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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. However I do know some birds in the United States. Also, I have purebred chickens and hybrids. And both have good and not quite as good qualities. Although, for this post, let’s discuss what are the best dual purpose backyard chickens?
What do I mean by dual purpose? A dual purpose chicken is one that is a good egg producer and large enough for meat. So it’s not necessarily bred for meat production, unlike broilers.
Easter Eggers: My First Choice for Best Dual Purpose Backyard Chicken
So why do I think Easter Eggers make great dual purpose backyard birds? First of all, they aren’t a breed that’s recognized by the American Poultry Association. And a lot of people lump any chicken that carries the blue gene into EEs. 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, I know my EEs are indeed EEs, because I bred them. So I know who their parents are. And they have at least one parent that is an Ameraucana, which is the rooster. You can read this article or this other one here for some interesting info regarding some snobbery in show chicken circles.
But Easter Eggers are my first choice for best dual purpose backyard bird, because:
- They’re healthy
In 2016 we incubated Ameraucana eggs that were fertilized by our Cream Legbar. And the results were crossbred chickens, or Easter Eggers. None of the EEs we’ve bred have had health issues, other than the occasional issue of mites.
- Live long
Hybrids generally don’t live as long as purebreds, however Easter Eggers can live up to 8 years! Except for the boys, the crossbreeds we hatched from our Cream Legbar are still alive. And that’s been over 6 years!
They also do very well in the winters here in Oklahoma. Plus, the past couple of winters have been the worst since we’ve had chickens. The birds didn’t come out of the coop for a week each year, and they looked terrible. Thankfully we didn’t lose any of them. Though both roosters got a tiny bit of frostbite on their combs; it was just that cold.
- Good, consistent layers
EEs are also very good egg layers. I have an equal amount of EEs who lay the same blue eggs as my Ameraucanas. And the other EEs lay brown, except one, who lays olive colored eggs. In addition, they all lay around 5 days a week. During their molt, of course egg production drops off. But as soon as January rolls around, they’re back at it.
Easter Eggers are 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.
- Can be Sex Linked
Depending on the birds you have, and if you breed them, they can be sex linked. At least ours can be. Normally Sex Links are crossbred 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. Anyway, depending upon the egg the chick was in, I can tell whether the chick will be a girl or a boy.
If the egg is blue, I don’t bother trying to figure out their sex at hatch. We just have to wait and see. However, if the chick is in a Maran or Barred Rock egg, I’ll know whether the chick will be boy or girl. Because the boy will have a spot on its head at hatch. Otherwise he might be completely black or gray. But eventually he’ll get spots all over, like his mother.
Silver Laced Wyandottes: My Second Choice for Best Dual Purpose Backyard Chicken
The second best dual purpose backyard chicken on my list is the Silver Laced Wyandotte. Silver Laced Wyandottes were developed around the end of the 19th century. And they were included into the American Standard of Perfection in 1883. Further, 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.
- Great leaders
My number one reason for choosing the Wyandotte is that they make excellent leaders. 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. However they weren’t necessarily aggressive; they just instinctively knew what needed to be done and got it done, so to speak.
Our boss hen, Fives, would always run after the new roosters to get them away from the other hens. And she and her sister would raise the juvenile hens and roosters, teaching them their place. Further, she took better care of the flock than the rooster we had back then, before teaching Megatron his job.
- They’re beautiful
Wyandottes come in several different colors, each more beautiful than the last: black, blue, buff, Columbian, golden laced, partridge, silver laced, and silver pencilled.
I’ve mentioned that I think EEs and Wyandottes are two of the best dual purpose backyard chickens out there. My third and final choice for the best dual purpose backyard bird is the Ameraucana.
Ameraucanas: My Third Choice for Best Dual Purpose Backyard Chicken
Like Easter Eggers, they start off on the small side. Thus, if you want to raise them for meat, it takes time to get there. With roosters you don’t want to wait too long for them to get big, because they won’t taste great, the texture isn’t right, etc, after ~ 4 months. But you can still make a decent meal out of any extra roos. And you have more time with hens.
- Long life
One of the reasons I picked Ameraucanas as one of the best dual purpose birds, is because of their long life. Of the 7 original chicks my daughters brought back from Texas, both of the Ameraucanas remain. The other 5 birds are dead. Although one of the Sex Link chicks died when it was still very young. Also, Megatron and his hatchery-mate are the next oldest Ameraucana chickens we have at ~ 5 years old.
- They’re hardy
Additionally they do very well in the winters here in Oklahoma, like our Easter Eggers. Since summers can be hard on them, we have added lots of trees. And we continually add ice to their water and give them cold treats to help keep them cool.
- 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.
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 a beardless Ameraucana. And she lays bright blue eggs, and in every other way, resembles her relatives. But because she sports no beard, she would be considered ugly by breed standards. The picture just below hers is of Davis, and when she was little, she had the chubbiest cheeks ever. Davis’s favorite thing to do was eat. 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 prefer to eat out of my hand, and I don’t mind.
- They go broody
If you’d prefer not to have to incubate and raise chicks, then having a broody chicken makes an excellent option. Because most of the time, broody birds are fully capable of handling it.
Since having chickens, every single bird that we’ve had that’s gone broody, has either been an Ameraucana or an Easter Egger.
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.
- Hens are as beautiful as 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? Your comments are appreciated.