The Best Chickens for the Backyard
Why Do You Want to Raise Chickens? For Eggs or Meat?
Some chickens are egg layers, and some chickens are better raised for meat. Some of the older types of chickens, however, are what they call dual-purpose chickens, which means that they are good for both. In my opinion, these dual breeds are a better choice for the backyard because you can raise most of the hens for egg-laying and most of the roosters you can butcher when they are quite young. Older hens that are past the egg-laying age have tough meat but can be cooked in stews or pressure-cooked for tenderness.
Dual-purpose chickens tend to be hardier than commercially grown birds and are adaptable to whatever climate they are in. These birds can live for years, and come in a variety of colors and temperaments.
Dual-purpose breeds are the best choice for the backyard homestead type farm because they can forage for some of their own food and can provide the household with meat and eggs. These chickens can be grown for meat, and you never have to concern yourself about how you will store the meat. Whenever you want to cook a chicken, it is right there in the backyard. It is available, that is, if you are willing to do what it takes to get those chickens ready for cooking. Some people, however, are not willing to do their own butchering, but, believe me, you can do it, very easily, once you get the hang of it.
Most importantly, dual-purpose chickens are sustainable. As long as you don't kill all the roosters, you can hatch eggs using an incubator. In addition, dual-purpose breed chickens are more likely to go broody, which means that the hens may decide to hatch out eggs for you. As far as increasing your flock this is great, but if egg production is what you're looking for, a broody hen will stop laying eggs during the time that she is setting on her eggs and during the time she is raising her brood.
Dual-Purpose Chicken Breeds
Some of the dual-purpose breed chickens include: Australorp, Brahma, Braekel (Brakel), Buckeye, California Gray, Chantecler, Cubalaya, Derbyshire Redcap, Dominique, Dorking, Faverolles, Holland, Iowa Blue, Java, Jersey Giant, Marsh Daisy, Naked Neck, New Hampshire Reds, Norfolk Grey, Buff Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Poltava, Red Shaver, Rhode Island Red, Rhode Island White, Scots Dumpy Scots Grey, Sussex, Winnebago, Wyandotte. Although I am not going to cover all the pros and cons of all of the breeds, here are a few of the breeds in more detail.
This bird is noisy, with lots of personality. This bird is a traditional small farm flock chicken. They produce an average number of small eggs, and they are relatively small chicken, so their meat is a little on the small side. This chicken's meat, however, is tasty. These hens should have a rooster with them to protect them if they are free-ranging as well as for breeding purposes. The hens are often too busy foraging and not watching out for hawks.
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds were first developed in Little Compton, Rhode Island, in about 1830. Early flocks often had both single and rose combed flocks because it was from the Malay that the Rhode Island Red chicken gets its deep red color, strong constitution, and hard feathers.
It is recommended that you should get Rhode Island Reds from a breeder. We have raised these chickens from eggs, and I can understand why. Many of the hatchlings were deformed at hatching which indicated a genetic defect of some kind.
Our chickens almost always laid large and extra-large eggs and produced good meat. I have read that the roosters are mean with loud crows, but the hens are quiet and docile. I can vouch for the crowing and the sweet nature of the hens, but I have never had any problems with the roosters attaching me or anyone else. I have had kids around our Rhode Island Red Roosters without incident.
Rhode Island Reds are a good choice for the small flock owner and is a recommended breed for free-ranging. This chickens can take the heat and the cold both. They can handle marginal diets and poor housing better than other breeds while still producing eggs. They are the best egg-layers of the dual-purpose breeds. Most Reds show broodiness. The Rose Comb variety is slightly smaller than the Single Combed variety. It is not unusual for the red color to fade if these chickens are exposed to the sun.
The Java is the second oldest chicken breed developed in the United States and now considered endangered. The breed came into existence in the US sometime between 1835 and 1850 (Europe in 1885). This bird is very large and very slow to mature. Compared to the Rhode Island Reds, the roosters are docile, but protective and loud. These chickens are good for free-ranging. They have average egg production, though Javas grow slower than modern breeds, they were noted for their meat production during the 1800s. The Java was used in the creation of the Plymouth Rock and Jersey Giant breeds.
Faverolles are pretty birds with muffs, a beard, feathered feet, and five toes. Salmon Faverolles are the most commonly available type. These birds are excellent winter layers and are a good choice for northern winters. They have tasty meat. The roosters are huge, regal and docile, and the hens are beautiful. It is important to note that it is not a good idea to mix this breed with other chicken breeds because the Faverolles are so docile they are at the bottom of the pecking order.
If you are looking for family-friendly birds that are excellent with children, then the Sussex is your bird. This bird will make you feel like a movie star as it follows you around the yard. These chickens are high egg producers, great foragers, and are a good meat bird.
New Hampshire Red
Derived from the Rhode Island Red, the New Hampshire Red differs in that they produce fewer eggs but more meat. They are faster in maturing than the Rhode Island and is more vigorous.
With beautifully laced feathering, Wyandottes are not a pet bird and tends to be very skittish, but very intelligent. This bird does better in confinement than other dual breed chickens. It also is extremely winter hardy. This chicken produces creamy colored eggs and has a slightly more than average egg production.
Barred Plymouth Rocks
Barred Plymouth Rocks or "Barred Rocks," are one of the most popular dual-purpose chickens today. They are considered a very friendly bird. They are fantastic great layers of large brown eggs. They do well in cold weather quite nicely. They tolerate confinement, but they prefer free-range living. Other varieties of Plymouth Rock are quite rare.
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This breed of chicken has the best extreme weather tolerance of any of the dual birds. These birds are very large and are excellent layers of brown eggs. The meat is easy to dress but may have unsightly black pin feathers. These birds tend to be aloof, but somewhat good-natured. This breed is one of the best winter layers in the dual-purpose chicken.
Important Facts About Backyard Chickens
- Other than bees, chickens may be the most valuable and versatile animal for backyard farming.
- Know your zoning laws before getting chickens. Having roosters that crow or free-ranging chickens may not only annoy neighbors but can lead to municipal finds.
- Feed your chickens kitchen garbage wastes, weeds, and grass clippings to help reduce feed costs
- Put your chickens to work in the garden by using chicken tractors to put sheet compost of yard wastes, household garbage, and chicken manure right on the beds. Wait at least a couple of weeks after moving chicken tractor before planting garden bed.
- Chickens need a water source available at all times. Use heated waterers in the winter if necessary.
Originally named "Indian Rivers," in 1940, George Ellis developed the Delaware as a broiler production breed. They originated from crosses of Barred Plymouth Rock roosters and New Hampshire hens. Delaware roosters can be mated to New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red hens and produce chicks of the Delaware color pattern. Delaware hens mated to New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red roosters produce sex-linked offspring. The roosters will have the Delaware color pattern, and the females will have the solid red color of the rooster.
Extremely Rare Breeds
- Chantecler Chicken: Critically endangered. Lays well enough. Gentle but very shy. Quiet hens, very hardy. The breed developed in Quebec.
- Buckeye: Critically endangered. This Heritage breed has a fun history. Slow growing but gentle roosters and decent layers. GREAT BREED if you have young children helping with the flock.
- Bielefelder: Lays an impressive amount of very large brown eggs. The roosters are very large (10 lbs!) and dress out nicely for a Sunday dinner. Auto-sexing. Exceeding rare outside of Germany.
- Rhodebar: Virtually extinct. Excellent layers and savvy free rangers. Auto-sexing. Good size for an eating bird.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Cygnet Brown