Getting started with livestock on a homestead can be overwhelming. So many different breeds of animals fit in well. It really boils down to a few aspects that you want on your farm, especially with poultry varieties. Some breeds of chicken are specific to egg-laying, while others are more useful for their meat.
In this article, I’ll cover dual-purpose breeds—breeds that are sufficient in egg and meat production both.
Good characteristics to look at while including your homestead and coop situations include heat and cold toleration, mothering capabilities, brooding, free-range adaptability, disease hardiness and predator wariness. If you plan on free-ranging, certain breeds are better at it than others. It’s all about your unique situation and what breeds you feel will work best.
Rhode Island Red
First on my list is the heritage Rhode Island Red. The RIR is a very well-known breed throughout the world, but it originated in the state of Rhode Island, hence the name. This dual-purpose breed is best known for its deep brown-red coloring, and it can have a rose or single comb. While it does well in cold and hot climates, the rose comb is suggested in regions with harsh winters, due to frostbite concerns with single-comb breeds.
RIR hens lay an astounding 200 to 300 large brown eggs a year, will go broody and have great parenting characteristics. As a meat bird, it’ll yield 5 to 8 pounds of meat. It’s known as a very hardy breed that’s great at keeping predator awareness while free-ranging.
Note: The heritage version shouldn’t be confused with industrial RIRs because this breed has been used for many years in the egg industry. Through selective breeding, industry birds are great egg layers but yield very little meat. The industrial type has also lost the deep colored plumage.
When I first started my farm seriously, I came across this breed accidentally. I bought chicks thinking that they were Rhode Island Reds. Come to find out, they were great for my homestead, too.
The Buckeye is the only American Poultry Association-accepted breed that was developed by a woman, Nettie Metcalf. Its name is reflective of Ohio, where she developed it. This breed also has a deep red-brown plumage, but its body type is quite different from the Rhode Island Red. The Buckeye’s body reflects more of a Cornish type.
This dual-purpose breed lays 150 to 200 eggs per year. It does take seven to nine months for these hens to start laying, but once they start, they make very good layers. Hens also stand out as being exceptionally protective of their chicks and will happily brood their own chicks.
Known for being a great broiler bird, Buckeye meat yields can range from 4 to 9 pounds. They also have great free-ranging capabilities, are friendly and can tolerate cold weather exceptionally.
While this breed isn’t dual-purpose, it does deserve a mention here. The Campine is a vigorous forager, and hens lay 200-plus large, white eggs each year. The breed isn’t known for its broodiness, so be aware that if you get this breed, you’ll need to incubate eggs.
Personally, having a flock of Golden and Silver, their predator awareness was astounding. They also do well in confinement and are hardy in many ranging temperatures. They do exceptionally well in the cold and are very friendly.
If you are looking for a dual-purpose breed that really stands out ornamentally, look no further than a Crèvecoeur. This solid-black bird with short legs hails from France and is known for having a crest and beard. However, its distinctive V-shaped comb is what really makes it stand out.
Its name translates to “broken heart,” but having it on your homestead will be fulfilling. Hens lay 150-plus medium-to-large white eggs a year, and meat yields can be from 5 to 8 pounds.
This active and friendly breed is not known for being broody or for raising its own chicks. If you’re looking at keeping your flock penned, this breed does exceptionally well in confinement. Besides the broodiness and mothering capabilities, this breed is vulnerable to predators because of the crest obstructing its vision.
It also doesn’t do well with temperature extremes and needs to be kept in a temperate climate.
This breed was the principal American meat bird from the 1850s until 1930 (when the age of the broiler chicken began). The Brahma is one of the largest chicken breeds available today.
This dual-purpose breed is calm and friendly but can be intimidating given how big it can get. This fowl is best kept in a colder environment. Keeping it in warmer climates isn’t ideal, but it can adapt.
Hens lay nearly 140 large brown eggs a year and are considered exceptional winter layers. Brahmas do go broody and will care lovingly for the chicks. However, because of the size of the hen, chicks should be looked after closely the first few days after hatching to avoid being trampled.
The Brahma can yield 8 to 12 pounds of meat! At one point in time, the Brahma was in competition with capons because of how tender its meat was up until 12 to 13 months of age.
Because of the breed’s size, perches need to be kept right around 12 inches off the ground. This is also another breed that does very well in confinement due to its docile personality.
