Dual Purpose Chickens- advice needed

Coops Dad

Songster
May 10, 2020
546
1,550
206
too close to Waco, TX
My wife says she feels ready to start eating home grown chickens on a regular basis (woot-woot!) but still wants to keep some of the hens for egg production, especially to replace some of our ladies who are aging out. She'd also like to go to a single flock for simplicity's sake. Since she's set some parameters, these are the traits I'm looking for:
1- prolific egg laying
2- size up reasonably well/early maturing/good feed:growth
3- breeds true
4- better than store bought flavor
I'd really appreciate any info or feedback on this project.

Thanks in advance!!!
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
4,659
13,584
536
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
I have been summoned!!!! :lau hehehe

OK, first and foremost - this is like a chinese fast food menu. You have a column of wants, you only get two. :( Seriously, modern man has purpose built birds to do one thing really, really well. Getting a bird that does several things well is something of a Holy Grail, many quest for it.

So, here goes -

1) Prolific Egg Laying - the best birds for this are the various Sex Links (red sex link, black sex link), which are all hybrids, and won't breed true. Of the two, the red sex links are the best, because they tend to be smaller (less feed consumption) yet produce similar sized eggs. Sold under various names (Comets, Cinnamon Queens, ISA Browns, Amberlinks, etc). These are also famed for reproductive problems, early - often year three, sometimes sooner, rarely later. They are called sex linked because they can be identified immediately as male/female at hatching, males are quickly culled.

**DON'T PANIC** Many old "Dual purpose" breeds (understanding that the expectations fo 30, 50, 100 years ago are radically different from the expectations of today - we've been spoiled) have been preserved by commercial breeders and hatcheries - and since they make their money selling chicks, those DP birds have been selected for egg production (while any pretense at fast growing meatiness has often been a secondary concern, at best). They will, however, breed true - for good or ill, largely passing down good egg laying and not much else to write home about.

2.) Meaty Beast - Absolutely NOTHING compares with a CornishX, a purpose built (orignally hybrid) now bred from specialized lines. They grow incredibly fast (to the point of endangering their health), have a huge breast (and therefore, white meat) to leg/thigh ratio compared to most all birds, and do it with incredible efficiency. This allows commercial operations to be culling 6-9# birds between 8 and 12 weeks, while the meat is still tender (and largely flavorless - but tender). They don't breed true, its the better part of seven months (if you can get one to live that long) before they lay eggs, and they are not prolific layers. Cornish X Roos may struggle to get the job done. Also these birds have low predator awareness, can't escape when they do see a predator (they sort of waddle, and are flightless), and are prone to myriad health problems.

**DON'T PANIC** A few breeders have been making an effort at either putting meat back on heritage DP birds, or slowing down the CX abnormal growth to compensate a bit for its most fatal flaws. ...and if you can get a hen to age, you can get some useful genetics out of it - it just won't be a CX.

3.) Breeds True - as you are seeing, this is the kicker. The best 1) or 2) are purpose built hybrids - its just not practical for a backyard breeder to maintain three flocks to optimize production out of one, while ensuring good parent stock out of the other two. You've three choices:

A) Select a heritage breed which offers a lot of what you want - say, a white Leghorn (the classic "chicken" of most people's imagining) and selectively incubate the largest eggs from the most frequent layers, while culling the smallest, slowest developing birds for the table (and accepting that they will be small birds at the table). You can do this with a moderately small flock.

B) Select a number of breeds with desired traits, and, by selective breeding and aggressive culling, create a landrace well suited to your climate, and your specific needs. This is, in essence, what I am doing - though I had no choice in starting birds (due to the pandemic). In some ways, this has the potential to be faster towards your end goal, but you will have a LOT of unsuitables along the way - and you must maintain a larger flock size if you want to get anywhere quickly. I hatch twelve eggs every three weeks +/- potentially sixteen hatchings each year.

C) Start with mutts. I know, sounds strange - but a number of people have already cleared the road I'm travelling down, making "X" Rangers - a bird with early maturity, good to very good egg production, some ability to forage effectively, and more meat on the bones than the typucal heritage. Of course, which of those traits is most valued by which breeder is a bit of a crap shoot, but a good Ranger is inspriational. With a decent flock size, and selective culling, you can maintain, or perhaps slightly improve upon your original stock, with time. Be aware that the focus on forage ability means a lighter, more active bird - slower to table weight. Its more flavorful, but there's more chew, and the savings in feed costs is balanced somewhat against the longer time till processing.

4) Better flavor. This is EASY! Any bird that can free range or be tractored on good greens will be more flavorful - not only because its moving those muscles (so you see more intramuscular fat, less subcutaneous fat), but because the diet itself is more varied. It also means that, compared to a store bought bird, there will be more chew - because the muscles got used. A CX will happily stand at the feed bowl and eat until its dead of fatty liver disease. Quickly. Almost no other bird will do that - certainly no breed will do that.


So, in conclusion. I don't have an answer for you. There isn't one. But don't give up - the best answer for you will depend on your circumstances and your priorities. There are a lot of possibilities to choose from.

Ask yourself (4 is easy, don't worry about that) what matters most - Do you want a "breed", or will a mutt like a Ranger suffice? (I'm being a bit unfair here, the Ranger lines are approaching a breed, rather than a mere landrace at this point). How large a flock are you willing to tolerate/support? Bigger flocks allow less frequent egg production, more meat on table, while maintain total flock size. Smaller flocks are more prone to genetic issues and higher risk of significant production loss in cases of predators, molting, etc - but they need less space, and are cheaper to feed.

Do you really want big breasts, or do you prefer dark meat? What's your climate? Can you reasonable offer pasture for forage? How varied (again, what's the climate? and the predators?) - that will inform the free range v chicken tractor management styles. Do you have a thing for white eggs? or cream? or brown? Green (please no green!)? Incubate, or rely on broodies? How many eggs each week do you really want??? How many do you need, when production drops with daylight hours, or they go into molt... How long do you plan on keeping any individual bird??? Do you care what they look like???

Its a lot - but you are asking the right questions, and making informed choices. Not all of us found BYC before we started. Mistakes were made. Welcome!
 

Coops Dad

Songster
May 10, 2020
546
1,550
206
too close to Waco, TX
U_Stormcrow- wow, what an answer! I never considered most of that so many thanks for all you gave me to chew on.

We recently pared our flock down from 65+/- hens and pullets and 4 roosters and cockerels to 40-ish hens and two roosters. I also sold all our turkeys when I got covid because I didn't know how hard I was going to be hit. It turned out to be like a middling flu minus the nausea, so I jettisoned birds for nothing.

40 hens seems manageable. It gives us, our dogs, our neighbors and a couple of people at church enough eggs. I wouldn't mind a temporary surge as we raise and add the new 2P chickens and sell off the existing flock. I don't care what they look like or the color of eggs; I also assumed that anything other than a meat monster would be a compromise, and I'm good with that.

We have 6 acres of fenced pasture and a 1200 square foot tractor shed dedicated to the chickens now, plus 2 large coops (in the tractor shed), 2 20 square foot raised brooders, and 2 72 square foot chicken tractors for raising up younguns after they're feathered out. My wife is addicted to chicks and she loves picking her favorites out of a hatch and selling or giving away the rest.

I've planted parts of the pasture with forage and seed plants, and there are tons of insects. We're in central Texas so it's like wall to wall bugs for 9 months a year.

We've had a little predation. Two lost to hawks, a couple to owls, 24 to our neighbor's dog, a few to our dog (Luna aka MurderDog). I've shot three coyotes during our first year but they stay clear since.

I really appreciate your guidance and advice!
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
4,659
13,584
536
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
and @Coops Dad , Don't Panic. I've only been doing this 17 months - I started last April, and I already sound like I know what I'm talking about. Admittedly, I've lived a bit of it. My current flock is in my signature (below). Excluding the ducks, I have about 55 birds, most are either not adult yet, males, or both.

13 eggs today. Plus 1 duck egg. Last week, while a number of my older birds were molting, and most of the younger hadn't started laying, I was happy to get just 5 eggs in a day. Free ranging saves me a bit on my expected feed bill. Its still "significant" - I buy more than 500# at a time, and don't expect it to last but a month or so (including feed for the goats).

I use a $90 Incubator, and have non stop since last December, to incubate 12 eggs at a time. Maybe 8 hatch (I've had better, and worse - for lots of reasons). Half are males. That allows me to lose one or two to illness, injury, or predation, and still take one male each week for the table, and one old hen for stew, stock, or sausage. Males I'll take anywhere from 14 weeks to 20, and they will weigh (live) anywhere from 4.5 to 6.5#. After culling, thats 2.25# to a bit over 4# of carcass, which is 1.5# to 2.75# of protein.

I currently keep three breeding roosters (up from 1) and let them have at every receptive hen. None will make it past roughly a year of age, to keep the genetics fresh. Once more of my youngsters have reached adulthood, I anticipate seeing an average of 25 eggs daily - which will *just* cover their feed bill with egg sales, while providing the dozen every three weeks I need for incubation, my weekly cullings and some eggs for my wife and I are the profits.

Its a work in progress, and I'm still "dialing it in". If my errors are instructional, please learn from them so you can avoid them yourself!
 

rascal66

Crowing
6 Years
Sep 10, 2015
989
1,424
287
Washington
I like heritage breeds overall since most that I know are pretty much dual purpose. (Australorp, RIR, etc). I alsonknow barred rocks are good for this.. However, I'm pretty amazed at the freedom rangers. They're a broiler type, but surprisingly aren't horrible layers. So they will get big and grow pretty quickly. They'll be very meaty. If you pasture/free range them, the flavor is phenomenal...
The only issue with heritage breeds, is they take an average of 6-8months to get a good weight, in my opinion. I'm sure others will have better info on these breeds. I cross breed birds for dual purpose and have had the pleasure of trying out the freedom rangers. I think I recall hearing somewhere that a freedom ranger is a cross between CornishX and the RIR. (Ill need to double check that)
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
4,659
13,584
536
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
U_Stormcrow- wow, what an answer! I never considered most of that so many thanks for all you gave me to chew on.

