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These 5 dual purpose chicken breeds are perfect for the small, family homestead. They’re all prolific layers, grow out fairly quickly, and are heritage breeds making them perfect for the small homestead setting.
Chickens… there’s just something about them that makes them awesome critters. Like little dinosaurs laying eggs in your backyard. The food freedom that comes along with owning these amazing creatures that lay your breakfast for you is so… satisfying.
Before we moved to our current homestead, we lived on a third acre in a suburb. Not our best moment, we are not city/burb dwellers in the least. We weren’t allowed to have chickens, of any kind, there. Not even cute little bantam chickens. I would run to the local farm store for something totally unrelated and the girls and I would look at the adorable baby chicks in awe wishing we could take half a dozen home with us.
Then, we moved… and all of us, girls, husband and myself included wanted to add those feathery egg laying critters as soon as possible to our new found homestead. I did a ton of research over the following 4 months to find the best chicken breeds for us to try out.
Criteria for The Best Chicken Breeds
I had a few criteria that I decided upon during my research that I felt would make the best chickens for our situation (and most people’s situation). It’s really important to do your homework and pick breeds that are going to best fit your situation. However, I find these criteria will fit most anyone’s situation and they are:
- The breeds must be heritage breed chickens. These breeds were developed by our ancestors to be the best of the best. They are becoming less and less prevalent as industrial farming takes over, so I find this criteria especially important.
- They should be dual-purpose. Meaning they are prolific layers, but they also can provide meat for the table and grow out to a decent size in a decent amount of time.
- They need to be cold hardy. Our winters are, well, unpredictable. We have some very mild winters, but we also have some incredibly frigid temperatures and heavy amounts of snow. I wanted birds that could withstand the winter season regardless of how harsh it was.
- And last, but not least, they needed to be docile which means, friendly to people. I don’t have time, or patience, for aggressive birds running around. I was pregnant at the time and had two small girls. Now, I have a couple of girls that are a bit older, but I also have a 2 year old. A chicken that isn’t going to go on the attack or run amok is paramount to our safety and my sanity.
A lot of this criteria is met with the first criterion, honestly. A great deal of heritage breeds are dual purpose (though, not all), they’re generally cold-hardy, and most, if not all are friendly. Most unfriendly, flighty chicken breeds are those utilized for commercial production purposes like white leghorns and production reds.
Another note on friendliness. If you have small children like I do, you need to teach your kids to take things slow and be gentle with the birds. I don’t think it really matters so much how early the chickens are handled, but more so how they are handled. If your kids take off after them, they’re probably going to run, and some (roosters especially) can become aggressive. If everyone is gentle and slow, most chickens will warm right up.
5 of The Best Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds for Your Homestead
Plymouth Rock (barred rock)
These ladies are friendly, and beautiful, heritage breed chickens. Plymouth Rock comes in a variety of colors, but most know them by the most popular color which is the barred rock. Aside from the barred rock and white varieties, they are very rare. They’re great layers of large pinkish-brown eggs, they can handle cold winters, and don’t need a ton of space. Of course, they love to have space and the more you can give them, the better, but they can handle confinement. They’re very docile and can lay about 280 eggs per year.
We currently have a couple of Plymouth rocks in our flock and they’re great. They mind their own, don’t cause much trouble and lay plenty of eggs. They aren’t known to be broody, but it is said they can be encouraged into brooding to make excellent setters and they are great mothers.
The australorp is a fantastic breed that is listed on the livestock conservancy’s website as recovering. These ladies are laying champs, known to be one of the most prolific layers. While the average is considered around 250 eggs per year, one laid 364 eggs in 365 days! That’s pretty darn impressive.
This breed is very friendly, they’ll come up to me when I go outside and even eat out of my hand. They lay plenty of beautiful large, light brown eggs and they grow out fairly quickly. Their black feathers are beautiful in the sunlight and look green and purple which is really cool.
This breed can be broody, I have one I call Henny Penny that is constantly wanting to set. However, they aren’t known for their abilities to set to term. Their super sweet/gentle nature is passed on to their mothering instincts, though and they will be excellent mothers to baby chicks.
Easter Egger (Ameraucana/Araucana)
Ok, I cheated, this particular breed is not heritage. Easter Eggers are a colored egg laying hybrid breed that does not meet the criteria of a true Ameraucana or Araucana. The one pictured above is actually my absolute favorite chicken. Her name is Brownie. While they say colored egg layers don’t lay as well as other breeds, I’ve found that to be untrue. We have a few colored egg layers besides Brownie in our flock and they all lay very well.
This breed is friendly and they vary in appearance. Some have muffs, some don’t. A true Ameraucana is said to lay 3-4 eggs a week, but they’re a pretty rare breed. They usually lay blue eggs. Aracaunas are very rare and have breeding problems because the tufted gene that makes them true Aracaunas causes high death rates inside the egg.
This breed is a far cry from broody, all of them easter egger or not. But, very friendly and a lot of fun to have running around the barnyard.
An absolutely beautiful heritage breed, that just graduated off the endangered list last year! While I love our silver laced wyandottes and they’re very friendly to people, they tend to try to take over within the flock and can be quite bossy. I don’t tell you this to discourage having wyandottes (which come in a variety of beautiful colors) but to let you know if you have many other birds in your flock these ladies will not tolerate being pushed around and bullied. They will do all in their power to rule the roost.
These hens will lay light brown to brown large eggs fairly well for you. They can handle cold winters quite well, too. They have a tendency to go broody, one of mine would definitely hatch if I’d allow her to. And they make excellent mothers. Probably, in part, to their tendency to dominate and not take crap from anyone. They will protect their chicks fiercely.
The brahma, often referred to as the king of poultry due to their massive size and strength. These birds can be huge. In fact, some of the largest chickens are brahma’s. Originally bred as a table bird, their laying is a bit lower than I’d like, but they tend to lay more in the winter and slow off in the warmer months. They will lay large medium brown eggs with the bulk of their laying in the cooler months. Which, I find great because when everyone else isn’t laying, the brahma is.
Our hen, Snowy, pictured above. I can say with confidence that she is laying daily with -10 temps going on outside. She wasn’t a great layer in the hotter months, even as a new laying hen, but she’s laying like crazy now. Always in the coop singing her song.
The brahma can be broody and can be an excellent mother. Despite their size, they are a very calm and docile bird, perhaps because their size intimidates others? Their feathered feet can cause a few issues, especially in the winter when snow can get stuck to the feathers and increase the risk of frostbite.
Bonus Chicken Breed
I cannot wait to get our new chicks this spring and this beautiful breed is on the watch list on the livestock conservancy. This breed is the breed we are switching to instead of having a mixed flock (I’ll talk more about why later). The Delaware was originally bred for meat production and can be eaten at any age due to their very quick growing rates. In fact, they used to be the most popular meat breeds. After around 20 years they lost the spotlight to the Cornish cross.
Since this breed, despite its egg laying abilities, was originally bred for meat, it quickly went on a decline. However, it’s on the rebound as more small homesteads realize it is a fantastic example of a dual purpose bird. These ladies can be expected to lay around 280 eggs a year. Which is pretty good, really.
They have a very calm and people-oriented disposition and I am so very excited to add these heritage breed chickens to our flock this spring.
After research and some experience, I’m confident in these 5 (6) chicken breeds for your small, family homestead. They’ll be wonderful additions, keep you in fresh breakfast, won’t be aggressive toward you or your family, and grow out to dress out into a great table bird if/when necessary.
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Do you have a favorite chicken breed on your homestead? What makes it your favorite? Share in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook or Instagram.