As chicken raising grows in popularity from backyards to small farms, many homesteaders want to raise heritage chickens that will provide both eggs and meat. Raising heritage chickens helps to conserve and preserve chicken breeds that are becoming rare and endangered from modern breeding practices.
For others, modern breeds have ethical issues attached to them because of the unhealthy growth of the chickens and the shorter lifespans.
This article will cover seven forgotten heritage chicken breeds that have been used for meat and eggs traditionally. Some of these breeds are rarer and may have to be special ordered, while others can often be found locally.
If you’ve been following our Best Chicken Breeds Series, then you already know the best chicken breeds for eggs, meat, and the most popular dual-purpose breeds. You also know which breeds are popular for looks and which ones lay brown or blue, or multi-colored eggs.
What Heritage Breeds Are Ideal For Both Meat And Eggs? 17 heritage chicken breeds have traditionally been used for eggs and meat production. Several of these breeds are super egg layers, while other breeds are larger breeds that produce more meat in the roosters.
The best heritage dual-purpose chicken breeds are:
- Buckeye: 9 lbs, 180 eggs
- Hamburg: 5 lbs, 220 eggs
- Sussex: 9 lbs, 180 eggs
- Houdan: 8 lbs, 180 eggs
- Andalusian: 7 lbs, 165 eggs
- Turken: 7 lbs, 120 eggs
- Sultan: 6 lbs, 50 eggs
- Australorp: 8.5 lbs, 250 eggs
- Chantecler: 8.5 lbs, 150 eggs
- Brahma: 12 lbs, 120 eggs
- Dominique: 7 lbs, 260 eggs
- Langshan: 95. lbs, 200 eggs
- New Hampshire Red: 8 lbs, 200 eggs
- Orpington: 10 lbs, 200 eggs
- Plymouth Rock: 9.5 lbs, 220 eggs
- Rhode Island Red: 8.5 lbs, 200 eggs
- Wyandotte: 9 lbs, 260 eggs
To find out about other heritage breeds, check out this page for a full list of heritage chicken breeds and their primary purposes.
You can also click on any of the heritage links and go directly to the breed specifics. First, let’s cover what makes a heritage chicken different from a modern chicken and why many people choose to raise them.
What’s A Heritage Chicken Breed?
Heritage chicken breeds are authentic chicken breeds that your grandparents would have raised. They don’t include modern breeds that are produced for higher profits. Heritage chickens live longer, healthier life spans and have slower growth rates. In the United States, heritage breeds must have been recognized as a breed by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to 1950. Their genetic lines must be able to be traced back for generations. The individual chicken’s physical traits must conform to the breed standard of the APA.
Heritage chickens must be able to breed and reproduce naturally. Many modern breeds can only be reproduced vía hatcheries or incubators and the chicks mating together produces an off-breed. Heritage chickens breed naturally, roost, and hens care for and hatch the chick eggs.
Heritage chickens also live longer than modern breeds. Hens usually lay eggs for at least 5-7 years, while roosters are virile for 3-5 years. Heritage chickens usually live 10+ years.
Heritage chickens are slower growing chickens. They usually take at least 16 weeks to grow to full maturity. This gives them time to grow strong bones and a healthy skeletal structure.
Traditionally, heritage chickens were used for both meat and eggs. The hens were used for eggs, while extra roosters and pullets were raised for meat.
- Recognized Breed Prior to 1950
- Individual chickens must conform to APA guidelines for the breed standard
- Genetic lines are traceable for generations
- Healthier, longer living chickens
- Live 10+ years
- Fewer health problems
- Slower growth and more disease resistant
- Reproduces naturally
- Traditionally used for meat & eggs.
Heritage chickens are often considered more authentic chicken breeds. Many of these breeds are becoming rare or endangered because they don’t lay eggs as often as modern layer breeds or they don’t grow as fast as the super-growth chicken breeds of today.
As a result, commercial growers, as well as small farms often opt for modern breeds due to the economics of raising faster-producing chickens. This means that heritage breeds are becoming rarer.
But, many preppers and homesteaders are opting for the healthier and longer-living heritage breeds both for conservation purposes and also because of the growing belief that healthier chickens mean healthier food.
Let’s dive into the first of seven forgotten heritage chicken breeds that will provide both great tasting meat and a decent number of eggs for your table.
1. Buckeye Chicken: The Original Red Chicken
Buckeye chickens are a unique breed as they are the only chicken breed that was created exclusively by a woman. Mrs. Nettie Metcalf, of Warren, Ohio was laughed at by neighbors as the first few generations were funny looking chickens with “green legs.”
But her persistence paid off! She was able to obtain a red chicken. Buckeyes came about before Rhode Island Reds.
A few years after her breed, she learned that the Rhode Island Reds were also bred and she traded stock with some of the breeders. Buckeyes may have contributed to the Rhode Island Reds genetically. Buckeyes were bred before the Rhode Island Reds.
Buckeye chickens weren’t originally called buckeye. Mrs. Metcalf named her new breed Pea Combed Rhode Island Reds but found that the name limited their popularity. Instead, she changed the name and named it after the “Buckeye State”.
Primary Uses For Buckeye Chicken
They are often used as a dual-purpose bird. They are a moderate egg layer of about 150-200 medium, brown eggs a year. That’s 3-4 medium eggs a week.
Hens take about 6 months to lay. They can become broody and are very motherly.
When raised for meat, roosters grow to 9 lbs (4 kgs) and the hens will reach 5-6 lbs (3 kgs). They are fast growers and can be raised on a 30% protein mix for the first 16 weeks.
Identifying A Buckeye Chicken
Buckeyes are more slanted than RI reds in their back and they have short, broad backs. They have meaty thighs. They resemble more of a Cornish chicken structurally.
Their feathers are rich mahogany. They have a slate-colored down. Chicks range in color from a yellow to the mahogany and usually have a dark-colored stripe down their backs. They have tight feathering.
They are the only American chicken with a Pea Comb. They have red plumage, yellow legs, and a red pea comb.
Buckeyes were admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1905. They typically live for 8-10 years. They are considered an American heritage chicken breed.
Caring For Your Buckeye Chicken
Buckeyes are extremely cold hardy. They have meaty thighs and tight feathering.
They are super active and are vigilant in their pursuit of mice. They have been compared to cats in this regard.
Buckeyes have no fear of humans and are very friendly. The males can become aggressive.
They are very active and don’t do well in small spaces. They do very well free-ranging. They are excellent foragers.
If cooped, they need a larger coop and run to be happy.
Because they are larger, less predator prone, and friendly, they are a great chicken for first-timers. Hens make great pets because they are generally content and very friendly.
Buckeyes are very cold hardy and do very well in cold climates. They aren’t susceptible to frostbite. Plus, they are very tolerant of hot climates also.
They have a wide variety of calls they make. They can even sound like a dinosaur.
They have come back from a critical status to threatened status.
|Cold & Hot||Friendly||Meat & Eggs||M: 9 lbs
F: 6 lbs
- Cold and Hot Climate Tolerant
- Great for First Timers because of Friendliness
- Predator Resistant
2. Hamburg Chickens: Dutch Everyday Layers
Hamburgs are a startling lovely bird. Their black and white plumage is beautiful to look at. In fact, Hamburg chickens were reportedly the first birds in a poultry contest in the early 1800s.
The judge was a bartender and the prize, a copper kettle.
They were originally called Peasant Fowl and Yorkshire Fowl. They originated in Holland. In Europe, they are often called Hamburgh.
Hamburg Chicken Features
They are ideal for display. Their stunning plumage makes then the talk of neighbors.
They come in several color combinations including golden penciled, silver penciled, golden spangled, silver spangled, black, white, and blue Hamburg. They have red wattles and a rose comb. Their earlobes are white. They also have long, slender bodies.
The most common color combination is white and black, which makes a stunning display.
They were admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1874. They are a long-living chicken and can live as long as 20 years, although that isn’t very common. They usually live between 10-15 years.
Reasons To Raise Hamburg Chickens
Hamburgs are perfect for show birds and are used for eggs.
Hamburgs are called the “Dutch Everyday Layers” but their value isn’t in laying daily. They usually lay about 4 times a week, or 220-225 small, white eggs a year.
Instead, their value comes with the longer number of years they will lay and the fact that they lay year-round. Hamburgs start laying about 4-5 months old. They are still often laying, though less frequently at 8 and 9 years old.
The roosters get to 5 lbs (2.25 kgs) and the hens to 4 lbs (1.81 kgs).
Caring For Your Hamburg Chickens
Hamburgs are usually shy with people, but friendly to other chickens as long as they have enough space.
They are also very good at avoiding predators.
Hamburg chickens don’t do well in confinement. They are very active birds and will free-range well. If cooped, they need enough space to not cause stress.
They tolerate cold and heat well. They are very active. They love to fly and roost in tall trees. They are not ideal for backyards nor for first-time chicken raisers because they will be more difficult to coop at night. They love to roost in trees.
Hamburg chickens are listed in a watch status by the Livestock Conservancy.
|Variety||Active||Eggs||M: 5 lbs
F: 4 lbs
- Egg layers who lay for many years
- Great for free-ranging and avoiding predators
- Not great in small spaces
3. Sussex Chickens: Roman Chickens- A Staple To The British
The Sussex chicken has been around for a couple of hundred years but was almost lost in the early 1900s. It is named for the county in England that it hails from.
Sussex chickens originated in England around the time of the Roman invasion, in about 43 AD. The original Sussex chickens didn’t look like today’s chickens and are believed to be mostly brown and speckled. They were bred with Roman fowl. Romans introduced the English to poultry as a main table dish.
They were a main staple and one of the popular chicken meats. They were featured in the first poultry show in 1845. However, in the late 1800s, they were popularly bred with other crossbreeds and the meat became tougher and less tasty. By 1903, the original breed was nearly extinct. Most of the breed was contaminated with cross-breeding.
Edward Brown, a noted writer, gave a speech in 1903 that berated Sussex farmers for letting the breed nearly die out. As a result, the breed was revived and brought back from extinction.
It was one of the principle chicken breeds that supplied British troops with chicken during World War II.
Sussex Chicken Physical Features
During the Victorian age, the color was bred into the breed. Now there are light, red, and Speckled Sussex. Unofficial (not recognized by the APA) colors include brown, buff, white, silver, and coronation. Coronation was recreated in 1980 after becoming extinct.
Sussex chickens have a red single comb. They have red wattles and earlobes and white legs. They have 5 toes. The tail is held at a 45-degree angle, which gives them perky look.
Their plumage gets more colorful and lovely with each successive molt. This makes them a fun chicken to watch over the years.
Sussex chickens were accepted into the American Poultry Association in 1914 in the speckled and red varieties. The light-colored variety was recognized in 1929. England also recognizes brown. Other colors exist such as buff, white, silver, and coronation.
Reasons To Raise Sussex Chickens
Sussex chickens are traditionally raised for both eggs and meat.
They can be fattened to a rooster weight of 10 lbs (4.5 kgs) and a hen weight of 8 lbs (3.6 kgs). But, hens should be kept to about 7 lbs for better egg-laying abilities. Hens lay about 4-5 large brown eggs a week. That equates to 180-200 eggs a year.
Hens start laying at about 20 weeks.
The hens can go broody, but they continue to lay through the cold winter days. The hens are good mothers.
Sussex chickens get more colorful with each molt.
Raising Your Sussex Chicken
Sussex chickens are like their Roman ancestors. They are good foragers but also do well in smaller spaces, such as the crowded Roman streets.
They do well in the cold and are somewhat heat tolerant. They are adaptable.
They are not aggressive. Even the roosters have a cheerful disposition. They are friendly, curious and great for beginners because they take little extra care.
Sussex don’t mind being held and do well with children. They are gentle and curious.
Sussex chickens are listed in a recovering status by the American Conservancy.
|Hot & Cold||Gentle, Calm||Meat & Eggs||M: 9 lbs
F: 7 lbs
- Perfect All-around chicken
- Happy in all climates
- Dual purpose chicken
4. Houdan Chicken; Excellent Heat Tolerant Layer
About 60 miles west of France is the town of Houdan, which Houdan chickens were named for. Houdans are believed to have originated from the Roman’s 5 toed chicken breeds and developed in France and Belgium.
They came from the old fowl found in the area that were bred with the old crested race from Normandy.
They have been called “Normandy Fowl” and “French Chicken.”
Houdans are beloved for their tasty meat. They have earned the coveted “Label Rouge” certification for excellent meat and taste in France.
In the 1700s Houdans were the chicken of aristocrats and were served in the French courts.
They were Imported to England in 1865 but failed to become widely popular.
Identifying Houdan Chickens
Houdans are larger than Polish chickens and are related to Crevecoeur. They have both beards and crests. They have a V-shaped, red comb. Wattles and ear lobes are white.
They have a bony protrusion on their heads. The bony protrusion is only found in Polish, Crevecoeur and Houdan chickens.
Houdans are typically white, or mottled. There is a rare lavender variation. They have V-shaped combs and short legs.
They are medium-sized birds with a long compact body. They have a 5th toe.
Primary Uses Of Houdan Chickens
Houdans are used for both meat and egg laying abilities. In the summer, Houdans can lay as many eggs as a Leghorn.
They lay about 150 white large eggs a year. They also have a good feed to egg ratio. Hens get broody, but don’t make good setters because they crack the eggs with their large weight.
The roosters grow to 8 or more pounds (3.62 kg) and hens grow to 6.5 kgs (2.94 kg). Roosters are very virile and need a very large flock of hens.
Houdans were admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1874 as a mottled color. White Houdans were recognized in 1914. They are a heritage chicken breed and will 7-8 years.
Caring For Your Houdan Chickens
Houdans love to free-range, but they are highly susceptible to predators because the crest blocks their vision.
They will live about 7-8 years and are very heat hardy, but not very cold hardy.
They are great with kids because of their gentle nature. They make excellent pets and are very docile.
They tolerate confinement well and make good backyard chickens.
They are rare and can be hard to find. They are listed in a threatened status by the Livestock Conservancy.
|Hot||Gentle||Meat & Eggs||M: 8 lbs
F: 6.5 lbs
- Dual Purpose Birds
- Great for backyards
- Heat tolerant
5. Andalusian Chickens, Spanish Dual Purpose Chickens
The Andalusian originates from Andalucia, Spain. The history of the bird isn’t known but it likely came from the Castille breed. It resembles a Spanish Chicken but is lighter in weight.
They are one of the oldest Mediterranean chicken breeds.
In 1846, Mr. Leonard Barber imported it to England. The birds were originally a dull grey color. They were then developed and bred in England to produce beautiful, consistent blue coloring.
Identifying Andalusian Chickens
Andalusians have white earlobes, a single comb, and tight feathering. The only official color is blue, but there are white, black, and speckled black-white birds as well.
When two blue Andalusian are bred, 25% of the offspring will be white and 25% will be black. When a blue and a black are mated, most of the offspring will be blue.
These birds were the bird that helped to develop genetic theory. Blue coloring gets lighter with each generation.
They also have a large single comb and large wattles. Their skin is white ad they have white earlobes. Their legs are slate blue and featherless. They have four toes.
The breed was first admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1874. Blue Andalusians are a heritage breed. Andalusian chickens can live for eight or more years.
Uses of Andalusians
In the past, Andalusian chickens have been used for meat and eggs. The bird bears a large breast of white meat, but the rest of the bird doesn’t have a lot of meat so they aren’t popular anymore as a meat bird.
Roosters get to about 7 lbs (3.1 kg) and hens grow to 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg).
At about 5-6 months hens will start laying eggs. The hens lay about 150-165 large, white eggs a year. That’s about 3 eggs a week, all year round. Most hens need artificial lighting to keep laying, but not Andalusians.
They produce eggs during the winter. Hens don’t get broody or set well.
Caring For Your Andalusians
Andalusians are active birds, but they can also be gentle. They love to forage and they will roost in high trees.
They fly well. Although they are curious, they don’t like getting picked up.
They are heat hardy, but susceptible to frostbite. Otherwise, they can be very cold hardy.
Andalusians don’t do well in confinement and are prone to eating each other’s feathers if confined. They prefer to forage for themselves. They can be noisy chickens.
They are currently listed as a threatened species on the Livestock Conservancy’s list but are starting to make a recovery.
|Eggs||F: 7 lbs
M: 5.5 lbs
- Strong Forager
- Beautiful Plumage
- Threatened Species
6. Turken Naked Neck Chickens: Not A Turkey
The Turken Naked Neck is also called “Naked Neck’ although there is another chicken breed with a naked neck, the French Naked Neck chicken.
You might also see it referred to as the Transylvanian Naked Neck because it originated in Transylvania, or Eastern Hungary and Romania.
The name Turken originally came because it was believed to be a cross between a turkey and a chicken. Although a crossbreed would produce sterile offspring. Instead, the naked neck comes from a DNA molecule called BMPas, which blocks feathers.
Turken Chicken Physical Looks
Turken Naked Neck chickens have about half the feathers of normal chickens. Their necks are naked, as their name implies. They also look a lot like a turkey or a wild chicken.
Their red-pink necks are longer and the lack of feathers shows the entire large wattle, making it look even more prominent. Their neck turns brighter red when exposed to sunlight, but the rest of their skin is yellow. Their back is broad.
Naked Necks have a single rose comb.
Turkens come in a variety of colors including black, white, buff, red, and silver.
