Raising meat chickens has become increasingly popular as a way to raise healthy and sustainable meat for your family. If you are looking to raise chickens for meat, it’s important to decide what is most important to you when raising chickens to butcher.
There are several factors to consider that determine the best chicken breeds to raise for meat.
- Meat chicken breeds usually grow to butcher weight faster than other heritage and dual-purpose chicken breeds
- Specific meat breeds are beloved for their unique flavor and are considered a delicacy in parts of the world
- Most meat breeds have a very low feed to weight ratio compared with other chicken breeds.
What’s the best chicken breed to raise for meat? Meat chickens are called broilers. Broilers grow quickly, have tender flesh, and a mild flavor. There are 6 meat-purpose chicken breeds. The most popular meat chicken breed is the Cornish Cross. Rangers, Dorking, Welsummer, Breese, and Crevecoeur chickens are also popular for meat.
Breese and Crevecoeur chicken breeds are very beloved for their taste. They are often the breeds found in high-end restaurants. Backyard enthusiasts who raise delicacy chickens usually do so for the taste and experience of eating the creme-de-la-creme of chicken breeds.
In addition, there are 17 common dual-purpose chicken breeds. Dual-purpose chickens are breeds that work well for both meat and egg production. They have good-sized roosters for meat harvest and the hens have high egg-laying capabilities.
Dual-purpose chickens are often loved in a homestead scenario because the family can raise both meat vía the rooster chicks and eggs from the hen chicks.
Top Meat Chicken Breeds:
Top 23 Heavy Chicken Breeds Raised For Meat (and sometimes eggs too!)
|Annual Egg Production||Time To Harvest||Rooster Weight||Hen Weight||Pros & Cons|
Cheapest White Meat Chickens
#1 Most Popular Meat Chicken
Doesn’t live long naturally
|Very Tender Meat
Easy to raise
|Best tasting American chicken
|Tender Tasty Flesh
|High-end Quality Meat
Extremely Slow Growth
|“Best tasting chicken in the World”
Very specific feeding requirements
Great Egg Layer
Not as popular in USA for meat
Great for beginners
|High egg layer
Easy to raise
|Very heat and cold tolerant
Great for backyards
Loved as a meat bird
Very Heat Hardy
|Great dual purpose
|Great in arctic cold
|Loved as a delicacy
Good for backyards
2nd Largest Chicken
|Rare, Dual Purpose birds
Very happy birds
|Cross of New Hampshire and Plymouth Rock
Friendly & Dual Purpose
1. Cornish Cross Chickens: Bred For Fast, Cheap Meat Production
Cornish Cross is the meat bird of the commercial industry. They are also referred to as Cornish X. Most store-bought chicken is a Cornish Cross. It was developed for meat production. Nearly all of the chicken sold in stores in the United States is a Cornish Cross chicken.
Cornish Cross Looks
Cornish Cross are large, fast-growing chickens. They are white with a pink, single comb. Cornish cross is considered a hybrid breed. It’s a cross between a Cornish and a White Plymouth Rock. Cornish, not Cornish Cross, can be a dark color with lighter spattering. Older strains of Cornish Cross include black flecked feathering do better free-ranging than the modern Cornish Cross.
Cobb 700 is the modern strain of Cornish Cross.
The Cornish Cross is not accepted into the American Poultry Association and is not considered a heritage bird. In fact, many chicken raisers would love to see the end of the Cornish Cross because of its inherent health issues and unhealthy lifestyle.
Main Purpose For Cornish Cross
The Cornish Cross is bred for meat. It has a mild flavor and is the cheapest meat chicken to raise for the market. It also has fewer feathers than most heritage chickens and lacks the under feathers that usually have to be cleaned off.
As a result, the Cornish Cross grows exceedingly fast. Males usually grow as much as 6 lbs in 6 weeks with hens growing about 4.5 lbs in the same time.
They grow so fast that they don’t do well to breed or raise long-term. Their legs usually aren’t strong enough to support an adult chicken and they are very sedentary.
The chicks must be purchased from a hatchery. They are very hard to raise on a farm.
If you choose to raise them, you can slow their rate of growth down by restricting their feeding. Don’t offer free-feeding because Cornish Cross chickens usually don’t know when to stop eating.
