obtained for 489 isolates and 351 isolates obtained after subculture, and 30 isolates were selected for molecular characterization. Seven isolates were positive by a B. intermedia-specific PCR based on the nox gene, and two were positive in a B. hyodysenteriae-specific 23S rRNA gene based PCR. By comparative phylogenetic analysis in combination with PCR and phenotyping, seven isolates were identified as B. intermedia, eight isolates as B. innocens, five as B. murdochii, and three isolates each as B. alvinipulli and "B. pulli". The remaining four isolates could not be assigned to any presently recognized species. Co-infection with several species or genetic variants of Brachyspira spp. were detected in some flocks and samples, suggesting a high level of diversity. Organic flocks with access to outdoor areas were at higher risk (RR=2.3; 95% CI 1.5-3.6) for being colonized than chickens in other housing systems. No significant differences between colonized and non-colonized flocks were found regarding clinical parameters, i.e. mortality, egg production, faecally contaminated eggshells, and wet litter. Our results show that a combination of traditional laboratory diagnostics, molecular tests and phylogeny is needed for identification of Brachyspira sp. from chickens.