The American Poultry Association has the breed name as Naked Neck chickens, although most people include Turken in the name because of the French Naked Neck chickens, which are a separate breed.
They were admitted into the APA in 1965. They are considered a heritage breed of chicken. They can live as long as 6 years.
Reasons To Raise Turken Naked Neck Chickens
They were bred for their heat tolerance and for easier picking.
They are fairly rare in North America, but very popular in Europe. The roosters usually grow to about 7 lbs (3 kgs) and the hens to about 6 lbs (2.7 kgs).
The hens will lay about 2 eggs a year. They max out at 120-140 light brown, medium eggs a year. They rarely go broody and would rather be up and about foraging.
Raising Your Turken Naked Neck Chicken
Turken Naked Necks are super easy to raise. That’s part of why they have been so popular in Europe.
Plus they handle almost any weather. Endowed with fewer feathers, they are extremely heat tolerant. Surprisingly, they are also very cold tolerant.
They do well in confinement but are also excellent foragers.
They don’t fly well so they make a good backyard pet. They are also friendly, calm and easily tamed.
Turkens also don’t stress easily. They are immune to most diseases, which make them great for beginners.
|Hot & Cold||Gentle, Calm||Meat||M: 7 lbs
F: 6 lbs
- Rare Turkey-looking chicken
- Disease resistant
- Perfect for backyards
7. Sultan Chicken: Royal Birds With An Elegant Flair
The Sultan came from Turkey and were originally used as ornamental birds in the Sultan’s Palace during the time of the Ottoman Empire.
They were favored because they didn’t’ scratch or peck at the royal gardens.
They are also known as Serai, Tuvok, or Serai Tarook in Turkey, which means Sultan Chickens.
In 1854, Ms Elizabeth Watts had them imported from Constanopal to England where they arrived very dirty and worn. After several months, she was able to confirm they birds were pure white.
Sultan Chicken Features
Sultans resemble the Polish and Crevecoeur breeds. They have the rare 5 toes. They are most commonly white, but after their import to England, they were bred with Polish Chickens. As a result, some Sultans are blue or black, which is very rare coloring.
Sultan chickens have vulture hawks, usually not linked with other breeds, but required in Sultans. They also have small heads, red earlobes and wattles. They have puffy crests and a V-shaped comb. Their shanks and toes are blue. They look very soft with fancy feat feathers that look like they are wearing fancy shoes.
Their royal air gives them elegance and grace that exceeds other breeds of chickens.
Sultan chickens were accepted to the American Poultry Association in 1874 in the white variety.
Sultans are considered a heritage breed. They usually live between 6-8 years. However, when they are held and special care is given to them, they can live up to 10 years due to fine living.
Reasons To Own Sultan Chickens
Sultans were once prized for their delicate and tender meat, but they have never been good egg layers.
Hens lay about 1-2 eggs a week from March to September. That equates to about 50 eggs a year. They don’t go broody and aren’t great mothers.
Roosters grow to 6 lbs (2.7 kg) and hens grow to 4 lbs (1.81 kg).
Caring For Your Sultan Chickens
Sultans are always happy. They love the indoors as well as the outdoors and are often raised inside.
Because they have a lot of feathers, they don’t do well in very wet or muddy conditions and need extra care. They love to fly and enjoy high perches.
They are usually more interested in grains and insects than vegetables and will keep their runs green.
They are heat hardy. They also make a great backyard pet because they don’t need a lot of space and they are very friendly.
Sultans are considered one of the lap chicken breeds because of how tame they are. They love to snuggle and chatter to their owners.
They are a rare breed. Sultans are listed as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy.
|Not Wet||Tame, Gentle||Ornamental & Meat||M: 6 lbs
F: 4 lbs
|50||No||Not a lot|
- Royal chickens with fancy attire
- Perfect for beautifying a flock
- Excellent foragers
Heritage chickens have a lot to offer. They are usually friendlier chickens that are great for families with children. Many of them forage well and won’t require as much in feed to raise and own.
With the exception of the Sultan chicken, the other heritage chicken breeds lay over 100 eggs a year, with some laying over 200 eggs a year! Heritage chickens are usually mid-sized to large-sized birds that have healthier dispositions and are usually more disease resistant than modern strains.
I hope you enjoy raising your heritage chickens as much as my family has enjoyed raising ours! Don’t forget to check out 10 Amazingly Beautiful Chicken Breeds That Also Lay Eggs in the next article in our series.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery