If you’re a farmer or homesteader, you know that space and time are very limited commodities. Raising chickens for meat and for eggs usually means you’re raising two separate flocks, one for just meat birds, and another for egg layers, and keeping them in separate pens.
This adds up to a whole lot of work for you, but there’s a better way, and that’s to get yourself some dual purpose chicken breeds!
What’s the purpose of a dual purpose breed?
A dual purpose chicken breed, like the name suggests, has two functions. They are great egg layers, and they’re great meat birds. They provide your family with two sources of protein in one chicken breed.
What are the pros to raising dual purpose chicken breeds?
Having dual purpose chickens can really simplify your homestead projects. If you choose to go the other route, you’ll have a flock of dedicated laying hens to care for, then once or twice a year you’ll order a batch of meat chickens that you’ll keep in a separate pen, care for them daily for 6-12 weeks, then process them.
This is do-able for a lot of folks, but it’s also twice the work of keeping one flock. Having two separate flocks means twice the feeding and watering, twice the coops and pens to clean, and twice the birds to check over for health issues.
This can add up to a lot of extra time spent on chicken care.
Having a single dual purpose chicken flock cuts down the labor involved and is a much simpler solution.
Many people also believe that having dual purpose breeds is more humane for the bird than raising dedicated meat chickens.
Meat chickens have been designed to grow quickly, their organs and legs can’t keep up with the quick weight gain, and they therefore tend to have pretty miserable, yet short, lives. They suffer from a myriad of health problems.
You won’t see meat birds frolicking in the forest, and you’ll never see them live to old age.
These birds are meant to be raised quickly and eaten. This can be especially hard if you get attached to chickens easily, as it’s not exactly a good idea to keep them going when their bodies are suffering.
Dual purpose chickens are excellent foragers and you can easily free range them.
When a bird is free to roam and search for their own food, you end up paying less to feed them. Meat birds like the Cornish cross really aren’t meant to forage for their food, they are slow, don’t have foraging instincts, and will likely get eaten by predators.
What are the downsides to having dual purpose breeds?
The biggest downside to dual purpose chicken breeds is that like most things that serve two functions, they’re not excelling at either one.
A dual purpose chicken is never going to lay as many eggs as a production hen, like a Leghorn, would.
At the same time, they’re also not going to grow to full size as fast as a production meat bird will, which means you’re investing more time, energy, and money into caring for them while they’re getting up to size.
Dual purpose breeds also tend not to grow as heavy as meat birds, and don’t have the same meat to bone ratio as meat birds do. To put it more simply, you won’t get as much good meat out of a dual purpose chicken as you do out of meat birds.
Are Dual Purpose Chickens Right for you?
Only you can decide if having a dual purpose flock with suit your needs or not. We suggest perusing the 12 breeds listed below, we’ve laid out how big they get, how many eggs they will lay, and their unique characteristics so you can make an informed decision.
We personally love having dual purpose chickens. Their personalities are all so unique and having a mix of these birds in our flock makes it more unique and beautiful.
The 12 Absolute Best Dual-Purpose Chicken Breeds for your Homestead
1. Jersey Giants
These large birds are an obvious choice if you want to raise chickens for their meat, but they are also star egg layers as well, which makes them a top choice for our list of dual purpose breeds.
Males weigh on average 13-15 pounds, and hens generally weigh around 11 pounds, which is ideal for meat chickens. These large chickens lay 150-200 eggs a year, which is not the highest amount of eggs on this list, but their meat production is off the charts. Jersey Giants are a hearty chicken breed that will bring both eggs and meat to the table.
2. Buff Orpington
Buff Orpingtons, and really, all types of Orpingtons, are very large breeds and prolific layers. They lay 200-280 light brown eggs per year, and are an excellent choice for anyone looking for both meat and egg production.
As a bonus, this breed is also known to be super friendly and excellent for kids and beginners to raise. They’re not flighty, love being handled, and their large size makes them rather easy to catch if they’re out free ranging.
3. Black Australorp
Australorps are a great choice if you’re looking for a dual purpose bird that’s also great for beginners. Australorps are well known to be ultra friendly, docile birds that love attention. They’re a true lap chicken and are great for children to raise.
Their wonderful personalities, of course, make it a little difficult to raise this breed for their meat, as you may not be able to bring yourself to cull them when the time comes!
We raised Australops for many years and found their kind and gentle disposition to be an absolutely delightful addition to our backyard flock.
Australorps tend to go broody really easily, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your view. If you want your chickens to reproduce and keep replenishing your flock really easily, this is a great benefit. Aussies are wonderful mothers and will raise those chicks up right.
However, if you’re not looking to grow your flock the natural way, having broody chickens can be a total pain because they don’t lay eggs while they’re broody, and in our experience, Australorps can go broody several times a year.
4. Dominique Chickens
Dominiques are some of our all-time favorite breeds. Dominques are rare heritage breeds and are currently at risk of disappearing entirely.