Feed 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Additionally, don’t use particle bedding as they will eat it if there isn’t food around.
Because of the rapid weight gains, they usually have heart and liver issues if they aren’t butchered young. They are usually processed between 7-10 weeks old.
It usually takes 14 lbs of feed to raise a chicken for 8 weeks. They will have an average weight of 7.5 lbs.
Raising Cornish Cross For Eggs
Cornish Cross do better in cooler and mild weather.
If you do want to try and hatch Cornish Cross chickens, then make sure to free-range them. Restrict their diet and keep them on a normal protein grain instead of the higher protein grain Cornish Cross are usually fed.
Some chicken raisers have had success getting hens bred with other breeds of roosters instead of with Cornish Hen males, which are very lethargic.
You will probably also need an incubator to hatch the eggs.
Some Cornish Cross hens will lay 4-5 medium, brown eggs a week the first year, but they usually don’t live more than a year, even on the best of diets and circumstances.
Cornish Cross chickens are not usually raised by first-timers because of the extended knowledge needed to process them for meat.
Caring For Your Cornish Cross
Cornish Cross don’t free range well because they don’t like activity. They are slow-moving and highly susceptible to predators so they must be kept protected in chicken tractors or other fencing.
Cornish Cross don’t make good pets, but they are docile and calm.
They don’t do well in high-altitude areas or hot areas. They can die of dehydration even when water is close by because of how lethargic they can become.
Cornish Cross were bred for rapidly growing chickens. If they are kept alive longer than the usual 42-60 days to grow them, they will develop many health problems. They will not live a long life.
Cornish Cross are almost exclusively raised for meat. The chicks are purchased in the spring and the adult birds are harvested 2-3 months later. Those who try to raise them for eggs or chicks usually see them die naturally within 1-2 years because of their health problems.
Cornish Cross aren’t very heat or cold hardy. They haven’t been bred for a long or a hardy lifestyle.
Pros and Cons Of Raising Cornish Cross
Generally, Cornish Cross chickens are only ever raised for meat. They grow fast and have a lot of health problems if not harvested young. The chicks are bred in hatchery farms and must be purchased every spring.
Plus: Cornish cross chickens have a good feed-weight ratio. That makes them the cheapest breed to raise for meat use. They grow fast and can be harvested within a few weeks (2 months). They have a mild taste and most people are used to the taste from supermarket stores.
As far as work, time to harvest, and east of care, Cornish Cross are easy and fast to raise for meat. They can be harvested at 5-6 weeks at 6.5 lbs or 8 weeks at a higher weight.
Cons: Many homesteaders have moral issues with Cornish Cross because they have been bred only for rapid growth and the chickens aren’t healthy.
They also don’t work well for sustainability because they must be purchased so homesteaders aren’t completely self-sufficient with their animal crops.
Another con is that many who raise free-range chickens (Cornish Cross don’t do well free-ranged) prefer the taste to the mild “tasteless” taste of the Cornish X.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age to Process||Forages|
|Mild||Docile||Meat||6.5 in 8 weeks||Hatchery only||7-11 weeks||No|
- Rapidly growing chickens
- Primary commercial chicken found in stores
- Bred specifically for cheap meat production
2. Freedom Rangers, Ranger Rangers, Red Rangers, and Black Rangers
Freedom Rangers are a hybrid chicken that’s specifically for meat production in the 1960s. That means that the eggs won’t produce more Freedom Rangers. They will be a cross-breed.
Freedom Rangers are basically the name brand of the hybrid. There are also Red Rangers and Black Rangers, which are also hybrids. Additionally, you might see Dixie Rangers, Pioneer, or Gingernut Rangers.
They are not a recognized breed of chicken by the APA.
Ranger Chickens: Great Meat Chickens
Rangers are mainly used for meat production. They are a moderately growing bird and will grow about 5-6 pounds in 9-11 weeks. Rangers have a higher amount of fat than Cornish Cross.
Free Rangers are more likely to forage than Cornish Cross, but may not forage as well as other slower-growing more active birds. Some chicken raisers see Freedom Rangers forage well while others see poor results with free-ranging.
Because they grow slower than Cornish Cross, they have more tender meat and more omega fat.
Freedom Rangers are almost never used for egg production so there isn’t a consensus on how many eggs they lay. The hens will lay eggs, but the chicks won’t come out as Freedom Rangers.
