A dual-purpose chicken is a type that can produce both eggs and meat. This sounds efficient, but there is a downside. Be sure to consider the trouble with raising dual-purpose chickens.
Dual purpose chicken breeds sounded so perfect! Too good to be a true. A livestock that can serve two purposes. One animal, two uses. As someone who’s always out for a good deal, that’s quite the win-win situation right there.
But hold on a second there… for every seemingly perfect situation there may be a very real downside.
Before we got our first batch of chickens, we spent months trying to decide which breeds of chicken would be perfect for our situation. We wanted to raise our birds for eggs and for meat. We knew for sure we didn’t want to get a meat-specific breed like Cornish Cross. Although they grow fast and are ready for the dinner table in 12 weeks, they also don’t live long enough to lay eggs.
On the other hand, we also didn’t want a chicken breed that was specifically meant for egg production. These epic layers like Leghorns are often skinny, weighing less than half that of a meat bird. There’s truly not much meat to be had on a Leghorn, and what is there tends to be stringy and tough.
That’s not good eating.
Lucky for us, dual-purpose chicken breeds exist for that very reason.
But is it really lucky?
Dual Purpose chicken breeds sound great at first, eggs and meat from one bird? What could go wrong? Well, we’re here to tell you…
What are Dual-Purpose Chickens?
Most homesteaders keep chickens for two reasons, eggs and meat. Through selective breeding, chickens have been adapted for specific purposes:
Meat chickens, also called broilers or roasters, have been bred to grow quickly with lots of meat. Meat chickens are butchered young while their meat is still tender, between 8 to 12 weeks for broilers and 12 and 20 weeks for roasters.
Since meat chickens put on mass quickly, and because of that quick weight gain, their body structure can’t keep up. Their hearts are weak, their legs are frail, and they are often so heavy that they can’t manage to stand for longer than a few minutes. Meat chickens are not used for eggs since they will not live long enough to begin laying.
Egg Laying Chickens:
Egg laying chickens have been bred over the years to be hearty and produce eggs. Hens grow more slowly. They mature and begin laying eggs in about 16 to 24 weeks after they hatch.
Egg laying chickens are available in a variety of breeds, colors, and body sizes. Their eggs vary in size and color from blue, brown, speckled, white, and everything in between. Egg laying chickens can live for up to 10 years, although the amount of eggs they lay will decline as they grow older.
A dual-purpose chicken is a breed that lays eggs, but is still large enough to process extra roosters and older hens to consume.
Common chicken breeds raised for both eggs and meat include Australorp, Dominique, New Hampshire Red, Orpington, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex, and Wyandottes.
The Trouble with Dual Purpose Chickens
Here’s the trouble with dual purpose chicken breeds. You buy the cute little chicks with all the best intentions. You tell yourself, “They are just livestock, not pets.”
You repeat this phrase over and over to yourself, convinced you’ll believe it if you say the words enough.
Over time you grow attached to the little buggers. You slowly convince yourself that these are actually layer hens and their sole purpose on earth is to provide you with fresh eggs. The entertainment is an added bonus.
You forget to look at them as meat. You forget that they aren’t meant to be pets with benefits. You forget the dual part of the dual purpose. You forget that you chose them because they will provide you with eggs and meat.
And then you remember again.
This experience with the chickens has led me to some new thoughts about future livestock endeavors. While a dual-purpose farm animal is great in theory, the reality is that at some point you have to decide when that purpose turns from one to the other. When that animal stops being a provider of fiber, milk, or eggs and when they become a provider of meat.
In reality it’s much easier to purchase an animal and tell yourself this animal is meant for meat. I will not name it, I will not pet it, I will not grow attached to it. I will raise it until it is of a proper size and then it will become meat.
All this to say…. We run a homestead and we have butchered and eaten our hens. This is a topic that a lot of homesteaders don’t talk about for fear of ridicule. It’s not an easy thing to explain to someone who’s never done it.
When we tell people that we sometimes eat the chickens that we raise they tend to shudder and say, “How can you do that? How can you kill an animal that you raised?”
This is what we tell them…
While it is very difficult, and sad, we also know for a fact that the chicken on our dinner plate lived the best life it possibly could. These chickens had one bad moment, one bad second in their whole lives. The rest of their time on this planet was spent chasing after bugs, sleeping in a warm and dry coop, chattering with friends, basking in the sun, and frolicking through the woods. Their lives were ended quickly and humanely and they went on to nourish our family.
When you compare the lives of our chickens to those living in factory farms, crammed together in cages, living in filth, suffering for all of their short lives… well there is no comparison. We love our chickens, and we love knowing that the chicken on our dinner plate was treated well and literally had just one bad moment in its whole life.
While several of our hens have cleverly elevated themselves to pet status with their charm and cuddly nature, most of the chickens in our coop will end up as dinner, either our own dinner or that of the neighborhood fox. This is the reality of homesteading, we need to end lives to continue living our own.
We’ve learned a lot over many years of raising chickens. Butchering the animals that you raise doesn’t get easier, but with the current state of agriculture, the reasons behind it become clearer.
So here’s the thing…
If you’re considering raising dual-purpose chickens with the intent of them actually being dual purpose farm animals, you have some thinking to do.
When the time comes, are you going to have the strength to butcher them? Are you the type to get attached to the cuteness and lovable nature of animals? Could you cook and eat an animal that you raised by hand?
If you find yourself currently nodding along or rapidly shaking your head side to side, take note of that feeling. Raising farm animals is not always fun and games, there will come a time when tough decisions have to be made, and acted upon.
And that, my friends, is the trouble with dual-purpose chicken breeds.
About Meredith: Meredith is the founder of ImaginAcres. She lives in Western New York with her incredible husband, Michael, and their menagerie of farm critters. Join her at Backyard Chicken Project where she shares more chicken antics and tips to care for your flock.