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There are more than 500 chicken breeds in the world. And I’m going to be absolutely honest, I am not familiar with all of them. Because I haven’t been everywhere around the globe. So, I can’t tell you that I personally know what every bird out there is like. I do know, however, birds in the United States. Birds that are suited both to cold weather and to hot weather. And they have different characteristics. I have purebred birds and hybrids, and both have good and not quite as good qualities. Although for this post, I’m going to go over the three best dual purpose backyard chickens in my opinion.
What do I mean by dual purpose, some of you may be wondering. A dual purpose chicken breed is one that is a good egg producer and large enough for meat.
EASTER EGGERS, MY FIRST CHOICE FOR BEST DUAL PURPOSE BACKYARD CHICKEN
First, let me give you some history. When we started out in 2015, it was a faint idea to have chickens at some point. However, that was thrust upon us sooner than desired when someone my husband worked with dropped off 10 chickens. We were told they were Leghorns, but we quickly discovered they were destined for the cook pot. Because, they were broilers, every single one of them. We fattened them up, and 3 months later had some extra chicken in our freezer. Though, we saved one bird from the bunch, whom we named Natalie.
She was the first and only member of our flock until we got a Cream Legbar rooster. He was owed to us by a neighbor, whose dog chewed on one of the broilers.
The end of July 2015, our daughters went to East Texas to find some chicks. Because I had no idea what kind to get. Since my mother-in-law had had chickens for years by then, I thought she would be a good source of information.
The girls came home with 2 Silver-laced Wyandottes, 2 Black Sex-links, and what were supposed to be 3 brown-red Ameraucanas. One of them turned out to be an Easter Egger, and another one didn’t make it. The Wyandottes were the oldest of the chicks that were brought back, so they became the leaders, after the rooster. Everyone else eventually learned their places in the hierarchy.
It was February 2016, as they were locked up in the coop, due to the snow, that our birds laid their first eggs. We were very excited about our birds and ultimately got baby fever. We bought an incubator and put entirely too many eggs in said incubator.
I mention this experience in one of my other posts, so I won’t repeat the process now. You can read about it here. Though I will say the eggs that worked best, that had the best results, were the Ameraucana and Easter Egger eggs. It most likely had something to do with the genes being compatible. I believe Cream Legbars have either Araucana/Ameraucana or the blue gene in them. The Ameraucana/ Easter Egger eggs we used came from both the Ameraucana and Easter Egger hens.
THESE VERSATILE CHICKENS ARE HARDY
So why do I think Easter Eggers make great all purpose backyard birds? First of all, they aren’t a breed that’s recognized by the American Poultry Association. A lot of people lump any chicken that carries the blue gene into EE’s. Even if it has a different colored egg other than blue. As long as its ancestors carried the blue gene, they are regarded as Easter Eggers. However, all of my EE’s lay blue eggs and they have at least one parent that is an Ameraucana. You can read this article or this other one here for some interesting info regarding some snobbery in show chicken circles.
Moving on. EE’s are considered dual-purpose, and my foremost reason I think they’re one of the best multi-purpose chickens is because they’re extremely hardy birds. Of the original birds my daughters brought back from East Texas, only 1 Easter Egger and 1 Ameraucana remain. The Sex-Link they brought back died last year as did the Wyandottes. Hybrids generally don’t live as long as purebreds, however Easter Eggers can live up to 8 years!
They also do very well in the winters here in Oklahoma. That might not seem like a big deal, but my oldest daughter moved to South Dakota ~ 2 years ago. She told me it was colder here in the winters than where she lives, due to the winds we get. This past winter was the worst it’s been, we heard. The birds didn’t come out of the coop for a week, and they looked terrible. Thankfully we didn’t lose any of them, though both roosters got a tiny bit of frost bite on their combs; it was just that cold.
THEY’RE GOOD, CONSISTENT EGG LAYERS
They’re also very good egg layers. They lay the same blue eggs as my Ameraucanas, and they lay at least 5 days a week. I have one EE that lays olive colored eggs. During their molt, of course egg production drops off, but as soon as January rolls around, they’re back at it.