Some accounts say that Freedom Rangers will lay nearly an egg a day, but they may not be uniform across the breed.
Hens lay about 3-4 light brown eggs a week. They start laying at about 16 weeks.
They are generally raised short term for meat and can have the usual health problems of larger birds if kept past the usual 12 weeks harvest time.
Caring For Your Ranger Chicken
They are also rarely tamed. They are generally raised during the summer and processed for meat at the end of the summer. Some raisers report that they do well in cold weather.
They are very energetic birds. Roosters are more aggressive than some other chicken varieties and so they aren’t the best chicken for families.
They don’t typically have as long of a lifespan either because they are a faster-growing chicken and have a lot of health problems associated with fast weight gain.
Pros and Cons of Ranger Chickens For Meat
Freedom Rangers are usually only raised for meat. They don’t grow as fast as the Cornish Cross but are seen as a more natural breed. They are a hybrid so even if you raise the eggs of the hens, they won’t be considered Ranger chickens.
Pros: Rangers free range better than Cornish Cross, but not as well as heritage chicken breeds. They are moderately growing so they can be harvested at about 6.5 lbs in 9 weeks. As a result, they have more tender meat than Cornish Cross and a higher fat content and omega in the meat.
Their meat is also considered healthier to eat than Cornish Cross because they will free-range and have a bigger variety of food (bugs, plants, etc). The free-ranging can help to decrease the food-meat ratio as well.
Cons: The roosters are usually more aggressive. They have a short lifespan and can have similar health problems to Cornish Cross chickens. They aren’t usually raised from generation to generation by homesteaders, but must usually be purchased every year.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age to Process||Forages|
|Summer||Unknown||Meat||5-6 lbs||Varies||9-11 weeks||Average|
- Bred for Meat Production
- A More Active Bird Than Cornish Cross
- Not a pet or backyard bird
3. Dorking Chickens: Tender Meat, Dual Purpose Birds
Dorkings are considered the oldest of all the domesticated breed. They are one of the few chicken breeds with 5 toes. An early Roman writer, Columella, wrote about five-toed chickens.
He lived in Italy about 70 A.D. Because of his writings, we know that the Romans cultivated chickens with five toes.
As a result, Dorkings are thought to have originated with the Romans, who brought their own chicken breeds into England.
Today no Dorkings can be found in Italy, which is a mystery if they were brought by the Romans.
The British already had chickens at the time of Julius Caesar so it’s possible that Dorkings came from other trading sources such as the Phoenicians. It is known that the Phoenicians traded chickens for tin before the Romans invaded.
Both Dorking and Old English Game may have descended from Roman birds around that time and been bred over the centuries to different purposes.
Dorkings developed in the area of Kent, Sussex and Surrey counties in England. The area supplied chicken meat to London markets and gained a reputation for its tasty chicken. Dorking chickens are usually asked for by name.
They are named for the city in the area, once called Darking. At one point, a law in Dorking prevented the sale of any live chickens so that the area’s special breeds could be preserved and the industry protected.
The Looks Of A Dorking Chicken
They have stout rectangular bodies, horizontal backs, and large heads. Their tails are high-set. They also have red combs earlobes and wattles.
Dorkings are well-fleshed in the breast, wings, and wishbone areas.
Dorkings have several colors. The oldest colorings include white, which is believed to be the oldest, colored and silver grey. Silver grey is derived from the colored varieties. Other colors include cuckoo, black, red and speckled.
Colored Dorkings are larger than the other varieties.
Dorkings were accepted into the American Poultry Association in 1874. They are considered both an American and an English heritage breed. Dorkings have an average lifespan of 7 years.
Primary Reasons To Raise Dorking Chickens
Dorkings were used for dual-purpose chickens. They are a large bird with, especially tender meat. Dorking meat usually wins blind taste tests in chicken contests.
Dorkings were the preferred meat chicken until they were displaced by the Sussex. They were also in the first poultry show in 1845.
The roosters grow to 9 lbs (4 kg) and the hens grow to 7 (3.17 kg).
Hens lay about 140-180 large, creamy-white eggs. They lay during the winter, but hens have a tendency to go broody after about 35-50 eggs. As a result, their egg-laying stops during the time the hens set on the eggs.
