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Dual purpose chickens are the best chickens to raise for anyone who wants to be more self sufficient. We mostly raise dual purpose chickens, but have a few of the fancier breeds as well. If you’re raising chickens, and especially if you have at least one rooster, you might as well raise some that will fulfill all of a chicken’s “talents”.
You put about the same amount of feed and care into any kind of chicken. Then you’re left wondering what to do with them when they are no longer laying. Sure, to some people, chickens are pets, and they will let them live out their entire lives on their property. But that’s not how a truly self-sufficient farm works.
Chickens that are no longer laying have the same amount of cost associated with their daily upkeep. And if you’re striving for self reliance, you probably can’t afford to spend money on something that is no longer producing.
But what is a dual purpose chicken? And why are they the best to raise? I’m so glad you asked!
What are dual purpose chickens?
Dual purpose chickens are larger-bodied birds that are also great egg-layers. They are more efficient, and usually quite heat- and cold-hardy. Raising dual purpose chickens help provide both eggs and meat for your family. They are the type of chicken that your grandma probably raised!
Some chickens were bred for meat. And some chickens were bred for laying lots of eggs. Knowing the difference, and knowing which ones can efficiently do both, can save the new chicken owner lots of heartache.
Cornish Cross chickens are big, meaty hybrid chickens. They are widely considered the best modern meat bird. But don’t expect them to be good egg layers! Most won’t ever lay eggs. And the majority of these birds don’t even make it to sexual maturity due to their excessive size. They usually die of heart problems, or get so big they can’t even hold themselves up.
A lot of chicken breeds that are known for egg laying aren’t very big, and are less effective to use them as meat. I have a few Ameraucanas, and they lay beautiful blue eggs for me. They can lay about 250 eggs per year, but their smaller stature (males are about 6 1/2 pounds) doesn’t make them a good meat bird.
Of course, if you have old Ameraucanas that are no longer laying, you can still butcher them so you don’t let them go to waste. But they aren’t necessarily classified as a dual purpose bird.
Why should you raise dual purpose chickens?
Dual purpose breeds typically lay 200+ eggs per year, and provide plenty of meat as well. This makes them useful throughout their whole life cycle.
If you hatch your own eggs, you will get about a 50/50 mix of male and female (with any breed). So you will have lots of young roosters to deal with. If they are dual purpose chickens, you can process these young roosters and have lots of fresh, tender meat for the table.
The females will give you lots of eggs for the first 2-3 years, then will start to taper off. Once they are no longer laying, you can process them as well. This meat tends to be tough, and most often used for soups and stews. However, you can pressure cook or can old hens to make them just as tender as any other chicken. You can also make excellent chicken stock out of their bones.
What breeds make the best dual purpose chickens?
There are several breeds that make good dual purpose chickens, but there are some that stand above the rest. Here are our top picks.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is a fantastic dual purpose bird. Males can reach almost 9 pounds, and females are usually 6 1/2. They will regularly lay about 260 large brown eggs per year. Rhode Islands are hardy, strong birds, and do well in both heat and cold.
The Orpington is a very popular breed. They are very cold hardy, thanks to their thick, fluffy plumage. Orpington hens will lay nearly 200 medium to large light-brown eggs per year. Orps, as they are affectionately called, come in a variety of colors, including black, buff, white, blue, splash, and lavender. They are calm, friendly birds that go broody pretty often.
Arguably one of the most common breeds of chicken, the Plymouth Rock (Barred Rock being most common) is an excellent bird. Laying approximately 280 large brown eggs per year, they are the most prolific layers on this list. These birds are usually about 7-8 pounds, and have a full, meaty breast.
Plymouth Rocks are some of my favorites, as I have had a few roosters and several hens. The roosters have been mellow and gentle, and the hens let me pick them up more easily than my other breeds.
Australorps are a cousin to the Orpington. They lay around 250-280 large light-brown eggs a year. Males weigh approximately 8 1/2 pounds, and females 6 1/2. Australorps are cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, and disease-resistant. I have several of these birds right now, and have many barnyard mix chickens from their offspring. While they are not my favorites, they are very efficient birds, and are my most broody.
The Wyandotte is a full-breasted, broad bird that is quite cold-hardy. It struggles a little more with excessive heat, due to their thick plumage. The males are usually 8-9 pounds, and the females 6-7. This calm, docile breed lays about 200 medium to large brown eggs per year. Wyandotte hens also tend to lay more in the winter than most other breeds.
Brahmas are some of the largest chickens. Roosters can get up to 12 pounds, and hens are usually about 10. Since they are considered more “giant” chickens, they do take longer to reach maturity. You can expect them to start laying between 6 and 8 months. But after they are mature, you can expect them to lay roughly 150 large brown eggs per year. Plus, they will actually lay better in the winter months, when your other hens are likely to stop.
Delaware chickens are a little less common of a breed (in fact – anyone have a better picture of one I could use?). However, they are great egg layers, most producing between 200 and 280 eggs per year. Males weigh about 8 1/2 pounds, and females weigh about 6 1/2 pounds. These birds are typically calm, friendly, and well-mannered.
The Standard Cochin is a very big bird that lays lots of eggs. Even hens can get to be about 10 pounds. Please note, however, that bantam Cochins are very popular. Make sure you get the Standard Cochin if you want a dual purpose breed. Cochins will typically lay 150-180 eggs per year, and tend to be quite broody. They will hatch out lots of chicks for you if you let them do their thing.
With their almost portly appearance, feathered legs, and short tail feathers, they are quite the epitome of “fluffy butts”. And they are very family-friendly birds. They may struggle with wet winters, though, as their feathered legs may get wet and hard to dry.
Jersey Giants are another giant bird that also happen to be great layers. They usually lay about 260 extra large brown eggs per year. Roosters tilt the scales at about 13 pounds, while hens are typically around 10. As with many of the “giant” breeds, Jersey Giants take longer to fully mature. Don’t expect your hens to lay before 6 months of age.
Austra White chickens are a cross between an Australorp rooster and a White Leghorn hen. They tend to be very fast maturing, with hens laying in as little as 12 weeks. Austra Whites are great egg producers, laying 250-280 white or cream-colored eggs per year. They are some of the smallest in this list, though, with males at 6 1/2 pounds and females 5 1/2. But because they mature fast, they deserve a spot on the best dual purpose chickens list.
Are you going to try dual purpose chickens?
I hope I’ve persuaded you to try raising dual purpose chickens. While some of the fancier breeds can give you pretty, colorful eggs, dual purpose birds will serve a purpose their entire lives. Since they are so efficient, they are perfect for the homestead.
Part of self-sufficiency is not to be wasteful, and use everything to its fullest. Dual purpose chickens fit that bill perfectly. Are you going to try them?
If you are diving deeper into the world of chicken keeping and would like some more information, be sure and check out our e-book, Raising Chickens For a Natural, Self-Sufficient Lifestyle. It’s a great book at a super-low price!
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