When they first start laying, their first few eggs will commonly be on the small end of the spectrum. Although, as the birds get older and fill out more, the eggs will also increase in size. Most of the eggs we get are large on average.
BEING ADAPTABLE, THEY’RE ALSO FRIENDLY
They’re sociable chickens, with both people and other members of the flock. Sometimes how we raise them can influence their behavior, I’ve noticed. Also, whether or not they were incubated and hand-raised, or chicken-raised can influence them. If their only influence is chickens though, they still come around.
THEY CAN BE SEX-LINKED
At least ours can be. And this is just another reason I prefer Easter Eggers as one of the best dual purpose big or small yard breeds. Normally Sex-links are crossbred birds (or chickens) whose color at hatching is distinguished by sex. However, usually all of our chicks are black at hatching, because Megatron is all black. He has extremely strong genes, thus we have a lot of black chickens due to his genes. Anyway, it takes a few weeks for the pattern to show up, but I can tell, depending upon the egg the chick was in, whether the chick will be a cockerel or a pullet.
If the egg is blue, I can’t discern this. We just have to wait and do the feather test. However, if the chick is in a Maran egg, I will know whether the chick will be boy or girl. Because, the cockerel will have spots, similar to its mother, though not at birth. At birth he will look just like the others, but eventually he will sport some spots.
My husband decided to incubate some eggs, so we have 3 sets of chicks currently. The first set are all black with beards, except one doesn’t have a beard. And there’s one chick with a white spot on its head. That chick came from a Barred Rock egg, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to sex those combos. However at this point, I’m not sure if it means cockerel or pullet. I don’t have much experience with Barred Rocks, because we haven’t had our two hens for very long.
SILVER LACED WYANDOTTES, MY SECOND CHOICE FOR BEST DUAL PURPOSE BACKYARD CHICKEN
The second dual purpose backyard chicken on my list is the Silver Laced Wyandotte. Silver Laced Wyandottes were developed around the end of the 19th century. They were included into the American Standard of Perfection in 1883. They were named for the native people, the Wyandot, of North America. Wyandottes are also a dual purpose bird, however they are bigger than Easter Eggers. So they would readily have more meat on them compared to Easter Eggers and Ameraucanas.
THESE EXCEPTIONAL BIRDS MAKE GREAT LEADERS
My number one reason for choosing the Wyandotte as is that they make excellent leaders. When you look up information on this particular breed of chicken, chances are you’ll read about how they are docile. That can certainly be true. Though, in my experience and in my mother-in-law’s, we’ve both had Wyandottes who climbed the ladder and became boss chickens. Usually the more socially dominant chicken will be the leader. That was definitely the case with our Wyandottes, however they weren’t necessarily aggressive; they just instinctively knew what needed to be done and got it done, so to speak.
My mother-in-law’s Wyandotte rooster was the best rooster she had in the way he protected the hens. Now he was a typical rooster in that he also attacked his humans on occasion. However when a couple of hawks came swooping down on his harem, he put himself in harm’s way. He gave time for the flock to get to safety, while he was summarily attacked and died.
Our boss hen, Fives, would always run after the new roosters to get them away from the other hens. She took better care of the flock than the rooster we had back then. She also would always look up at the sky for danger from above.
Wyandottes come in several different colors, each more beautiful than the last. They come in black, blue, buff, Columbian, golden laced, partridge, silver laced, and silver pencilled. There was a time we wanted golden laced and blue; that was during the time we were addicted to getting chickens, but I do believe we’ve settled down. I still find them amazing. If I find a Wyandotte hen or two, I will be getting them for my flock. Megatron won’t be around forever, and the flock will need some direction.
AMERAUCANAS, MY THIRD CHOICE FOR BEST DUAL PURPOSE BACKYARD CHICKEN
I’ve mentioned that I think EE’s and Wyandottes are two of the best dual purpose backyard chickens out there. I also shared why I hold those beliefs. Now I’m going to go over my final option. My third and final choice for the best dual purpose backyard bird is the Ameraucana.