Hens are also good mothers and stay with the chicks longer than most other breeds. The chicks start laying at about 26+ weeks.
Caring For Your Dorking Chicken
They are good foragers and don’t wander far from home. They love to roost in trees even though they have short legs.
They are extremely sweet, docile, and gentle birds. This means they are often bullied by other breeds.
They are generally cold hardy, but roosters are more susceptible to frostbite than the hens.
Dorkings were brought to the United States in 1847 by Captain Morgan. They have been the parent stock of several breeds including Sussex and Buff Orpington.
Dorkings make a good backyard heritage chicken and are also good for families and new chicken raisers. They are very patient with children.
The breed is considered threatened and has a watch status with the American Livestock Conservancy.
Pros and Cons of Raising Dorkings For Meat
Dorkings are often used as a dual-purpose chicken. They lay a moderate amount of eggs, 150 a year, so they aren’t as popular as an egg chicken, but they do lay more eggs than other meat chickens.
Pros: Dorking chickens do well free-ranging. They are also a mellow, calm bird that will get along with children and other chickens.
Dorkings have good flavor, which is usually preferred to the other meat birds in taste tests.
They also work well for a dual purpose bird because they lay a moderate amount of eggs, which works well for small families or larger flocks.
Cons: Dorkings grow slower than other meat chickens. They can be processed as early as 16 weeks, but won’t fill out until 20-24 weeks usually. So if meat production is your primary goal, Dorkings may not be the right chicken.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age to Process||Forages|
|Cold||Gentle||Meat & Eggs||M: 9 lbs
F: 7 lbs
- Larger (9lb) moderate egg layer (140/yr)
- Great for backyards
- Gentle birds that don’t wander far
4. Welsummer Chickens: Best British Utility Chicken
Welsummers are loved by the British. Prince Charles keeps his own flock of the breed. They have been named the “Best Utility Breed” because they produce beautiful brown eggs and great-tasting meat.
The roosters grow to about 6 lbs and the hens lay about 160-200 large eggs a year. The speckled eggs are very sought-after in most markets.
Welsummer chickens are very hardy chickens that do well in confinement and also in a free-range environment. They are also friendly and active, which makes them good for a family homestead.
Pros and Cons of Raising Welsummer Meat Chickens
Welsummer chickens work very well as a dual-purpose chicken. They do grow a lot slower than other hybrid meat breeds and as a result, have a healthier longer life.
Pros: Welsummer chickens are a medium-sized bird that adapts to a variety of situations. This makes them easy to care for and to raise for the large scale farmer and the small backyard homesteader.
The flesh is tender and tasty and hens lay a medium number of eggs each year that are a lovely dark speckled brown. The eggs usually sell for a premium in the markets.
The chickens are healthier and can be used to raise the next generation without purchasing new chicks each year.
Cons: Welsummers grow slower than the commercial hybrids. They take more time to grow, as long as 16 weeks to get a 3-4 pound bird. They have more dark meat on them than white because large breasts are a modern breeding trait.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age to Process||Forages|
|Meat & Eggs||M: 7 lbs
F: 5.5 lbs
- Dark Brown Speckled Eggs
- Dual Purpose chicken
- Active & Friendly
6. Crevecoeur Chickens, Taste Fit For Aristocrats
Hundreds of years ago, farmers moved to Crevecoeur en Auge, France, hoping for fertile farmlands. Instead, the poor soil caused them to become broken-hearted. Crevecoeur’s means “broken-hearted” in French.
Centuries later, the area became famous in France for the delicious chicken breed. It’s now considered a high-end meat chicken!
Little else is known about the Normandy breed or its origins.
During the 1800s, it was the preferred meat chicken for the Parisian upper class. A single bird for dinner could cost $100 in today’s dollars. That’s dinner only an Aristocrat could afford.
Crevecoeur Chicken Purposes
As a meat bird, the leg meat of Crevecoeurs is dark and duck-like. The white breast yields a decent amount of meat. But, the bird is slow-growing and takes 10-12 months to reach adult size and 2 years to grow to full maturity.
It has lighter bones than the Houdan. The legs are dark blue and it has a V comb.
The birds are all black, although gold coloring occasionally shows up on the chest of the birds.
