Why raise a chicken that can function both as a source of eggs and also meat? It’s handy on the homestead because chances are, you’ll find yourself at some point with a surplus rooster on your hands, particularly if you’re breeding your own chickens – or, if you order a straight run from a hatchery.
And, it happens that even when you’re assured you’re getting pullets, you suddenly end up noticing some wattles and combs showing up after a week or two, and then you hear what’s the earliest attempts at a crow, and to your surprise, what you thought was going to be a hen turns out to be a cockerel.
What should you consider when choosing a dual-purpose chicken?
- Number of eggs the breed lays per year on average
- Size of eggs
- Egg color
- Adaptability of the chicken to the climate in which you live
- Time required from hatch until harvest
- Size of bird when it is dressed out
- Heritage breeds, whether the hens tend toward broodiness, and what kind of housing you plan for them are other potential factors to consider.
Here is a list of my top 12 picks for dual-purpose chickens:
The Australorp tops the chart in the dual purpose category for all around excellent egg producer, with as many as 300+ large eggs per year. It’s a good meat bird at a sizable 8.5 to 10 lbs. for the rooster, and takes about 16-20 weeks to grow out. Its disposition is active but friendly. The Australorp is listed as recovering on the Livestock Conservancy.
Here’s an eye-catching beauty! The Brahma is second in size only to the Jersey Giant, weighing in at 12 pounds (5.4 kg). Very cold-tolerant, it has a gentle disposition and lays 150+ medium to large brown eggs per year. It does have a slower growth rate, taking anywhere from 20-32 weeks until harvest. The Brahma is a recovering breed, according to the Livestock Conservancy.
As you can guess by the name, the Buckeye originated in Ohio, bred by a woman named Nettie Metcalf. The Buckeye weighs in at 9 pounds (4 kg). They lay anywhere from 180-260 large brown eggs a year, and on the broiler side of the equation, are noted for their meaty thighs. One thing the Buckeye is not is flighty or fearful. A distinguishing characteristic of the Buckeye is the fact that they are very active foragers, and are noted for their hunting and consumption of mice!
The Buckeye chicken is listed on the Livestock Conservancy’s heritage breed page as threatened.
The extremely cold-hardy Chantecler is a win-win for eggs and meat, with males weighing in at 9 pounds and needing only 11-16 weeks to grow out. Developed by monks in Quebec in the 1900s, the French translates “to sing brightly.” The very small wattles and nearly non-existent combs lend themselves to be frost-bite resistant. They lay large brown eggs, even through winter months. While their numbers waned because of competition with commercial production, dedicated breeders have revived the Chantecler, bringing it up to “watch” status.
The Delaware originated in the state of the same name, and is prized for its extra large brown eggs, which range in number from 180-260 per year. With only 12-16 weeks from hatching until harvest, the Delaware is a rapid grower, with males generally weighing about 8.5 pounds. This makes them an ideal meat bird as well. While the breed was nearly phased on in the 1980s and 1990s, the Delaware made a comeback in the last 15 years, placing it on “watch” status.
Originating in France, the Faverolle is unique with its beard and fifth toe. They lay medium-large light brown eggs, and their meat is considered a delicacy. Males weigh up to 8.5 pounds and can be processed at 16-20 weeks. Be aware that the chicks tend to be more fragile than other breeds, and roosts for adults and juveniles should not be built too high. Another great reason to raise this wonderful duo-purposed bird is that it is listed as “threatened” by the Livestock Conservancy.
French Black Copper Marans
A personal favorite, I highly recommend this breed for many reasons: the hens are prolific layers, with large eggs that range from a lavender-tinged sienna to a speckled russet to a deep chocolate. They’re feathered on their legs and the color is black mingled with teal. The rooster, on the other hand, is a brilliant conglomerate of orange, crimson, black, and teal. Along with the solid body weight of the roosters, what I love about the French Black Copper Marans is their sweet disposition. My rooster tolerates our children picking him up and petting him, and while he is a good protector of his hens, he has never been aggressive to other roosters we’ve had. He’s going on four years old and I hope he lives forever, as he’s the best male chicken I’ve ever owned.
Marans chicks are hardy and exceptionally cute, making this an ideal breed for the family homestead.
Bred by a team at Rutgers University, the Holland, or Barred Holland, was developed to meet a demand for a white egg producer that would also be a good meat chicken. While Hollands have a slower growth rate, they are also excellent foragers and will find plenty to eat on their own if permitted to free range. Sadly, this bird has nearly gone extinct, and is currently listed as “critical” on the Livestock Conservancy.
When you’re looking at overall size, males of this breed tip the scale at up to 15 pounds (6.8 kg). So as far as maximum weight, the Jersey Giant is your bird in the dual-purpose category. Just know that it takes about 15-20 weeks for these birds to be ready to process, whereas some of your other meat and egg chickens can be harvested in about half that time. Be aware that the feed to egg conversion rate is poor, so that you’ll be footing a big feed bill for a bird that lays medium size eggs (anywhere from 180 to 250 per year). Individuals who own Jersey Giants report them to be friendly, docile birds that have the advantage of their hefty size to discourage predators such as hawks while free-ranging.
The Jersey Giant is a heritage breed that is currently on the Livestock Conservancy’s Watch list.
The New Hampshire was developed in the first part of the 20th Century from the Rhode Island Red. It is cold hardy and of docile temperament, with females laying anywhere from 200 to 280 eggs per year of large to extra-large size. Males weigh up to eight pounds, and require as little as 8-10 weeks until harvest, making this one of the fastest turnaround times until harvest. The breed is on the Livestock Conservancy’s Watch list. If you’re looking for a chicken that begins laying eggs early but also has the weight for a meat source, the New Hampshire is for you.
It’s a little hard for me to be academic about raising Orpingtons for meat. Mine are strictly pets and egg layers. These birds are comical and curious and friendly. The Orpington lays about 200-280 medium brown eggs per year. Males weigh about 10 pounds full grown (4.5 kg), and the hens have a tendency toward broodiness. In fact, of all the chicken breeds I’ve raised, my Orpingtons, along with a Silkie a neighbor gave me, have been most successful at successfully hatching and raising their own chicks.
Your All-American chicken, the variations of this heritage breed are excellent for both meat and egg production. Roosters weigh up to 9 pounds and hens lay from 200-250 large brown eggs per year. Rocks are even-tempered and take about 16-20 weeks until harvest.
Which breed(s) appeal most to you? Which have you raised and which would you like to raise next?