Choosing A Meat Chicken
With the growing popularity of raising backyard chickens comes an increasing interest in raising meat chickens. Dual-purpose chickens, those yielding both eggs and meat, are the most popular. But many backyard chicken farmers are turning to meat chickens for their better flavor.
Just like with egg layers, a different result comes with each breed so, choosing the best meat chicken breeds depends on what you’re looking to achieve.
This is a review of what I consider the 5 best chicken breeds to raise for meat.
Broilers are chickens raised specifically for meat. They grow much faster than egg laying hens or dual purpose breeds. Most broilers have a fast growth rate with a high feed conversion ratio and low activity levels. In five weeks, broilers can reach a dressed weight of 4-5 pounds. Dual-purpose breeds, usually raised for both meat and egg production, are smaller with a slower growth rate.
Cornish Cross – The Cornish Cross is an excellent, fast growing broiler. Harvest time for a 4 pound broiler is normally 7 to 8 weeks. Their body make-up is superb, with broad breasts, large legs and thighs and a rich yellow skin.
Jersey Giant – Originating in the United States, this bird was developed to replace the turkey. A purebred chicken, the Giant’s weight averages 11-13 pounds. Jersey Giants grow at a slower rate than other meat birds, about 6 months to full maturity, making them undesirable to commercial industry. While originally a meat chicken, today, the Giant is prized as a dual-purpose bird, laying extra-large brown eggs.
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Heritage / Heirloom
When describing Heritage chickens, the words heirloom, old-fashion and antique come to mind. The American Poultry Association began defining these breeds in 1873; setting standards for birds as being well adapted to various climates, hardy and long-lived and reproducing at a rate to provide a protein source to the growing nation. As chicken breeding became industrialized, these breeds were replaced by fast growing hybrids. Today, more than three dozen chicken breeds are listed as in danger of extinction. To avoid irrevocable loss caused by the extinction of a breed, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy sets standards for marketing these as Heritage.
I love Heritage breeds preferring them to the newer, fast growing breeds. They are large meaty chickens and many also produce a nice amount of eggs. I usually buy my Heritage breeds on line since they are harder to find locally than what more popular breeds are.
Below is a listing of the breeds which qualify as Heritage:
Campine, Chantecler, Crevecoeur, Holland, Modern Game, Nankin, Redcap, Russian Orloff, Spanish, Sultan, Sumatra, Yokohama, Andalusian, Buckeye, Buttercup, Cubalaya, Delaware, Dorking, Faverolles, Java, Lakenvelder, Langshan, Malay, Phoenix, Ancona, Aseel, Brahma, Catalana, Cochin, Cornish , Dominique , Hamburg, Houdan, Jersey Giant , La Fleche, Minorca, New Hampshire , Old English Game, Polish, Rhode Island White, Sebright , Shamo, Australorp, Leghorn- Non-industrial, Orpington, Plymouth Rock , Rhode Island Red – Non industrial , Sussex, Wyandotte , Araucana, Iowa Blue, Lamona, Manx Rumpy (Persian Rumpless), Naked Neck (Turken).
My preferred Heritage breeds:
Delaware – A heavy bodied bird, the male can weigh up to 8.5 pounds and a female, 6.5 pounds. Originating from the U.S., the Delaware is hardy in heat and cold and matures quickly. The meat is delicious and the hens lay jumbo eggs. Delawares have calm and friendly dispositions
Dorking – This relatively calm bird is nonaggressive so it does well around children and small dogs. Another dual-purpose chicken, the Dorking is a superior table fowl with tender flesh and meaty breasts and wings. Dorkings are productive winter layers, providing a steady egg supply when other breeds are not laying. Good broody hens and excellent mothers, they stay with their chicks much longer than other breeds.
Buckeye – This is the only American breed exclusively created by a woman; developed by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. This dual-purpose breed is very cold weather hardy and adapts to various living conditions. However, because they are very active, they do not do well in confined spaces, adapting best to free-range. Hens lay medium-sized brown eggs and weigh an average of 6.5 pounds; roosters average 9 pounds.