Choosing to add chickens to the homestead can be daunting with the number of breeds available on the market today. From bantams to giants, there seems to be a million different varieties from which to choose.
For the biggest bang for your poultry buck, consider choosing one or more of the hardworking heritage dual-purpose breeds. These birds not only produce quality eggs, but tasty meat, as well. Additionally, when you are raising a heritage breed you are helping to keep those breeds alive.
Here are our picks for the top 10 dual purpose breeds every homesteader should consider:
1. Buckeye – Developed in the late 1800s in Ohio, these birds are excellent foragers and very cold-tolerant, although not as tolerant with other breeds or confinement. They lay medium-sized brown eggs and are fairly good setters. The Buckeye makes a wonderful table bird, having meaty thighs, muscular wings and fairly good breasts. This breed is not as popular nationwide, and finding stock can be a bit of a challenge.
2. Wyandotte – The Wyandotte was developed in the 1870s and is another cold-tolerant bird. They lay light brown eggs and seem to produce best during cool weather and into the winter months. Temperatures over 90 degrees can cause them to slow egg production more than some other breeds, and some varieties are more broody than others.
As table birds they produce a meaty carcass with a nice, deep breast. Wyandottes are available in many different color varieties, including the Silver Laced (the original color), Golden Laced, Blue Laced Red, Black, Blue and Columbian. Silver and Golden Laced varieties are the most popular, and are often available in feed stores during the spring and fall.
3. Rhode Island Reds – One of the most widely recognized backyard poultry breeds in the U.S., the Rhode Island Red was developed in the late 19th century in Rhode Island and is a deep red mahogany in color. Hens are wonderful layers and fair setters of medium to large brown eggs, and as table birds their meat is rich and flavorful. Temperament can be an issue with some strains of this breed, particularly in matters of feather picking. Roosters also tend to be more aggressive than some breeds, but are attentive and excellent protectors of their flocks. Being so popular, this breed is usually available in feed stores nationally.
4. Buff Orpington – Orpingtons were developed in the U.K. and imported into the United States in the 1890s. They are large birds with very calm, docile personalities and excellent layers and setters. They are cold tolerant but with their large combs the roosters are more likely to frostbite in below freezing weather. They are an overall meaty bird and are quite flavorful. Though Buff is the most common color, Orpingtons also do come in Blue, Black, Splash, Lavender, Chocolate and White. Because of their popularity, Buffs are most widely available and are often offered in feed and farm stores.
5. Plymouth Rocks – The Plymouth Rock was first displayed in Boston, Mass., in 1849, and is a good layer of large brown eggs. Some strains are better setters than others, as much of their broodiness has been bred out of the breed. Rocks have good cold tolerance and feather faster than many other breeds. They have a good growth rate and provide tasty meat. Though the Barred variety is the most popular and readily available, Plymouth Rocks are actually recognized in seven colors here in the States: Barred, Blue, Buff, Columbian, White, Partridge and Silver Penciled.
6. Java – Though the exact date the Java arrived in the U.S. is up for debate, it is known that they arrived sometime between 1835 and 1850. They are considered by many to be a superior homesteading bird, being fantastic foragers, good layers, good setters, and meaty table birds. They are not as docile as some, but do get along with other breeds. The Java is fairly rare, and finding stock can be difficult. The American Poultry Association recognizes two color varieties — Black and Mottled — though there are breeders working with Red and White varieties.
7. Australorp – The Australorp is the Australian contribution to this list, imported into the U.S. in the earlier part of the 20th Century. They are lovely, docile, full-bodied birds that make delicious meat and are excellent layers of light brown eggs. The breed tends to have good tolerance to both heat and cold. Australorp are fairly common and stock is readily available.
8. New Hampshire – Bred primarily for meat production, the New Hampshire Red is a medium to large bird with fast feathering and good growth. They make for both excellent fryers and roasters, and hens are good layers of large brown eggs. The New Hampshire is much lighter in color than the Rhode Island Red, and has a far easier and laid back personality. They have remained fairly popular since their development in the early 1900s, and stock is fairly easy to find.
9. Dominique – The Dominique is widely accepted as the oldest breed of chicken in the United States, and is the breed from which many others originated. Though they are categorized as a dual-purpose breed, they are first and foremost egg layers, producing medium-brown eggs. Though they are cold-tolerant, Dominiques adapt fairly easily to heat and humidity, as well, with hens continuing to lay through the heat of summer when other breeds slow or stop. Much of the broodiness of these birds has been bred out, but those that do set tend to be excellent mothers. Though smaller than most other dual-purpose breeds, the Dominique still produces a nicely fleshed table bird that is rich and flavorful. Dominiques are making a comeback in some areas, and a number of hatcheries are now offering chicks.
10. Sussex – The Sussex is considered to be one of the U.K.’s oldest chicken breeds, and experts disagree about when exactly these birds first arrived in the U.S. Like the Orpingtons, the Sussex have been bred to be calm, docile birds. Primarily they were bred for table use, and have better growth rates than some other dual-purpose breeds. Selective breeding has improved their egg-laying ability, and they are good producers of medium-sized, light cream-colored eggs. They do lack the heat tolerance of some others, but are fairly cold tolerant. Only three color varieties are available in the U.S.: the Speckled, Light and Red. Of the three, the Red is the least common. Both Speckled and Light are readily available at most hatcheries, and also may be offered in farm stores during spring.
A good dual-purpose chicken can be the backbone of the homestead, providing not only eggs but meat, as well. Are you ready to keep one of these fantastic heritage breeds on your own farm?
Let us know your favorite dual-purpose chicken breed in the section below: