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The Amazingly Versatile Dual Purpose Chicken

If you have been reading regularly here, you will probably notice that I have a great affinity for the dual purpose chicken on a homestead. They serve the greatest potential while minimizing the overall workload of the homesteader. When seeking true self-sufficiency it is also best to have chickens who can replenish their own supply. Whether you want chickens for meat, eggs, or both, you have to get the chicks from somewhere.

Even flocks totally dedicated to egg-laying will require occasional replacement of the hens. The average lifespan of a chicken is about seven years, but many other factors can play into that, shortening the lifespan greatly (hawks, foxes, lose dogs, etc.). However, even if your chickens live their full lives, only part of that time is in production.

The first year of a hen’s life is spent growing, regardless of the breed or type of chicken she is. You will not see any eggs for at least six months, and closer to a year in most breeds. In the beginning, egg production is still low as well. It is a good idea to bring in new stock at least seven months before you need them so they have time to develop before you need their eggs.

A hen’s production level will also drop off after a few years. After the initial peak, it will begin to wane and eventually stop altogether. As a rule, chickens will lose most production value by the time they are six years old. They may still produce the occasional egg, but the geriatric chickens will have to be replaced if you wish to continue with your egg supply. That means that between older chickens going out of production and younger chickens needing to mature, you will need to bring in new stock every five years or so, if all of your chickens live to old age.

If you wish to produce meat for your freezer, you will need to buy new chicks every time, usually at least once a year. This creates a very heavy dependency on outside hatcheries. It isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but does defeat some of the staunch homesteader’s desires to be self-sufficient.

The dual purpose chicken can do it ALL for you.

These breeds are well-known for their outstanding production of eggs and meaty bodies. While they do not produce either eggs or meat as heavily as breeds designed for those singular purposes, they do both with great style. The biggest benefit is that most of the dual breeds are excellent setters. They go “broody.” In chicken vernacular—broody is a GOOD thing.

Broody means they will sit on their eggs and then raise the resulting chicks to maturity. Those instincts are largely bred out of egg-layers who will “drop and run.” Larger meat breeds also have the desire bred out, but even when they would try and sit on the eggs, their greater weights make it a losing proposition: many eggs end up crushed beneath their large frames.

Some of the most popular and easy to find dual purpose breeds are:

Aracana: These chickens are colorful and have attractive feathering that stands out like a crown around their necks. They do well in all climates and are easy going, but slightly skittish. One of the most attractive features of this breed is the unusual egg coloring. They lay bluish/green eggs that are a real conversation starter, but the eggs taste the same as all other eggs and have the same nutritional value. The Aracana has excellent brooding qualities and will hatch out eggs whenever you allow her to.

Australorp: The Australorp is an attractive black bird. It is very friendly and becomes quite attached to its owners. They are quiet birds with very docile temperaments and have high egg-production qualities. They lay medium to large sized brown eggs. They are only average setters, but they will hatch out eggs occasionally.

Brahma: Brahmas are beautiful black-and-white birds that produce large, light brown eggs. They are very easy to handle and are friendly.

Buff Orpington: This breed is classified as a “heavy” breed. The hens, when mature, will weigh in at around 8 pounds. These birds are very tolerant of the cold and seldom have trouble laying during the short days of winter. They lay pinkish brown eggs.

The Buff Orpington is known for being one of the most broody of the chicken breeds. They are very nurturing to their young. They are also one of the most calm and friendly of the chicken breeds as well.

Crevecoeur: This is not as common a breed, but it bears mentioning because it produces lovely medium sized white eggs and is extremely unusual to look at. It has a long, spiked, hair-like comb on the top of its black feathered head and is quite distinctive to look at. It is a friendly chicken that is very docile, but it isn’t a very good setter and will only occasionally become broody.

The Rooster Debate

For egg production, roosters are not a necessity regardless of what type of bird you get. However, if you want to reproduce your own chickens, they are an absolute requirement. Most chicken owners love the sound of a cocky rooster strutting around their yards.

If you live in an area that restricts roosters due to the noise, or just don’t like the noise yourself, then you are probably better off with one of the breeds dedicated to a specific purpose since you will have to replenish the flock through a hatchery in any case. Dual purpose chickens lose a lot of their value without a rooster. It doesn’t make as much sense to keep them for egg production when an egg-laying breed will provide more eggs, and you can’t get a continued supply of meat from them.

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© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

16 comments

  1. Put golf balls in your nest for the chicken snakes,real ones or plastic will do.The snakes swallow them thinking they are real eggs and cannot digest them, then they crawl off and die.Your chickens will ”raise hell if snakes,opossum or other critters get near them,daytime or night.I suggest you leave a light on the hens at night because they will lay more eggs ,plus they eat the bugs attracted to the light if you leave the light a few feet off the ground.

