You’ve closed on your new homestead and are itching to get your first set of livestock. Or, you have made the determination that you need chickens on the homestead to help close some holes in food security. What are the best chickens for a homestead? The short answer is: that depends. The real question you should be asking yourself is, why do you want chickens on the homestead?
What Do You Want Out of Your Chickens
If you simply want chickens to have chickens then really any breed will do. It doesn’t matter how many eggs they lay, or if they are good for meat. You could get any breed and be happy with that choice. However, if you are looking for a high producing egg layer that is going to give you a ton of different colored eggs to sell at the farmers market, a Cornish Cross is not your answer. So here are our top favorites for bringing chickens to the homestead.
Best Egg Laying Birds
- Australorps- Lay large brown eggs and a heritage breed. They will lay about 250-365 eggs a year. They are also considered meat birds which is why our rooster may end up in the stock pot if he doesn’t start being nicer.
- Black Star- This is not a heritage breed and can’t beat the Australorps with egg production, but they can usually lay about 200 large brown eggs a year. They will hit maturity about 2 weeks faster. They are also a good meat bird.
- Red Star- The red start is up there with the Australorp when it comes to egg production with the same 250-365 eggs per year. Plus they reach maturity faster which means faster eggs. Plus they are a decent meat bird.
- Rhode Island Red- The RI Red also lays large brown eggs and will lay 250-365 eggs a year. They are also good meat birds.
All of these birds are good to free range which means that you can let them run your property and they will probably not run away. That being said, we ordered 15 birds for our first batch, and we only have 9 left.
Best Meat Birds
Before we delve too deep into the world of meat birds there are some things to consider. First, are you ONLY raising these birds for meat? If so, the Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger are the birds you are looking for. If you are looking for something that will grow slower and you can maybe get some eggs out of? Then a Delaware or Rock may be a better option.
- Cornish Cross- These are the big white birds that the chicken industry is known for. They mature quickly and hit butcher weight at around 8 weeks old.
- Freedom Ranger- These are a big red bird that are slower to mature but are said to be more tender. They usually reach butcher weight around 12-15 weeks.
- Delaware Broiler- This is one of the better tasting meat birds but tend to be about 3# female and 4# male at 12 weeks old.
- The Giants- I have to put these guys in here, but I’m not a fan. The meat to feed ratio and meat to bone ratio is WAY off for me. They should reach butcher weight around 20 weeks but because they get so big, their feed bill is as impressive as they are. They lay a decent amount of eggs,150 or so a year, that are large and brown.
Best Brooding Birds
Brooding hens are chickens that are most likely to sit on eggs. That doesn’t meant that they WILL but they are more likely. I added them to this list because we are moving towards hatching our own chicks and would like to have the birds do the work for us. Especially since our incubator isn’t the best.
- Dark Brahma- These are impressive birds that will fit pretty much any need you have. Unfortunately they are poor free rangers but they are excellent mothers and lay about 150-200 eggs a year.
- The Cochins- These chickens come in many different colors and sizes but we have the standard black and they are more likely to sit on eggs for us, as well as give us a good amount of them. They are also good for meat with a solid meat to bone ratio.
Best All Around Birds
- Australorps- Solid egg production, good meat weights, and foragers. This is a homestead favorite. George is an Australorp and while most of these guys have a great disposition, he does not.
- Plymouth Rocks- These guys come in several different colors and are great birds. They can usually be butchered around 18-20 weeks. They lay large brown eggs and should lay about 200 or so a year.
- Sussex- The other two birds on this list are not likely to sit, the Sussex is the most likely to sit and in my opinion is the best chicken for our homestead. They are excellent meat birds, egg layers AND mothers.
Things That Most Chickens Are Going To Do
Before you end up thinking “This breed is good for this, and that for that”, here is a list of traits that 99% of chickens have. We call it chickens doing chicken
- Scratch and peck- All chickens will forage for bugs, grubs, and greens. They will decrease your bug population by half if you let them. They will also forage on all the goodness around your property and that helps reduce your feed bill.
- Free range- Yes, technically speaking all chickens will free range. If you have a good rooster, even the worst free ranger will come back home. For all George’s faults, he takes excellent care of his girls. When that changes, he’s going in the stock pot.
- Make a mess- All chickens are going to wreck havoc on your homestead. They are going to get into to your garage and break a $100 bottle of goat antibiotics. They are going to poop EVERYWHERE. That is the trade off for “free” eggs.
On our homestead we absolutely love our chickens. Not to the point that they are pets, but we love that they don’t require a ton of feed because they free range. We love that they are a meat source if necessary. And to be fair, they are pretty cool critters that allow you to hang out with them, if you’ve socialized them.