The Jersey Giant competes with the Brahma for size. These two breeds are the largest breeds of chicken available. The Jersey Giant was originally developed in Burlington, New Jersey, with the intention of replacing the turkey on American holiday tables. This big breed can yield 8 to 13 pounds of meat.
Jersey Giant hens lay 180-plus large brown eggs a year and do go broody with wonderful mothering skills. However, her large size can easily smash eggs.
Very affectionate to their caregivers, they don’t quarrel often and do well in warm and cold climates but tend to do better in colder environments. The cold mostly comes down to the combs. This breed does well free-ranging and has exceptional foraging skills and predator awareness.
This breed is named after a French town, and the name translates to “the arrow.” The breed has a very distinctive V-shaped comb much like the Crèvecoeur. This dual-purpose breed yields 4 to 7 pounds of meat and lays 200-plus medium white eggs each year. It also has an exceptionally high-yielding breast in reference to its size.
This breed needs a more temperate climate to live. It can do well in heat or cold but not in the extremes of either.
La Flèche are known for their good flying tendencies. While they have great foraging capabilities, they are known to fly over fences that stand in their way. If you plan on penning this breed, you’ll need a lot of foraging material and boredom busters to keep them happy and healthy. This breed is also known for tree roosting when left to free-range.
They are not setters. Plan on using an incubator if you want chicks of this breed.
The Holland is another breed out of New Jersey. Its plumage resembles a Plymouth Rock or a Dominique. This breed can yield 5 to 7 pounds of meat, and hens lay 150-plus large, white eggs each year.
This friendly, docile breed is known for being a great bird for the homestead. Its foraging capabilities and predator awareness are known as being one of the best. It does well in hot or cold climates, but its comb is prone to frostbite. Hens will go broody and raise their own chicks.
According to Suzanne Holland, who raises and breeds Barred Hollands on her Holland Farm in Louisiana, in the mid 1930s, commercial egg producers convinced the market that brown eggs were dirty. “White eggs became the ‘in’ color for eggs,” she says. “That put small farmers in a bad spot and not able to compete. Meat birds only lay brown eggs. Farmers needed a dual purpose bird for economic and space reasons.”
A professor from Rutgers University began working on a breed to help the small farmer compete and stay in business: a meat bird that laid white eggs. “Originally, there was a White Holland and a Barred Holland,” Holland says. “The white is now extinct. The original starting breed was never disclosed by the professor, only that it came from Holland, thus the name.
“The barred Holland breed is made up from the origin breed, bred with White Leghorns, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Australorps and Brown Leghorns.”
If you’re looking for a smaller chicken breed that packs a punch, look no further than the Icelandic. This cold-hardy breed does absolutely excellent in harsh climates and is known for its adept skill of foraging, brooding and predator evading. The Norse even kept these birds and took them along on discovery voyages, landing this breed the nickname “Viking chicken.”
While a small breed, yielding only 1 to 3 pounds of meat, it’s known for the flavor of its meat. Hens will lay 150-plus large white eggs a year, and their mothering skills have been proven to be amazing.
Rhode Island White
The Rhode Island White is a great dual-purpose bird that has good free-ranging capabilities and tolerates warmer climates well. While this breed loves to forage, they’ll stay close to home while doing so, squawking a lot more than your average breed of chicken.
RIWs will yield 5 to 7 pounds of meat and lay upward of 250 large, white eggs each year. The breed doesn’t do well in confinement. The rose-comb variety does extremely well in cold temperatures. They are also not sitters or very good caretakers to chicks, so that is one quality you’ll have to keep in mind if you decide to choose this breed.
This breed, though not currently accepted by the American Poultry Association, deserves an honorable mention. I personally have had this friendly, docile breed on my homestead, and it’s a fantastic breed to keep. It was formerly known as the “Isbar,” but has been renamed to honor their creator, Martin Silverudd.
Their foraging capability is the best that I have personally witnessed. They are mostly used as egg layers and lay 150-plus green-shaded eggs per year. You can harvest them, but you’ll only get 3 to 4 pounds of meat yield.
Hens do go broody and will raise their own chicks depending on which lines you get.
Many other chicken breeds do well on a homestead, but in my opinion, the ones I’ve highlighted in this article will do best. Many of these heritage chicken breeds are at risk of going extinct because homesteads started to die out with the rise of commercial facilities for egg layers and broilers. Heritage chicken breeds are slow growers compared to the industrial breeds, but that slow growing is worth it in terms of meat and eggs.
No matter what climate or situations affect your homestead, one of these chicken breeds will fit in perfectly.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Chickens magazine.