I was wondering if it would ever be worth it for a small operation to raise a meat breed and an egg breed as opposed to a single dual-purpose breed of chicken.
By small operation I mean producing meat and eggs for the family or as a side business, but not as the primary source of income.
In the past I was thinking of getting two different breeds of chicken, but lately I've been thinking that might mean twice as much work and a single dual-purpose breed of chicken might be best.
If a person were doing coop and run or paddock shift, it seems like it would be twice as much work.
For free range, after a few generations a person might end up with a single breed anyway.
If a person were doing Salatin-style pens or chicken tractors then it might be about the same amount of work.
Part of what made me think of doing two breeds was that our current hens lay a lot of eggs and are good foragers, but they never get broody. I thought that maybe if we get some meat birds that were decent foragers and are inclined to set then I could possibly take some of the laying breed's eggs and get the meat breed to raise them up.
On the other hand, for family use we don't need that much meat or eggs so it doesn't seem worth the trouble. I figure it would be best to go with a dual-purpose breed for now and only bother with two different breeds if I was going to make raising chickens for both meat and eggs my livelihood.
If you really want to keep two varieties going you need to keep them separate so that entails additional costs in housing, feeders etc. My experience of traditional meat varieties (in the UK) such as Indian Game birds is that they lay very few eggs and don't go broody. It's easy enough to get a Silkie or Pekin to do the brooding but you still have the problem of a small number of eggs. We have ended up with a good dual purpose breed by accident. They are a cross between Scots Grey and Silver Grey Dorking. They are excellent foragers and a decent size for meat, though not huge. We keep our other pure breeds separate to keep their bloodlines pure but it does entail much more work and they can't range over as wide an area.
Do you mean the cornish cross that people usually raise for meat? Because most people say they don't forage, they lay by the food dishes and eat more whenever there's a little more space in them. If you try to put them outside they die in droves.
Some of the other dual-purpose birds will eventually get big, but it takes a lot longer than the 8-12 weeks the cornish crosses or Freedom Rangers take. With the prices of store chicken being pushed down so much in the US, if you can't finish them in under 3 months you start to lose money on feed.
If your pens can support most of their food needs then it's different. My chickens run loose (we have a dog that protects them) and when there was snow on the ground they ate 12 cups a day of food. When the snow melted, they lost interest and went down to just about 4 cups a day, and some of that was eaten by wild birds. I think my flock is around 50. Most sources say on range chickens find 30% of their own food. I think it depends on the breed, but the bigger breeds are more dependent on being fed, IMHO, because they're far larger than the natural state they evolved to sustain themselves in, so they have higher food needs. Something like a game fowl could possibly live on free range after a couple generations but I'm not sure people would be happy with that if they expect one that looks like a store chicken.
Our second generation, what we're eating, are from "Easter Eggers" that were bred by a game cock. I got them from someone whose hen hatched a clutch in their garage, and they've turned out to have excellent brooding and parenting instincts. One even hatched 19 eggs just before the cold weather came in. We took some to raise indoors until they feathered out because with so many she would have lost some. Those are the ones we've been butchering lately. The offspring didn't look like much but when we butchered them they were surprisingly meaty, the bones are tiny so the looks are deceptive.
But free range chickens have a difference in flavor and texture that most people would notice. They're easier to make tough and the flavor is strong, and occasionally gamey (but I don't think unpleasant). People from foreign countries that are used to "real" chicken would probably buy them up, but Americans used to that pasty mush we call chicken breast might not know how to cook with it. I'd say they have twice the flavor of a similar amount of store chicken.
I'd say try a few of the breeds you're looking at from chick to dinner-plate and see what you think. Have friends over to eat them with you and see what they think.
I highly recommend having different breeds for different purposes.
We got four breeds of chicks for in our initial flock of 30 birds. 12 Brahmas, (Dual purpose birds) 6 Red Star pullets, 6 easter-eggers, and 6 Cornish X, and I would call our first year a success!
The Cornish X birds grew fast and tasted GREAT! We plan to get 18 more chicks later this month to do it again.
The Brahmas are slow-developing, but are very good layers, and the roo's are big and meaty, although a little tough. Best in the crock-pot with some wine to make tender.
The Easter Eggers and Reds are reliable layers. The whites tend to wander far during the day, while the reds are like pets, following us around all day when not foraging.
We are currently down to 20 birds, but still have 4 roosters. Two need to go soon. We have a Brahma sitting on a clutch of eggs right now. Very curious of how many of them are going to hatch out!
And for what it's worth, the Brahmas are sort of "wild", not needing much attention. Our birds are free-range, and I think if we vanished, these would be the ones to take over the property.
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