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Heritage chickens are perfect for northern climates! Here are some of the best heritage dual purpose birds.
Want to get some backyard chickens? Here’s something worth considering if you live in cold winter climates – look into heritage chickens. They are naturally more suited to cold winters than breeds like Cornish Giants or Polish.
Do some research as to your weather conditions, how harsh your winter is and how much natural vegetation you have in season. What about housing for chickens? Do you have an insulated chicken coop?
Then get some heritage breed chickens! They know how to forage and they are used to being outdoors year round.
Benefits of Dual-Purpose Breeds of Heritage Chickens
Dual purpose birds are an excellent addition to the homestead as they serve multiple purposes. Dual purpose chickens are often used for homesteaders who want to have a bird that has enough meat to make it worth eating, but also lays enough eggs to make it worth keeping them around for a couple of years.
Heritage breeds of chickens are a great way to support conservation. This prevents older and more standard breeds of chickens–like the ones that were popular in the mid-20th century but have become in danger of extinction–from falling off the radar in favor of hybrids.
These breeds were denoted by the American Poultry Association starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s. True heritage eggs can only be produced by any American Poultry Association standard breed.
What Makes a Heritage Chicken?
Most APA heritage chickens have a moderate or slow growth rate, which typically means reaching the breeding market weight in 16 weeks. These birds must come from mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for about 3-5.
When it comes to egg production, these types of birds will lay more eggs than a meat-only chicken, while having more meat on their bones than an egg-laying chicken.
Raising dual purpose birds helps you maintain a self-sustaining flock of birds, because so many of them are good brooders and great mothers. This means they hatch a good number of chicks that in the end, means more chickens for your backyard.
Dual purpose chickens can free range, provide meat, and provide eggs without needed separate housing options for multiple types of birds.
Are cold hardy heritage chickens generally good foragers and free rangers?
Yes, cold hardy heritage breeds are generally good forages and free rangers. Heritage breeds were the norm on farms right up until the Industrial Revolution. You’ll find that the cold hardy heritage breeds of chicken are good foragers, meaning they will find their food in the yard easily plus they’re great at free ranging.
A heritage breed chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture based feeding. These chicken breeds are known for their good skeletal structure and healthy organs, which makes them hearty and great for egg laying as well as for meat production.
Heritage Chicken Breeds Best Suited for Cold Climates
Below are some of the chicken breeds that are best suited for cold climates. Learn more about each breed to determine which type of chicken is best suited for your homestead.
Top Heritage Chicken Breeds for Winter Climates
More information on each chicken breed is below, but here’s the list of top chicken breeds for northern homesteads:
- Buff Orpington
- Barred Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Reds
- Silkie Bantams
The Buff Orpington chickens are very docile and friendly. This chicken breed does well in hot and colder climates. Many families use this breed for 4-H since they are tolerant of hyper and curious human children. They make great broodies and mothers, too!
Barred Plymouth Rock
These mellow chickens do well in most temperatures but they may need some attention to their large combs and wattles if you have Barred Plymouth Rock roosters in colder climates.
These chickens have been known to live 10-12 years, so they make for a long-lasting chicken to have at the homestead.
Rhode Island Red
These dual purpose chickens were created by poultry farmers in New England. These birds aren’t very quiet and while they are friendly, they can be rather pushy at times.
The Rhode Island Red chickens were originally bred to be dual purpose birds, but since have been bred more for egg laying.
As long as you don’t have the Silkie Bantams that have been bred to be show girls, this chicken breed does well in the colder climate regions of the world. They are great mothers and will often lay on other chicken’s eggs to help with them!
While they can be used as a dual purpose bird, they’re not the most popular option for meat. There are other heritage chicken breeds that are much larger than these.
This chicken breed is heavier than other chickens that live in colder climates. The Australorps are similar to the Orpington chickens, but more of an Australian twist on the breed. This is one of the highest egg producing chickens out there! They lay beautiful white eggs.
Brahma chickens are rather large in size and can do well in colder climates. Brahmas are dual purpose chickens that do well for meat and are excellent layers, yielding medium to large brown eggs.
This chicken breed is docile and friendly, making them a great addition to any homestead family. This breed is named after a river in India, but most breeders now agree that this breed was actually developed in America.
Icelandic chickens are one of the few that lay well during winter. The chickens are on the smaller size, with roosters weighing in around 5 pounds and the hens less than that. These are a great choice for raising chickens in northern climates.
Icelandics are great at foraging and they also excel at being broody, which should mean lots of chicks for you.
Some other great heritage breeds are Black Minorca, Blue Andalusian, Speckled Sussex, and Ancona.
Which heritage chicken breeds do best in North America’s colder climates ( as in -40F)?
The Barred Plymouth Rock and Australorps are the two favorites for North America’s colder climates, but all of the chicken breed listed above will fare well in colder temperatures. Just make sure they have a shelter to go in when they need a little cold weather break!
A well insulated chicken coop is important! Chickens will huddle close together when it is cold out, so you may get away with an unheated chicken coop.
However, it needs to be well insulated and have a good thick layer of hay or straw on the floor for them.
Tip: Instead of cleaning the coop floor weekly, simply add more hay or straw.
This ends up adding more insulation to the coop. In spring, as temperatures warm considerably,
take a day to clean the coop.
Heritage Chickens – Which cold hardy chicken breeds are the best egg layers?
There are a few hardy breeds of chickens that will lay eggs year round and do so pretty consistently. The best hardy breeds that lay eggs and survive in cold weather temperatures are:
- Buff Orpington
- Plymouth Rock
Heritage Chickens are perfect for northern climates, making it easier to raise and keep chickens, even in hard winters.
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Originally published 2016; updated November 2022