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Why Families Keep Chickens: Species Overview

By Lisa Steele, Blue Seal Brand Ambassador

Backyard chickens are kept for eggs, meat or sometimes both. They are also kept for entertainment, stress relief, to help in the garden and for tick and mosquito control. But let’s focus on the main reasons why most families decide to keep a flock of chickens.

Egg Layers

While no chicken will lay an egg every day, hens at the peak of their production — 1 to 2 years old generally — should lay 5-7 eggs a week during the spring, summer and fall. Egg production naturally falls off as the days get shorter, with some chickens not laying at all through the winter and others laying sporadically. Adding artificial light to your coop will extend egg laying into the winter, but it’s nice to give your chickens a much-needed break so they can rest up after the molting season and concentrate on staying warm.

Some of the best layers are specifically bred for high production, such as Red and Black Stars, Golden Comets, Cinnamon Queens, and Red and Black Sex Links, but they don’t tend to be quite as hardy as some of the older, heritage breeds. Australorps (an Australorp holds the world record for laying 364 eggs in 365 days!), Leghorns (which are fairly flighty birds but have one of the best feed/egg conversion ratio of any breed), Rhode Island Reds or Plymouth Rocks are all good choices for keeping your family in plenty of eggs.

Meat Birds

Those interested in raising meat birds would do well to look at the Cornish Cross. Fast-growing birds, they are ready to process at just eight weeks old. This breed grows abnormally fast — to the point that they have to be eaten, or they get too heavy for their legs to support their weight. So, if you raise Cornish Cross, be sure that you’ll be ready to eat them when the time comes!

Dual-Purpose Chickens

The best of both worlds is the dual-purpose chicken. These are breeds that are used for both meat and eggs. They are fairly large breeds that are known to be good layers. It’s likely that your grandparents raised dual-purpose birds on their farms, keeping the females out of each batch of chicks in the spring as layers, and putting the males (and some of the older hens that were no longer laying) into the freezer each fall.

These breeds are heavy enough that they have some meat on them, but still are wonderful layers. Some examples of dual-purpose breeds include the Sussex, Barred Plymouth and Partridge Rock, Buff Orpington, Brahma and Wyandotte.

Ornamental Breeds

At the other end of the spectrum are the “ornamental” chicken breeds. These chickens make up for falling short as layers by adding some colorful eye candy and entertainment to the back yard. Silkies, Polish, Frizzles and Cochins all fall under the purely decorative breed category, as do some of the bantam breeds, such as Mille Fleur Bearded d’Uccle and Porcelain Belgian Bearded d’Uccle.

No matter why you choose to raise chickens, there’s a breed (or breeds) that will be perfect for you!

Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at  

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