Rhode Island Red
My mother's chicken of choice for her farmyard. Rhode Island Reds are a foundation breed for many of America's breeds, as well as a bird that has survived for its usefulness both on small farms, and in production, where it is often used to create sex-linked crosses.
Hens are generally good layers (numbers vary by age and bloodlines), and the excess roosters can be slaughtered for meat and produce a good roaster or fryer.
Hens will occasionally go broody - they tend to be broodier in later years, and they are good mamas when they do. Older ones will go broody often enough to keep your flocks going.
Rhodies are good foragers, and fairly active birds, which can thrive on marginal pasture and with less than ideal feeding conditions. The roosters can be pretty aggressive at times - I have vivid memories of a rooster flying at me when I was a child, though I never sustained any injuries. He was more bluster than bite, but not all are.
- Type - dual purpose with emphasis on eggs
- Size - medium large standard
- Production Capacity - reasonable roaster carcass, and 200-300 eggs per year
- Special Features - State bird of Rhode Island
- Best for Farms - classic dual purpose breed for homesteads and small farms
- Eggs, Milk, Meat Features - large brown eggs
- Other Products - not applicable
- Historic or Contemporary Significance - barnyard classic in the US
- Housing and Space Requirement - typical
- Regional Adaptations - adaptable to a range of conditions
- Feed Requirement - can thrive on marginal range, though higher feed needs if producing both meat and eggs
- Other Considerations - This breed has been "improved" for production purposes, losing some meat production capacity and broodiness in those lines that have been bred in this manner. If you can find the older bloodlines, they are superior homestead or small farm chickens, with better balance between meat and eggs, and better self-sufficiency.
A NOTE ABOUT CHICKENS:
Many breeds are not included here due to poor availability, or due to genetic or health issues which make them impractical for small farm or homestead use.
All chicken breeds can be used for dual purpose, but there is a trade-off between meat production and egg laying - a bird cannot be very high in both. There is also a trade-off between egg laying and broodiness - simply because broodiness interferes with high volume egg laying to a certain extent.
So... egg layers that produce a lot of eggs will generally be smaller in size than meat producers. Meat producers will lay fewer eggs than lightweight layers - generally the heavier the bird, the fewer the eggs. Highest egg production seems to be in birds weighing 4-5 lbs. Higher weights slow egg production, and very small breeds also lay less.
Solid dual purpose breeds will meet somewhere in the middle, with a moderately large carcass, and good egg production through most of the year, about 150 to 200 eggs per year on the high end. Weights for dual purpose birds tend to range around 6-9 lb.
Sizes listed will have Standard after the size if they refer only to the Standard size breed.
Most Chickens also have a Standard size bird, and a Bantam size that goes by the same name, BUT, they are NOT necessarily the same breed! The APA gets a little confused where Bantams are concerned, because as long as the general appearance is the same, they don't care how they got that way, and whether any other traits match or not, and often the appearance diverges as well. So Breed descriptions generally ONLY apply to Standard size birds, unless the breed described here is specified as a Bantam Breed.
Bantams may come about in one of four ways:
1. Some breeds are naturally small, and they are Bantam only. This includes Sebrights, d'Uccles, d'Anvers, and many others. These breeds have the most easily digestible eggs in the chicken world, and they are NOT available in Standard sizes.
2. Some breeds are bred down, selecting for smaller and smaller size to achieve a Bantam breed. This is the most time consuming way to get a Bantam chicken. Characteristics other than size may change in the selection process if the breeder is careless - you generally lose something in egg laying capacity, and health or hardiness simply because of the genetic restriction involved. This is the ONLY case in which the Bantam is actually truly the "same breed" as the full sized variety.
3. Some breeds are created with a combination of breeding down for size, and careful cross breeding with existing Bantam birds, to create a cross breed that is smaller but retains more of the characteristics of the goal breed. Done well, this can produce a Bantam with a fairly close match to the original, though egg laying capacity will still generally be compromised. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
4. Often, existing Bantam breeds are simply crossed to come up with a bird that has the appearance of the goal breed. In doing this, breeders tend to concentrate on appearance, and forget entirely about other traits. Utility traits are the most commonly ignored. Frequently, behavior, production traits, even some physical traits, are broadly divergent from the original full sized bird. This results in a separate breed, NOT a "variety", though the APA lists them erroneously as two varieties of the same breed.
Bantam breeds generally lay less than full sized breeds of the same name - typically about half the laying capacity, sometimes less, rarely more. Bantams are, in general, more broody than full sized hens, in part because they have not been bred for high production, and this trait makes them fairly prolific when allowed to brood eggs. It also makes them very useful in brooding standard size hen eggs, or eggs from quail, partridge, or other small birds. In spite of their small size, they can successfully hatch full sized chicken eggs, though they do not cover a large number of them.
Bantams can be used for meat, though they produce a carcass more like a dove than a chicken.
They WILL fly, whereas only lighter weight standard breeds will fly much. A Bantam can take flight and travel by air over buildings, around trees, and out of sight within a few seconds.
Many breeds of chicken which were originally good utility birds are not listed here simply because they have been bred for show for so long that utility traits are now gone.