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The Best Chickens for the Backyard

Cygnet Brown graduated magna cum laude from Argosy University. She is an author of fourteen books and a long-time gardener.


Dual Purpose Chickens

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.

Reasons Why Dual-Purpose Chickens Are Best for Your Back Yard

  • 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.

10 Best Dual-Purpose Breeds

Although I am not going to cover all the pros and cons of all of the breeds, here are ten of the best breeds in more detail.

1. Dominique

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 Hens

Rhode Island Red Hens

2. 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 are a recommended breed for free-ranging. These chickens can take the heat and the cold. They can handle marginal diets and poor housing better than other breeds while still producing eggs. They are the best egg-layers of 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.

3. Java

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.

4. Faverolles

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.

5. Sussex

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 good meat birds.

6. 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 Rhode Island and are more vigorous.

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7. Wyandottes

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.

This Barred Plymouth Rock rooster defied the good nature of the Barred Rock reputation for being a friendly bird by being the meanest rooster I had ever met.

This Barred Plymouth Rock rooster defied the good nature of the Barred Rock reputation for being a friendly bird by being the meanest rooster I had ever met.

8. Barred Plymouth Rocks

Barred Plymouth Rocks or "Barred Rocks," are one of the most popular dual-purpose chickens today. They are considered very friendly birds. 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.

9. Australorp

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.

10. Delawares

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.

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.

Please Share Your Experience

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


Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on June 09, 2014:

Hi Dr.Bill-WmL-Smith! I've been to your site and read your stories! They are awesome!

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on June 09, 2014:

Thank you for this useful set of information. I enjoy writing about families and farms. Insights into life on a farm, and farm animals, is very useful to me. Perhaps, one day, you can stop by and read some of my stories... ;-)

I grew up on a farm with many chickens... ;-)

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on December 16, 2013:

Hi Talloni, I have always been a chicken fan. My personal favorite is the Rhode Island Red. I love it when they come running every time I left the house.

RTalloni on December 16, 2013:

Backyard chickens are becoming a popular hobby in cities how. Thanks for this look at these that would make the effort beneficial!

Cygnet Brown (author) from Springfield, Missouri on October 06, 2013:

Chickens have been part of my family since long before I was born. I love chickens! Start with just a couple of chicks to start, that's what a friend of mine who lives in Chicago did. She doubled introduced two more girls (that's what she calls them--her girls.) They quickly become part of the family (with the added benefit of giving eggs)!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 06, 2013:

Good run down on the various choices of backyard chickens. I see them for sale at Tractor Supply but I've never had the courage to buy the chicks. My Grandmother raised chickens but I lived a good distance from her farm and never tried it.

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