This breed has some of the most friendly birds you’ll ever meet, they make great pets and are an awesome choice if you have children because they love being handled and are very gentle.
The docile personalities of this breed makes them a great choice for practically any homestead. We raised them in the city and found them to be incredibly well suited to a small farm as they were able to free range without wandering too far, and they were a hit with the neighbors, who loved to pet them!
5. New Hampshire Red
New Hampshire Reds are beautiful birds weighing in between 6-8 pounds and producing around 200 eggs per year.
While this breed is gorgeous and a great dual purpose breed, they’re not for everyone! New Hampshires can be flightly, have a tendency to wander while free ranging, and can be aggressive with other breeds.
We found this out first hand when we bought a bunch of them from the local feed store years ago. They turned out to be incredibly mean, the roosters tried to attack us when we went out to feed them and the hens bullied our other chickens to the point where we had to cull them. Now, if you’re raising chickens to be dual purpose, that is half the point, but just beware that this breed may be better off in a non-mixed flock so there aren’t issues.
6. Naked Neck
If you really want your dual purpose chicken flock to stand out and be super unique, get yourself some Naked Neck chickens! This breed looks more like a turkey than a chicken, as the name implies, they have no feathers on their neck!
These chickens are the perfect choice if you live in a hot climate as their sparse feathering keeps them cool in the heat. They come in a wide variety of colors and are super affordable at only $5 or so per chick.
Naked Necks are sweet, docile, and do well in confinement. This makes them a great choice for little kids, beginners, or someone raising chickens in the city, as they’re not going to try to escape like some other breeds!
7. Black Stars
The Black Star is a mix breed, made by mating a Rhode Island Red with a Barred Rock. The resulting chicks are sex linked, which means you can easily identify females and males at hatching as males have a white spot on their head.
Black Stars are well known for being incredible layers, they produce more than 250 large or extra large eggs per year.
This breed is a winner for practically anyone raising chickens, no matter where you live. They’re heat hardy, cold hardy, friendly, quiet, and low maintenance.
One thing to note about this breed, is due to the fact that they don’t tend to continue laying huge amounts of eggs for their whole lives. Much like Leghorns, this breed is a good layer for a few years, then their reproductive system has had enough. You also can’t expect to breed these chickens and have the chicks come out true, because they’re not purebred to begin with.
The Wyandotte is one of our favorite breeds, not only are they the perfect dual purpose breed, they’re also stunning to look at it! Wyandottes come in a variety of shades, but our favorites are the silver and gold laced, nothing makes your flock stand out like having some of these beauties in it.
Wyandottes are perfect for colder climates as they have very small comb and wattles and have big bodies to help keep them warm. They’re one of the best dual-purpose breeds because they have a large table size and also produce over 300 eggs per year. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!
9. Easter Eggers
If you want a dual purpose bird that lays eggs in a variety of colors, the Easter Egger is for you! These birds are excellent layers and lay large eggs in shades of blue, green, and even pink! The Easter Egger is a top choice if you live in a cold climate with frigid winter months.
This cold hardy breed has lots of meat on their bones as well as tiny combs and wattles, so they’re not likely to get frostbite or suffer from hypothermia, even in an unheated chicken coop.
Easter Eggers tend to weigh between 4-8 pounds and produce up to 280 eggs per year.
10. Sussex Chickens
The Speckled Sussex is a sight to behold! These spotted multicolored beauties will add so much variety to your dual purpose flock, and they’re chatty as well! Anyone who has ever hung out with a Sussex can tell you that these chickies can be noisy!
This breed was originally bred for the purpose of meat production, but has moved more to a dual purpose breed over the years. They lay around 250 eggs per year, which is really great, and they generally weigh between 8-9 pounds at full size.
11. Plymouth Rock
This heritage breed can weigh up to 12 pounds at full size and produces around 280 eggs per year. The Plymouth Rock has been used as a dual purpose breed for centuries. We love this breed for it’s classic look as well, there’s something about having a black and white striped chicken strutting around your yard that just completes the whole backyard flock!
Cochins are one of my personal favorite breeds. These big ol gals weigh between 8.5 and 10 pounds. They lay between 150-200 eggs per year, which is really good for a big hen! The best part though, is that they’re dreamy to look at. These girls are so ridiculously fluffy and adorable, and watching them romp around the yard is straight up comical.
Cochins do require a little bit of extra work if you choose this breed. They don’t fly at all because they’re so large, so you’ll need to make them some special roosts and nesting boxes that are close to the ground. They also have feathers on their legs and feet, which is super cute, but also means you need to keep their coop and run extra clean so those feathers don’t get caked with poop or mud.
Though this breed is a little more high maintenance than the other breeds on our list, we think it’s worth it because they’re just so delightful!
We really love raising a dual purpose flock and hope you see the benefits after reading this article.
If you choose to raise dual purpose chickens we’d love to know what breeds you pick for your flock! Our comments are always open and we’d love to chat chickens with you below!