  2. With the price of corn today the cost of good Chicken Egg Layer, pellets or crumbles, is getting almost prohibitive compared to the cost of eggs in the store. I found a simple solution by going to Wallmart and asking for the out dated bread. Sometimes they will give it you depending on the Manager of the store. The bread can be dry, moldy, old or any other problem with the package.
    For young birds I crumble the bread into small pieces and for larger birds just throw in the whole loaf. Be sure to remove the wrappers. With a flock of 200 Hens I feed about 30% of their daily intake in used, old, bread. Big savings. I also throw in fresh pulled weeds that are free along most highways and byways.
    Comment to Ben from Texas….I turn my lights on at 3:30am and off at 5am, increased production by over a dozen eggs a day.

  3. Just a thought here: I plan on having a dual purpose flock one day soon, but they would be free ranged. If I were to feed chickens the average bread in a Walmart even 30% I would be extremely concerned about them being compromised nutritionally. And as for weeds along a road, goodness! They would be tainted with massive amounts of exhaust fumes and such. I would sooner plant a field with some broom corn, mustard greens and oats and after it begins to come in, turn the chickens into that field during the day.

    • Ben from Texas

      Good idea you’ve got there Halalglory.If you’ve got the pasture,tractor or tiller and money to plant the food for the chickens..You may have a problem with varmints .owls,hawks,snakes,skunks,possums,coyote’s letting them ”free range”…Some will lay in the field when they free range…Here’s an Idea ,make a portable coop on wheels that you can raise, move,then let down every time your chickens eat that area down..When the chickens fertilize that area and eat the food,just pull up to a fresh spot and let them start feeding again .If you have too many chickens to do this ,feed them in your coops close to night time so they will come from the fields and roost for the night..I use 1 inch galvanized chicken wire on the top and sides of my pen…

      • ive got a dome pen i built fairly cheap to free range my chickens i just made a square out of pipe and bent cattle panels over in a dome shape and covered with chicken wire put a door in one end and a few nest boxes in the other end when the chickens graze down one spot i just hook onto it with my riding lawn mower and tow it slowly to the next spot with the chickens in it i could if i had to slide this by hand with the help of my son

        • i use this alot in my garden when im done with the garden not only does this keep the weeds and grass down its also great fertilizer for the next year i also have a cpl smaller dome pens made from 2x4s and 2×1 welded wire that i keep in between the rows and drag them up and down the rows this keeps the bugs down on the garden keeps fertilizer going and they eat the grass and weeds in between the rows less hoeing and my chickens stay way healthier

  4. From personal experience, I can tell everyone that white chickens are hawk magnets. They are clearly
    visible from long aerial distances, and will be the first to be “picked off.” Love those beautiful white
    breeds, but if they are free-range, in rural areas, they don’t last long. For nighttime security, we have dedicated one stall in our barn and feed the hens there at the end of the day, and it is secure and works well for us, and we’ve never lost a hen at night.

  5. Just a quick note about feeding chickens the bread. Please don’t give them moldy bread as this is not healthy for them.

  6. well im starting up my own small flock of chickens ive got some black copper marans and 2 cuckoo marans they lay the dark brown eggs im planning on useing them for eggs and meat myself id like to build the flock up to around 30 befor we start to use them for eating right now ive got 8 pullets and only 1 rooster but ive got my own incubator to hatch out eggs with so for the next few years the only ones that will be culled out will be the extra roosters but from what ive been reading is that the hens will get up to 8 pounds and the roosters will grow up to 8 to 10 pounds

  7. ok i was thinking about it and went out and got a bunch of australorpsi got a dozen but im down to 8 pullets and a rooster they are all getting along in the run u yseing 2 coops one for the morans and the other for the australorps when i decide to start hatchig out eggs i can devide the run in half to keep them apart so far the roosters are staying away from fighting and ive noticed thay the chickens pretty much keep to there own kind the marans stay in one part of the run and the australorps are staying in the other paryof the run only time they interact if for the extra treats we toss into the run or at the feed dish or the water dishes but so far the 2 flocks are close to the same age the narans are 2 weeks older than the australorps but my australorp rooster has just started to crow and the maran rooster hasent started as of yet but we are thinking that he will be at any time now we still are waiting for our first eggs from them my wife thinks the australorps will be laying first cause the rooster started to crow first i dont care what ones will lay first i just want them to start laying im tired of spending money on eggs with 16 pullets in the pen out back lol but im really not expecting them to start till october as both batches of them were born in may and one batch was the feed store chickens were all pullets that we bought and 1 turned into a rooster and the other batch i got from a relitive that ordered them and had to order 25 so i got half of the order and the roosters were banded to tell them apart

  8. i cant belive that the pullets i got as day old chicks on may 3rd are laying eggs already so far this week ive gotten my first dozen little eggs from 8 pullets and we found the first eggs 2 days ago i cant wait till the eggs start getting biggerim hopeing that by december they will be big enuff to hatch out a batch of new years chicks and it was the australorps that are laying now

  9. I HAVE THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF HENS, DO I NEED THREE TYPES OF ROOSTERS , OR WILL ONE BE O.K. ?

  10. have bjgs and Sussex so far love them l

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