Roosters traditionally grow to 8 lbs (3.63 kg) and hens grow to 6.5 lbs (2.94 kg). However, American Crevecoeurs are usually smaller. Hens lay about 2 eggs a week and they will lay about 100-150 medium, white eggs a year. Hens don’t start laying until 7-9 months old.
In the USA, Crevecoeurs are mostly used as ornamental birds.
Crevecoeurs came to the U.S. in 1852 and are a heritage breed. But, the breed was nearly driven to extinction during World War II.
That’s because of the troops stationed in the area. The nearby officers wanted to eat like the upper-class French. As a result, nearly all of the Crevecoeurs were killed and eaten. Only a few were hidden by die-hard farmers and survived.
Crevecoeur Chickens Looks
Crevecoeur chickens are a completely black-feathered chicken. There are a few rarer combinations of white, blue and cuckoo.
Their wattles, comb, and earlobes are red. The comb is a V shape. They have four toes. They have a large crest. Some Crevecoeurs may have ear tufts, while others may have beards.
They have a bony protrusion on their heads. The bony protrusion is only found in Polish, Crevecoeur and Houdan chickens. Crevecoeur chickens are considered a heritage chicken. They were admitted into the American Poultry Association in 1874.
They are a French heritage breed. In fact, the first Agricultural exhibit, held in Paris, included two sets of awards, one for Crevecoeurs and one for all other breeds.
Crevecoeurs live for an average of 8 years.
Caring For Your Crevecoeur Chicken
The Elvis-style feathers make it so the chickens can’t see very well. They are susceptible to predators. They also aren’t great foragers.
Their peripheral vision is impaired. They are also likely to be bullied and pecked on by more aggressive breeds. They should be flocked with other crested breeds.
They aren’t super active and as a result, Crevecoeurs do very well in confinement. They are very heat tolerant but are susceptible to frostbite.
They are currently critically endangered with less than 1,000 birds worldwide. They are gentle and make a good backyard bird.
Pros and Cons of Crevecoeur Chickens For Meat
Crevecoeur chickens are an interesting looking bird. They are fun to have around the yard.
Pros: Crevecoeur meat is highly desirable in high-end restaurants. It has a duck-like taste and texture, which makes it more expensive and beloved of chefs around the world.
They aren’t aggressive chickens so they get along well with people and other mellow chickens. They are fairly easy to raise and will do well confined and in hot climates.
Plus, they lay a moderate amount of eggs over 100 a year.
Cons: Crevecoeur chickens take a long time to grow to maturity. It usually takes them about 12 months before they are large enough to butcher and as much as 2 years to be fully grown. This means that the food-meat ratio is higher.
They are not the meat bird that will be good for high-production scenarios.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age Processed||Forages|
|Hot||Calm, Gentile||Show||M: 8 lbs
F: 6.5 lbs
- The meat of the Aristocrats
- Critically Endangered
- Great for backyards.
6. Bresse Chickens: The Tastiest Chicken In The World
The “Poulet de Bresse” as it is called in France begins it’s fame when Henry IV had an accident with his carriage. He stopped in the village of Bresse and first tasted the delicate chicken. After that, he demanded that the bird be included in his courtly menu.
Breese are considered to be the best tasting meat chicken in the world. A single bird costs hundreds of dollars in Paris restaurants. It is hard to purchase Bresse in Restaurants outside of France. They were bred 500 years ago in eastern France. After World War II, they were thought to be extinct for a brief time.
The Breese Chicken is a national treasure in France. In fact, according to the French, a chicken isn’t a Breese if it isn’t raised in the Breese region of France.
Bresse chickens must be raised in a specific way and must be raised on food that is grown in the Breese region.
So, even if a chicken gets its genetics from a Breese French chicken, once it is moved away from France, it is no longer a Breese. American raised “Breese” are called American Breese to differentiate them from their authentic cousins.
The same holds true for other countries raising “Bresse” descendants.
Bresse Chicken Characteristics
Breese comes in white, black, blue and grey varieties.
The white variety looks a lot like a French flag. It has a large red comb and bright white feathers. It also has steel blue legs. The tail juts out at a 45-degree angle and the neck is upright. The comb has 5+ points.
Because “Bresse” chickens can only be raised in France, they are not admitted to the American Poultry Society. But, they are considered a French Heritage chicken.
