Utility breeds were developed to avoid the need for keeping one flock for eggs and another for the table. In the second part of his mini-series, Andy Cawthray looks at how these versatile chickens can prove the perfect compromise for the smallholder
Composites attract, by Andy Cawthray
DUAL-PURPOSE chicken breeds hark back to the time before industrial agriculture and large-scale poultry farming. They were developed during the early part of the last century as a composite of the two main breed types — layers and meat birds — with the intention being to create an accessible form of livestock for the small-scale farmer. It would be one capable of providing both eggs and meat without being heavily biased towards either function. This functionality also made them ideal for the purposes of breeding replacement stock and avoided the need to run different pens of birds for eggs and for meat. The hens would be used primarily for egg production, whereas the inevitable surplus of males could be fattened to provide a cheap source of meat protein for the table. This created an economically viable option for the smallholder and the breeds remain an appealing option for the farmyard or selfsufficiency lifestyle today.
As an all-rounder, breeds from this group can fulfil the needs of most households. Many of the breeds tend to be less flighty than the layer breeds and they have the capacity to put on a reasonable amount of weight to provide meat for the table.
While they won’t reach the capability of the single-purpose meat bird, they do provide a good balance between the two.
They are a durable group and can be quick to trust the keeper, becoming very tame over time.
Another appeal is the diversity of colours and feather types across the breeds within the group, such as the stripes of the Amrock or the many varieties of Sussex ( pictured).
They are tolerant towards each other and other breeds, with a generally placid nature, so mixing breeds together can create a very colourful flock if there is no intention of breeding.
If the plan is to breed then it is important to ensure that some within the group are non-sitters. However, those breeds that do go broody make excellent mothers who will rear almost any type of poultry as if they were their own.
Caring for them
Dual-purpose breeds tread the line between the laying breeds and the heavier meat breeds and, as such, their care and management takes elements from both of those types.
The key to caring for this breed group is dependent upon two things: the precise breed being selected and the purpose of keeping them. For example, some breeds in this group are light enough to take to the wing and will therefore need a roofed run, whereas others are more along the lines of the meat breeds, being heavy and easily contained behind a low fence. If your intention is to use the birds as a true dualpurpose breed then space for growing stock needs to be taken into consideration.
Birds intended for the table should be managed in a similar manner to the meat breeds as too much space to range will result in them not putting on sufficient weight, whereas those that are to be used for the laying flock should be given the chance to range and forage for food. This is not only so that they can supplement their diet with natural food stuffs, but also because it reduces the possibility of them running to fat and reducing their laying capacity.
NEXT MONTH: The background, characteristics and general husbandry needed for those breeds classified as table breeds.