This spring was the start of a shift in model around our homestead. Instead of buying the same generic meat chicken breed that grows fast, stays docile, and never really looks particularly healthy, I went in a totally different direction after researching everything there was to know about dual-purpose chickens. I wanted a breed that likes to lay eggs, grows slower, achieves weights worthy of the dinner table, and still could walk after reaching ten weeks of age.
My breed of choice is the Buff Orpington, but what works for me might not work for you. Here are five great dual-purpose breeds so you can make your own decision based on your needs and your homesteading situation.
Here’s a hen that will top out in and around the six- to seven-pound mark on average and grows nice and slow (this is better for their health, and you won’t have to worry about any broken bones shattered from the abnormal weight disposition that a generic meat chicken puts on.) And make no mistake about it, a seven-pound chicken is plenty of meat on one bird. The other great aspect about the Light Sussex is that they are prolific egg layers that will consistently dish out 225 to 250 eggs per year, per bird, which is pretty impressive.
Another fantastic aspect, and this usually is common with most dual purpose breeds, is that the Light Sussex make fantastic mothers if allowed to hatch eggs. This makes the Light Sussex a star, and a good reason to keep a couple of hens around just for the purpose of hatching eggs, because why buy chicks every year when all you need is a couple of hens and a willing rooster to do the work for you?
My favorite chicken on this list. There are several variations of Orpington, each as stunning as the last. Having said that, my personal experience with Orpington is that they can have a somewhat…sassy disposition. Generally a curious bird, the Orpington has a whole lot going for it as far as being a dual-purpose chicken is concerned. For starters, they’re pretty darn cold-hardy which comes in handy in my neck of the woods.
They also top out around 10 pounds for roosters and eight pounds for hens, though there are exceptions to every rule. The cool thing that I love about these birds, though purely cosmetic, is that there are about fifteen color variations of Orpington chickens, giving the homesteader plenty of options to choose from. Orpington chickens also seem to be particularly predisposed to going broody and hatching eggs, which is great because they make world-class mothers when they do.
The Orpington chicken does seem to vary when it comes to how many eggs they produce, and on an individual level, can lay anywhere between 165 to 250 eggs per hen per year, which averages out somewhere in the two to five eggs-per-week range. Not all that bad, but definitely not the greatest. Regardless, any variation of Orpington chicken you decide to go with is an instant winner.
This breed was my first foray into the world of chicken keeping, and I can safely say they’ve earned their rightful place on this list. In fact, this was the chicken of America back prior to the end of World War II, feeding families all across the country before genetic altering created bigger, meatier chickens that grew much more quickly than the Plymouth Rock chicken did. They’re still a top-tier dual-purpose bird that lays over 200 eggs per year and has plenty of meat on their bones to warrant putting a few of them in the freezer, too.
Hens will usually end up somewhere in the seven-pound range and roosters will be around eight to ten pounds. Their temperament varies quite a bit, though. I’ve had Plymouth hens that were fairly sweet, curious, and docile. And I’ve seen others that were, to put it politely, aggressive. We tend to cull the more aggressive of them when we can, which keeps the freezer stocked with chicken. In general, it’s not uncommon for healthy hens to live a long life of ten to twelve years, but there are stories of Plymouth Rocks that make it upward of twenty years of age, which is nothing short of incredible!
Though it’s possible, I’ve never had a Plymouth Rock hen go broody, and not for a lack of trying. Again, I think this varies from one chicken to another, so don’t let my experience be the written rule. If there was ever a chicken that is going to do whatever it wants, it’s the Plymouth Rock.
A hardy, docile, darkly plumaged chicken that surpasses all expectations from a dual-purpose breed when it comes to egg-laying abilities. Here you’ve got a bird that has no problem producing over 300 medium to large brown eggs per year, and some have been known to produce one egg every day throughout the year in the right conditions.
As with all the other breeds listed, this chicken will top out right around seven pounds, while a rooster will be slightly heavier. Australorp chickens generally live somewhere in the neighborhood of around seven to nine years, and they’ve been known to stop laying completely once they reach an older age, which is why it’s a good practice to add new birds every two or three years.
This chicken is well known for being a docile and social butterfly when it comes to people, pets, and other chickens. This is advantageous for those homesteaders who have a lot of people coming and going around their operation. This sort of temperament isn’t something that all dual-purpose breeds share, so if you have small children or curious dogs that live with you, you’ll want to seriously consider the Australorp as a first-time chicken owner—you might not find a better breed for beginners.
The Wyandotte chicken is a showstopper. Seriously, search them on Google and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. But these birds aren’t all feather and no chicken. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—this is a breed that can put on a good amount of weight to make putting a few in the freezer worthwhile and can keep up with egg production too, which tops out at around 230 eggs per hen per year.
This docile breed has something strange about it: when plucked, the skin has quite the yellow tint to it, more so than most other breeds you’ll find. They’re a cold hardy critter that also has many different variations in plumage, a lot like the Orpington chicken.
Hens tend to really max out at six-and-a-half pounds, but you won’t be sorry when putting one on the dinner table. These chickens are very efficient, skilled foragers and that usually translates into mouth-watering flavor in the meat.
This breed can live anywhere from six to ten years if you plan on keeping a few for egg production, or even better, bug retention. They do, however, have a somewhat more laid-back attitude about them, and you’ll notice that if allowed to free-range in the yard, they don’t seem in any particular hurry to get anywhere any time soon. It’s this Sunday morning attitude that I think I love the most about this breed, next to its stunning plumage.