Here’s what to know when choosing the best meat chickens for your rural, suburban, or urban backyard. Raising chickens for meat can be a way to provide for your family and have a secure food source. Plus, raising chickens is fun!
Every year, people focus on what they eat and desire to be healthier. Typically, supermarket meat has added hormones in it, so people try to grow food for themselves.
If you didn’t grow up on a farm, you are probably going to start with vegetables and fruits. If space permits, you then start looking into adding farm animals as a source of meat for protein.
A popular and easy meat source to raise is a chicken. When you raise them for meat, whether they are male chickens or females (hens) will not matter. They won’t need to be sexed before you buy them. You will raise them to butchering size before they reach sexual maturity.
Meat birds are bred to produce meat. They will grow quicker than chickens who are bred to lay eggs and faster than chickens who are dual purpose. Learn about the best meat chickens.
Best Meat Chickens
Divided into two categories, here are the top ten chicken breeds that you can raise to ensure you have a good source of meat:
The best source of chicken meat is usually called Broilers. They are bred specifically for their meat. This means, they make excellent chickens for meat. This is because they tend to grow faster than those raised to lay eggs or dual purpose chickens which can be raised for meat and eggs.
In about five weeks, a broiler chicken can weigh between 4 – 5 pounds. At 10 weeks old, they can be well on their way to 10 pounds, which is a suitable size for an average family.
It can be easy to raise broilers and have a more self-sustaining lifestyle. That said, those who are looking for the best-tasting chicken meat, here are the five breeds to consider:
The Cornish Cross chicken also has hybrid versions. All of them work well when it comes to raising them in your backyard for personal meat purposes.
These chickens can weigh about 12 pounds in just 6 – 8 weeks, and since they grow quickly, they don’t lead active lifestyles and are considered the best chicken breed for meat. The Cornish Cross chicken features yellow skin, which turns golden as they cook.
The male can weigh 12 pounds while the female gets to be about 8 pounds. They tend to be white, which is ideal for those who want a traditional-looking chicken.
You’re going to like that many commercial producers also use this breed, so it’s going to be quite similar to what you bring home from the store. The Cornish Cross also tastes better and grows faster than dual-purpose breeds.
You’re going to find that many people prefer it over the other options used specifically for meat.
The Bresse chicken is a white, large bird, but you can also find blue, black, and gray colors. Generally, the male weighs 7 pounds while the hen weighs in at 5 pounds. They take between 16 and 20 weeks before they can be harvested.
With their blue feet, they can be highly popular and very expensive. Still, once you’ve purchased your breeding pairs, it only costs for the food to raise them. In fact, you can offset this cost by growing food for the chickens, letting them forage, and giving them table scraps such as lettuce, cantaloupe and watermelon rinds, etc. Learn about giving bananas for chickens and strawberries for chickens.
Likewise, the Bresse breed is famous as being the best tasting chicken breed, and its meat is quite tender. This chicken breed is also docile and tastes delicious, but it doesn’t have a ton of meat on them given their smaller size.
If you are looking for a very large chicken, consider this breed. Jersey Giant chickens originate from the USA, and the goal was to replace the turkey with this bird. However, that never happened, and it became popular as a tasty chicken breed.
The three varieties of Jersey Giants as recognized by the American Poultry Association are:
These birds are purebred and can weigh between 11 and 13 pounds, but keep in mind that these chickens do grow slower when compared to others. Typically, the Jersey Giant takes between 16 and 21 weeks to grow to the right size for harvesting.
They also require more space, food, and time, which can be costly. If you grow feed yourself, you can use it to feed these chickens. In the commercial world, these birds are usually considered unacceptable because they are expensive to raise and take a long time to reach their full size. However, in backyard coops, they are a hot commodity.
Generally, they are docile and calm, though the roosters can be slightly aggressive. When Jersey Giant hens lay eggs, they are brown and large, which means you can use them for eggs until you are ready to slaughter them. Consider the Jersey Giant chicken for meat or dual purpose for backyards. You can cull the males and unproductive hens for meat.
Freedom Rangers had initially been developed to be pasture-fed chickens for meat; in fact, they are bred specifically to be pesticide-free in the meat market. Often, they flourish on a low-protein feed and can scout food better than a Cornish Cross. As such, they can roam around large pens with ease.
If that weren’t enough, they are highly versatile in what they can eat and can cost less to keep. As one of the best chickens for meat, they survive on corn feed and field bugs, so they are perfectly healthy to eat.