We recently pared our flock down from 65+/- hens and pullets and 4 roosters and cockerels to 40-ish hens and two roosters. I also sold all our turkeys when I got covid because I didn't know how hard I was going to be hit. It turned out to be like a middling flu minus the nausea, so I jettisoned birds for nothing.

40 hens seems manageable. It gives us, our dogs, our neighbors and a couple of people at church enough eggs. I wouldn't mind a temporary surge as we raise and add the new 2P chickens and sell off the existing flock. I don't care what they look like or the color of eggs; I also assumed that anything other than a meat monster would be a compromise, and I'm good with that.

We have 6 acres of fenced pasture and a 1200 square foot tractor shed dedicated to the chickens now, plus 2 large coops (in the tractor shed), 2 20 square foot raised brooders, and 2 72 square foot chicken tractors for raising up younguns after they're feathered out. My wife is addicted to chicks and she loves picking her favorites out of a hatch and selling or giving away the rest.

I've planted parts of the pasture with forage and seed plants, and there are tons of insects. We're in central Texas so it's like wall to wall bugs for 9 months a year.

We've had a little predation. Two lost to hawks, a couple to owls, 24 to our neighbor's dog, a few to our dog (Luna aka MurderDog). I've shot three coyotes during our first year but they stay clear since.

I really appreciate your guidance and advice!
We left TX almost two years ago, sounds like you have an awesome set up and are well prepared to continue the journey. Had you been near Bastrop, we'd have been neighbors!

I'm going to suggest overseeding your pasture with feed crops to increase the biodiversity. TX heat and droughts, you don't have the options I do here (part of why we moved), but look into "panic grass", its good forage and comes from the great plains, so it can tolerate local conditions. Orchard grass won't take your heat - you will also have trouble with alfalfa and timothy. Deer corn may sprout - ours did - but didn't polinate well. Winter peas and other cover crops tend to do poorly as well, but you will really need some nitrogen fixing legumes - check with your local extension office for what's being raised in your region. Mustards, rape, and chard should do well in central TX and are also good for increasing variety - particularly over winter.

With a flock size of 40, assuming you follow a process like mine, you could do well either selectively culling a true breed, like the leghorn, or with a mutt such as the ranger. Trying to create your own landrace, while you have the facilities, would require expanding the flock to at least 60 occasionally, maybe more.

Look for birds with prominent (preferably single) combs, clean legs, light feathering, and an upright stance. Avoid Brahma, Australorps, Buff Orps, Cochins and other cold hardy heavily feathered breeds - it doesn't matter that they might eventually make a 6.5# hen, if it takes a year+ to get there, and they spend all summer dug into the clays and sands, panting.

Looks towards Delawares, Leghorns (if you want eggs more than meat), Minorcas (if you can find them), New Hampshires, RI Reds, Rocks, and Welsummer if you are looking for breeds - a good Ranger line if not. All of the above (except the rangers) are classic DP birds, with good (if highly variable) rates of lay of large eggs, excellent (eventual) hen size, and at least moderately early maturity. A number of those breeds are crossed to mkae the highly productive commercial hybrids I mentioned previosly - they've got good genes. If you want to "create your own", I'd still look to be blending at least some of the above into the mix - for the same reason the commercial hybrids are crafted from them - then cull with an eye towards selecting for greatest size to be the parents for the next generation.
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
4,659
13,584
536
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
I processed a Minorca at about 16-20 weeks. Small, we had him and a Batman Cochin male for the same dinner, but [email protected], he was good.

I wish I knew what my Big Boy was, because I would 100% recommend his breed for eating, he got huge, fast.
Honestly, I'd consider bringing some Minorca genetics in for my project birds - they were basically custom built for Spain, I share a similar climate in many ways. Sad to hear their size has decreased over the years, that used to be one of their defining characteristics - they were the largest of the (loosely) Mediterannean breeds.

Care to guess at processed weight and sex, if you recall?
 

JacinLarkwell

Crossing the Road
Mar 19, 2020
16,113
33,401
861
South-Eastern Montana
Honestly, I'd consider bringing some Minorca genetics in for my project birds - they were basically custom built for Spain, I share a similar climate in many ways. Sad to hear their size has decreased over the years, that used to be one of their defining characteristics - they were the largest of the (loosely) Mediterannean breeds.

Care to guess at processed weight and sex, if you recall?
He was a cockerel, maybe 4 pounds live weight and 3ish when we processed? He was definitely scrawny feeling, but bigger than a bantam Cochin that had a better feel to him.

Naked Necks are also usually pretty safe for meat and eggs
 

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