Best Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds For Small Homesteads
There are hundreds of different species of chicken - and all have been bred for different purposes. While some may produce eggs nearly all year round, other species will lay just one hundred eggs or less in a year, and be far too slender and lean to make good table birds.
However, there are several breeds that are absolutely perfect for homesteaders - the ten breeds listed below not only produce beautiful, large eggs nearly all year round (all chickens stop laying in the colder months), but also make fantastic pets, great mothers (if you are looking to breed or extend your flock), and are indisputably the best table birds you can find.
Goldline or 'Warren' hens are beautiful, inquisitive and very friendly. They are ideal for first-time chicken keepers because they are so easy-going, hardy and docile. They typically produce between 320 and 340 large, brown eggs. This breed is a hybrid - originally bred from the Rhode Island Red, which is also noted as a frequent, reliable egg layer. Goldline hens are superior egg layers to almost every other breed in terms of production quantity. They are medium sized birds, and although they are much smaller than your typical table bird, many individuals who keep them recommend their meat, which has a gorgeous flavour and texture.
The Silver or Gold-Laced Wyandotte is an absolutely beautiful, large hen, and gets her name from the 'laced' look of her feathers. In the silver variety, the feathers are a silvery-white with a black edge and are becoming increasingly popular just because of their appearance, though they have far more to offer than looks. Hens typically weigh around 6lbs and cockerels weigh on average just under 9lbs! They make wonderful table birds because of their size and flavour, but also are the ideal chicken to keep if you want to hatch eggs. They have been known to successfully hatch clutches of up to 13 eggs, and - even more amazingly - rear all the chicks without needing extra help. They usually lay around 220 large brown eggs every year, though many exceed this number.
One of the best dual-purpose chicken breeds is the Light Sussex. The hens are second-to-none mothers and good layers, laying an average of 240 large, light brown eggs. They are hardy, docile and large birds, typically weighing between 7lbs and 9lbs and have earned a reputation as 'ideal table birds', as they mature fairly quickly, but not as fast as some of the more mass-produced meat birds, meaning a better flavour.
The Orpington is one of the single most recommended dual-purpose birds. They are large - weighing up to 10lbs and sometimes exceeding this weight, which makes them perfect table birds and they also go broody very often. They are great mothers, and also reliable layers, producing just over 200 medium sized, pink-brown eggs a year and sometimes more, if the quality of their feed is good. They prefer to be free range, and generally don't try to fly (if they do, they won't get very far due to their size), and a fence of just two feet will be sufficient to keep them penned in - however, it is keeping predators out that may call for a higher fence. Orpingtons mature fairly quickly and can be ready for the table at just 16 weeks of age.
Ixworth hens are slightly less common amongst homesteaders because they are quite a rare breed, but if you want a chicken that has a beautiful, white meat and very delicious flavour, the Ixworth could be for you. They are fairly large, and are mostly used as table birds generally weighing between 7-9lbs. However, they are also good layers and produce around 200 good quality medium eggs a year.
The Speckledy is a cross between a Maran and a Rhode Island Red, which has resulted in this prolific layer of medium-large dark chestnut brown eggs. She will usually lay you around 270 eggs per year and is a beautiful, 'cuckoo' coloured medium sized bird, weighing 7-9lbs on average. Speckledy hens prefer to forage for their food and make great free-range birds, although they are also happy in a run. They are docile and hardy birds, and adjust very well to a new environment - generally they will settle into an established flock with very little fuss.
The White Leghorn is one of the most prolific egg-layers you will find, laying around 300 eggs in her first year. Her eggs are large and white, with strong shells and beautiful yolks. She is pure white, with a very slender body (this does mean that white leghorns tend to be practically no use as table birds, as there is such little meat on them). They will also hardly ever go broody - which makes them even more ideal for those wanting a reliable laying bird.
Barred Plymouth Rock
Barred Plymouth Rock chickens are fairly good layers, and produce around 200 eggs a year. Hens weigh about 7.5lbs and the cockerels weigh about 9.5lbs,making them excellent dual purpose birds. Cockerels are not recommended for families with young children, as they are extremely territorial and aggressive - even with children, adults and other animals. The hens on the other hand, are docile, friendly birds that suit every purpose, be it meat, eggs or pet.
The Cornish chicken, also known as 'Indian Game,' is a medium-large sized stocky, broad breasted dual-purpose bird that can be anywhere between 5.5 and 10lbs in weight. They are extremely hardy birds and require very little feed in order to produce good quality, large brown eggs. However, they are used almost solely as a table-bird due to the fact that they do not lay that many eggs - usually laying just under 200 in a year. The hens have a lovely temperament, but the cockerels are fairly aggressive, and may sometimes attack. The meat is recommended by every chicken keeper that uses their birds for this purpose as it has a rich flavour and great texture.
Finally, the Cream Legbar truly deserves to be on the 'top ten' list, as they are a wonderful table bird with a gorgeous flavour - though a little smaller than your typical table bird, weighing in at 5.5-7.5lbs. You can tell the sex of the chicks at a quick glance from the day they hatch due to the different coloration, which is a huge bonus for homesteaders wishing to breed, as you will know straight away how many males and females are in a brood. The hens lay around 200 medium blue eggs a year, making them something really quite special and different.