Bresse Chicken Uses As A Delicacy Meat
Part of the unique flavor of Bresse chickens comes from its heritage. It has a long history of breeding that can’t be replicated with modern crosses. The skin is thin and the bones light.
It metabolizes fat differently than other chickens.
Taste also comes from the unique way they are raised. They must be raised with organic food. There is a schedule of food that starts with cereal feeding, followed by a low protein free-range diet. Finally, they are finished in a darkened fattening shed and fed milk and maize. This creates a marbled look in their meat.
Roosters grow to 6-7 lbs (3kgs) and hens grow to 5.5 lbs (2.5 kgs). Dark varieties average 1 lb lighter.
Breese hens usually average between 160 – 180 white eggs a year. But they can lay as many as 250 eggs a year when fed correctly, which is probably not the same feed as the “meat” birds.
They lay medium-large cream-colored eggs.
Breese are considered the tastiest, firmest and most succulent flesh of any chicken by the French.
Caring For Your Bresse Chicken
They are very rare in the United States and true Breese are only found in that region of France. A few hatcheries, 1 or 2, sell authentic Bresse descendants in the United States. It may be easier to purchase Bresse descendants in parts of Europe directly from French hatcheries. Australia has a few Bresse hatcheries of Bresse-descended chickens.
If you choose to raise Bresse and want Bresse-like finished meat, then there are steps you should take.
Bresse must be fed a diet of grains and corn. Corn is a little more than two-thirds of the mix and wheat grain is the other one-third. Additionally, 7% of skim milk is added to the mix.
Bresse must be provided less grain than they need to eat. This forces them to forage for additional food.
They must be allowed to free-range with 10 meters per bird over the course of 35 days. Each type of bird is supplemented with milk and free-ranging for different periods.
After their growing period, birds are put into dark sheds where they must “veg” out and are fattened up.
Bresse, such as American Bresse, or Australian Bresse, and other locally-defined names of this bird have started gaining popularity in upscale restaurants.
Although the Bresse were nearly extinct a couple of generations ago, their protection under French law and elite status in French Restaurants has assured their future.
Pros and Cons of Raising Bresse Chicken Descendants
Breese are considered by the French to be the tastiest chicken in the world, but take very specialized care to get the exact taste of the “Bresse.” Additionally, a true Bresse has to be raised and butchered in the Breese area of France.
Pros: Breese heritage descendants are catching on as a specialty dish outside of France. Some chicken raisers are able to get a higher premium for Breese descendant meat than other breeds of chicken.
It is a heritage breed so the chickens are healthy, do well free-ranging, and have tender flesh.
Cons: Breese chickens take a special diet and timeline, which may be too much hassle for the homesteader.
It also takes greater effort to educate consumers about Bresse meat and the care that goes into their special taste.
|Climate||Personality||Use||Size||Eggs/ Yr||Age Processed||Forages|
|Mild||Unknown||Meat||M: 6.5 lbs
F: 5.5 lbs
- Best tasting chicken in the world
- Rare outside of France
- Not considered a true “Bresse” outside of France
Chicken Meat Definition
There are several terms related to chickens for meat. Broiler or fryer chickens are tender, young chickens. They are usually harvested around 7 weeks old at between 2.5-4.5 pounds. The meat is tender and can be used for any use.
Roaster chickens are young and between 8-12 weeks old. They usually weight at least 5 pounds and are usually roasted whole.
Capon is a castrated rooster. Because they are unsexed, the male hormones don’t make the meat tough. They have tender meat at an older age and can be processed as old as 4-8 months. They usually weigh about 4-7 pounds at that point, depending on the breed.
Stewing hen is usually a hen that is over a year old and is tougher. They are usually processed after their egg laying capabilities have gone down. They are best eaten when stewed or cooked with a lot of moisture.
How To Fatten Meat Chickens
Meat chickens require a different diet schedule than egg chickens. Meat chickens should be fed 12 hours on and 12 hours off.
The food and water should be separated and on different sides of the coop. That’s because many of the meat breeds can get very lazy. Putting the water away from the food forces the birds to move and helps to develop lean muscle instead of fat muscle.
Many homesteaders will also let their chickens out to free range, which encourages more movement.
