Choosing the Right Chicken and Duck Breeds

From laying birds to meat birds to dual-purpose breeds, there’s many options for a small flock.

| December 2012

Many breed options are available for those wanting to start a new backyard or garden poultry flock. Learn about different breeds and their contribution to resilience and laying in this excerpt from “The Laying Flock,” a chapter of The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing 2012) by Carol Deppe. 

Buy this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.

Poultry for Various Purposes: Choosing a Type and Breed

Both ducks and chickens have types and breeds that represent different virtues and purposes. There are extreme egg-laying types, dual-purpose egg-meat types, and heavy meat types. The extreme-egg types, chickens or ducks, are small, scrawny, nervous birds that give us the most eggs when fed optimally and perfectly on commercial chow, and have the best efficiency at converting feed to eggs. The eggs are not particularly large. Extreme-egg types of ducks or chickens have little inclination to go broody. If they do go broody, they are unlikely to stay with the job long enough to hatch a clutch.

The classic extreme-egg type of chicken is the White Leghorn. The best chicken-egg production these days, however, is by hybrids of various extreme-egg kinds, who can give you about 200–280 eggs per bird in their first year. The best extreme-egg type of duck is the Holderread strain of Khaki Campbell. Even though this is a pure breed, these ducks average 320–340 eggs in their first year of laying (in small flocks under good conditions).

Extreme-egg-type birds (chickens or ducks) have so little meat on them that most people do not butcher them; the meat of the excess young males or spent layers is wasted.

At the other extreme are big, heavy types of poultry bred primarily to produce a meaty carcass. Most don’t lay enough eggs to be kept as layers. In addition, the eggs they do lay are more costly to produce because the feed-to-egg conversion rate isn’t as good as for smaller, skinnier birds. Some meat breeds have been bred to grow as fast as possible. These can produce a fryer or broiler carcass in seven or eight weeks (in a full confinement situation with commercial feeds). These types have fatty meat. Even if allowed free range, these birds aren’t very active and don’t go far enough from their feeders to make much use of the range. The Cornish Cross chicken and the Pekin and Aylesbury ducks represent this class.

Anette Engelbert
12/28/2012 3:34:38 PM

You are very right about the leghorn chickens for feed to egg ratio but they lay large to very large eggs. I have never gotten a small egg from them. Now the campine lays a small to medium egg a little bigger then my bantams.

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