If you scroll a hatchery website, you may discover a category labeled "dual purpose" breeds, such as Rhode Island Red, Australorps, and Wyandottes. Most dual purpose breeds have American roots, however, all dual purpose breeds have some foreign ancestors. Why is that? I will elaborate on the topic of how the Asiatic cross influenced poultry in America and Europe. There are three Asiatic breeds, the Cochin, the Langshan, and the Brahma, but all “dual purpose” breeds have Asiatic blood. This is why all dual purpose breeds have the tendency to get feather stubs on their toes if they are not carefully bred out, and also why they have such great meat and egg qualities. Without Asiatic breeds over 50% of the breeds we have today wouldn't exist, and it is unlikely we would even have exhibition poultry itself.
The Buckeye is a large, gentle dual purpose breed. Many dual purpose breeds, such as the Buckeye, come in two sizes, large fowl and bantam. The bantam size of these breeds is often used for ornamental, rather than utility purposes.
Before the Asiatic breeds arrival in the mid 19th century, there wasn't much variety in Europe and America. There were the Hamburg, Redcaps, Dorking, and pit game in Northern Europe. In the Mediterranean, people had the Mediterranean breeds, and there were, of course, some common farm fowl. But even then the people of the 19th century only would have a few true bantams. Because feathered legs originated with the Asiatic breeds, we know that the Belgian Bearded d'Uccle came later, probably due to a crossing between a Bearded d'Anvers and a feather footed bird, and the Japanese bantams also were later introduced. The citizens of France would have owned some birds like the Crevecouers and the La Fleche. Polish, Lakenvelders, Braekels, and Campines were also already in Europe. Dominiques were exclusively in America.
Mediterranean chickens, such as the Ancona, are excellent layers, however, they don't provide a decent carcass.
In 1843, everything changed. Queen Victoria received her first Shanghai Fowl, which would eventually evolve into the modern day Cochin. She found that the hens were good layers and their large size gave them good meat qualities. They had much tighter feathering and sparsely feathered legs than today's Cochins have, and probably wouldn't resemble our Cochins at all. However, none of the European birds had feathered legs until they arrived, and Queen Victoria was delighted by their laying and large bodies.
The Cochin, this one a partridge bantam cockerel, originally came in four varieties, black, white, buff (originally called cinnamon), and partridge, however, breeders outcrossed and imported, coming up with new color varieties daily.
Eventually other Shanghai fowl were imported and the general public got their hands on these birds. New colors not found in Europe were discovered, like Buff and Partridge. Cochins were selected to be bigger, with more foot feathers. This look was preferred by Queen Victoria along with many others breeders, and eventually, they created a bird with this facade. It was soon found that they no longer had the great qualities of the original Shanghais. The large appearance was just a lot of fluffy feathers, and the quantity of eggs laid by each bird dropped.
Brahmas, such as this dark bantam hen, came in three original colors, buff (buff columbian), light (silver columbian), and dark (silver pencilled.) These colors were unique to their ancestors, some Malay-type birds from India. The breeds with these colors probably owe some of their ancestory to the Brahma.
Malay type birds were brought to America from India, and bred with Cochins to create Brahmas. Columbian was a new variety found in this breed. Though the Cochins lost their wonderful dual purpose qualities, it was those qualities they passed on into different breeds. Crossed with large, white fleshed English fowl, the Sussex was created. During this time, Orpingtons were also created, and with Malay type fowl, Cornish, or Indian Game, was created for cockfighting. Crossing the Cornish would eventually become essential for the meat industry, while the egg hybrids were often crossings of dual purpose breeds, though the Leghorn was not forgotten. Meanwhile, Java, Plymouth Rocks, and Rhode Island Red, were developed in America. The “dual purpose” fowl had finally emerged.
The true bantam is a bantam with no large fowl counterpart. There were some true bantams in Europe before the Asiatic breeds were introduced. The d'Anvers bantam, such as this black cock, was developed centuries before the Shanghai fowl arrived. However, most other purely European true bantams are far less common.
You may wonder how I got such relevant pictures, however, you can find the same evidence in your flock! All breeds, even crossbreeds, have a rich, interesting history, and many have dual purpose blood in them. So next time you go look at your flock, look and see if you can discover your own bird's roots.