Meat chickens should be fed a finisher feed, which is mixed specifically for the purpose of fattening birds prior to processing them.
If you want to make your own finisher feed, then you can mix it. There are several variations:
- 2 parts buckwheat, 2 parts oats, 1 part corn
- 2 parts flour, 1 part wheat bran, 2 parts barley
- 1 parts oats, 1 part barley, 1 part buckwheat, 1 part corn
- Mix the grains with 15 lbs skim or buttermilk to 10 lbs grain mixture
If you are purchasing feed, then there are several types of feed to use for chickens.
- First, start with a starter/growth feed for the first 3 weeks. The feed should contain at least 23% protein.
- On week 4, switch to a grower/finisher feed with at least 18-20% protein. Feed on a 12/12 on/off schedule to limit growth problems.
- If growth problems occur such as broken legs or split skin, reduce the feed and lighting to slow-growing. Chickens should be ready to butcher as early as 6-7 weeks.
Differences Between Raising Heritage or Hybrid Chicken For Meat
When it comes to raising chickens to process, most people choose either hybrid chickens or heritage chickens.
Hybrid chickens are developed and bred specifically for fast growth and meat production. Most hybrids have fewer feathers, such as the Cornish Cross, which makes for easier cleaning of the carcass.
White hybrid chickens are usually ready to process at between 7-11 weeks. Colored hybrid chickens take 11 weeks or longer to be ready. They usually free-range and will eat more feed before they get to full weight.
Hybrids come with all sorts of names. Every hatchery will have specialized names of chicken breeds specifically bred at that hatchery. Cornish Cross and Ranger chickens are the most common breeds among hatcheries. Other hybrid names include Black Broiler, Color Yield, Colored Range, Kosher King, Redbro, Red Broiler, Red Meat Maker, Rosambro, and Silver Cross.
Hybrids usually suffer in the heat more because of their increased weight. They are less heat tolerant than most heritage chickens. They also need a lot of water to wash down the food they almost constantly eat.
Heritage chickens are older chicken breeds that grow slower and are also able to be used for eggs. These chickens can be raised from generation to generation and don’t need to be purchased each year at the market.
Generally, those who raise heritage chickens will fatten the cocks and process them while keeping the hens for production.
Heritage chickens won’t have as much breast meat on them as hybrid chickens as that trait has been bred into hybrids. They also take around 16 weeks or longer to reach maturity. They are almost always good foragers and have more dark meat.
Summary of the differences between hybrid and heritage chickens for meat
- Hybrid grow 7-11 weeks, Heritage grow 16+ weeks
- Hybrid chickens have more white meat, Heritage chickens have more dark meat
- Hybrid chickens have less flavor, Heritage chickens are usually raised for their flavor
- Hybrids eat less feed per pound of meat, Heritage will eat more feed to pound of weight
- Hybrids are less heat tolerant, Heritage chickens are more overall tolerant of weather
- Hybrids can have fewer feathers for cleaning, while Heritage chickens have more feathers and undercoat
Now that we’ve covered the basic differences, let’s go into the specific breeds commonly used for meat.
What is the best tasting chicken breed? The best-tasting chicken breeds are the Bresse, Dorking, and Crevecoeur. In the United States, the Dorking chicken continues to win blind taste tests and has been designated the “best tasting chicken in America.” In France, the Breese has been distinguished as the “best tasting chicken in the world.” Additionally, the Crevecoeur is the chicken breed most often found in high-end restaurants for it’s distinguished and wonderful taste.
What chicken has the most tender meat? The chicken breeds with especially tender meat are the Rangers, Welsummer, Rhode Island Red, and the Faverolle chicken breed. These breeds are butchered as broilers. Broilers are young male meat chickens harvested at only a few months old. They have tender flesh and taste.
Fully grown chickens butchered for meat are usually used for stew meat because they are more stringy and tough.
Raising meat chickens is becoming increasingly popular for homesteaders. Even hybrid chickens are raised in more humane conditions than those sold in most supermarkets. The homesteader knows what has gone into their food.
Raising chicken can be one of the easiest animals to start raising. They are easier for beginners with limited knowledge and take relatively little care.
Don’t forget to check out 7 Forgotten Chicken Breeds That Are Dual Purpose.
Feature image credit: Cacklehatchery.com