THEY’RE HARDY BIRDS
So why do I prefer Ameraucanas as a multi-purpose breed? Like the Easter Eggers they start off small, so with the intentions of meat, it takes time to get that. With roosters you don’t want to wait long for them to get big, because they don’t taste good, the texture isn’t right, etc, after ~ 4 months. Though you have more time with hens. One of the reasons I picked Ameraucanas, as one of the best dual purpose backyard birds, is because of their hardiness. Of those 7 original chicks my daughters brought back from Texas, 1 of the Ameraucanas remain and so does the Easter Egger. The other Ameraucana hen got taken or eaten by something; we never found out what. The other 4 birds are all dead, although one of the Sex-links died when it was still just a chick.
They do very well in the Winter here in Oklahoma, like our Easter Eggers. Though Summers aren’t that great, so we have added lots of trees for them. We continually add ice to their water and give them cold treats to help keep them cool.
FOR THE MOST PART, THEY’RE EASY, FRIENDLY, AND DOCILE
If you get them when they’re only a day-old, or incubate the eggs yourself and handle them well and often when they’re young, they will treat you like a valuable member of the flock. I recommend keeping to 4 or 5 chicks at a time, in order to accomplish this though. More than this, you’re not able to invest the time and energy needed to be with them. It also helps to imprint on them.
The above photo is one of many of our 3 brat Ameraucana and Easter Egger girls. We made them that way, and I’m not sorry for it either. Because they aren’t afraid of us like some of our birds are. Yes, I admit it, some of our birds are timid around us, like my rooster, Megatron and his hatchery mate. We got them when they were already a couple of months old.
In the Spring of 2017 our girls returned to East Texas for more chicks. When they came back, we hand fed the chicks (above), spent hours with them, and invested ourselves in them. I can’t really tell you why, except they were so darn cute.
In the above pictures, the very top one is of Astrid. She is more than likely an Easter Egger. Astrid lays bright blue eggs, and in every other way, resembles her relatives. She sports no beard, but it’s no doubt she has Ameraucana in her gene pool. The picture just below hers is of Davis, and when she was little, she had the chubbiest cheeks ever. She still does to this day, and Davis’s favorite thing to do is eat; always has been, and probably always will be. The bottom photo is all 4 of those chicks together.
We kept those girls inside the house with us (in a pen) until they were nearly grown to adulthood; they were the only ones we did that with. Whenever I go outside to feed them, they come running. They want to eat out of my hand, and I don’t mind.
THEY GO BROODY
Some people might not think that’s a great trait in a bird; it just depends on whether or not you want more birds, and if you’re willing to do the work yourself. If you’d prefer not to have to do it, then having a broody chicken makes an excellent option. Because most of the time, they’re fully capable of handling it. Incubating eggs is a lot of work. You have to check the temperature and the humidity. If you don’t have a self rotating incubator, you have to rotate the eggs yourself.
When we started adding more chickens, I wasn’t aware that they could go broody. Or how often they could or would go broody. We started out with a small number of hens. For a while none of them ever showed signs of such behavior. However, since this venture, every single bird that we’ve had that’s gone broody, has either been an Ameraucana or Easter Egger with one Ameraucana parent.
If they’ve imprinted on you and you on them, this broodiness and resulting egg-hatching can be such a wonderful experience. Our first and most successful broody hen was Davis. We were quite surprised when we found out she wanted to have little ones; we had absolutely no idea she aspired for anything other than eating, but she proved us wrong.
Davis remains the only one of our hens that allowed us to visit her while she was broody. Without screeching, overly puffing herself up, or generally being disagreeable. When her chicks hatched, she even allowed us to see and touch them. It definitely pays off to spend that quality time with them when they’re young.
THE HENS ARE AS BEAUTIFUL AS THE ROOSTER
The number one reason I chose Ameraucanas over other breeds as best dual purpose backyard chickens is that the hens are as beautiful as the roosters. In most breeds only the rooster is fabulous; in fact, in nature the male bird has the best plumage, while the female is usually drab and plain. It’s very rare to see a female bird look fantastic, competing with the male for beauty and distinction. I’m not saying Ameraucana hens are the most beautiful hens out there; I’ve seen a lot of pretty hens that outclass even roosters. What I am saying is all of their traits, taken together, make them one of the all around best dual purpose chickens.
What about you? Do you have a favorite dual purpose breed, and if so, which one?