Generally, you find them in various shades of red, though they can have spots, black feathers, and bars on them. They can also come in gray or bronze.
Keep in mind that these birds take between 9 – 11 weeks before they reach slaughter weight.
The male weighs about 6 pounds, while the female weighs about 5 pounds. Therefore, they aren’t very big and may not feed a large family. Still, they are easy to keep and suitable for free-range needs.
Sometimes, people want the best chicken breed for meat, but they also want good layers. This allows you to get eggs from the chickens until it is time to slaughter them for meat. Also, you’re going to save money by using this approach and can even breed them.
These options should be high on the list for you. They can naturally replenish your stock of meat chickens.
If you want a heavy chicken breed, the Orpington is an excellent choice. Buff Orpingtons are buff in color, but they can also be white, blue, or black. Lavender Orpington chickens are another to consider.
Males can grow to be 10 pounds, while females are usually around 8 pounds. They don’t often grow very big and take a lot longer to grow, which is between 18 and 24 weeks, plus they usually lay more than 200 eggs a year. They aren’t raised commercially because it’s too expensive to raise them until they are ready for butchering.
These chickens are great layers, but they’re also used as broilers because the meat is very tender and tastes delicious. Generally, these birds feature a curved shape along the underline, a broad body, and a short back.
If you raise an Orpington rooster among your flock of hens, you can have a sustainable meat source. You can keep productive hens for eggs and cull the males for meat.
The Leghorn comes in different colors, including rose comb, single comb, white, buff, brown, red, and black. The Brown Leghorn is a variant of the White Leghorn and is an excellent egg layer, and it could lay about 280 eggs each year.
There are no real differences between the white and brown variety other than color, plus they are both going to lay white, large eggs. The Brown Leghorn enjoys warm climates and actively forages. The males can get territorial, but they’re rarely aggressive by nature.
Generally, the male is about 6 pounds while the female is just 5 pounds. These birds do take about 16 to 21 weeks to mature and be ready for butchering.
Turken (The Naked Neck)
The Turken Naked Neck chicken is actually a chicken that looks like a cross between a turkey and chicken; hence, the name. Naked Neck chickens are both cold tolerant and heat tolerant, so you can keep them as a backyard chicken for meat and eggs no matter where you live. They are hardy and resilient and can adapt well in situations where they receive proper care.
Because they are easy-going and friendly, they get along with other friendly chickens in a mixed flock. They don’t stress out easily. This means they can put on weight quickly. When mature, the roosters get to be about 7 – 8 pounds, with the hens averaging around 5 – 6.5 pounds.
You can use the Naked Neck cockerels for meat when they are between 11 and 18 weeks old. You can cull the females or raise them for eggs for the first 3 years when their egg-laying is most productive. Naked Neck hens are active layers and produce about 130 – 150 eggs a year at their peak.
Naked Neck hens rarely go broody. This means if you want a reliable source of meat and want to hatch chicks (if you keep a rooster for fertile eggs) you will need to do it yourself with an incubator and brooder.
This breed can be brown with cream color as well as black, blue, red, buff, or white.
Egyptian Fayoumi Chicken
If you want an active forager, the Egyptian Fayoumi Chicken is the best option. This breed enjoys hot climates, and is quite wild at heart. Still, these chickens aren’t aggressive. An advantage to this breed is they can resist a variety of diseases.
Usually, this chicken is white and black speckled, but it can also be silver.
Generally, they mature faster and are ready to butcher in 14 to 18 weeks. A consideration is they don’t grow very big. Typically, the male is 5 pounds, and the female is just 4 pounds.
Before then, they can produce about 150 eggs a year. They taste amazing, too, both the meat and the eggs.
The Chantecler bird also tends to thrive in colder climates. In these cases you might need a chicken water heater. This breed can lay about 200 eggs a year. Their eggs are brown. It is highly docile and can reach butchering size in just 11 to 16 weeks, making it one of the faster-growing chicken breeds.
Thus, the hens lay eggs quite early in their life and can then be used as one of the best meat chickens.
Though they enjoy feed, they can also forage, making them ideal for free-range. Roosters weigh about 9 pounds and hens weigh 7 pounds on average.
The Buckeye is a beautiful mahogany red and loves the cold. If you live in the northern part of the USA, then this is the bird for you. It doesn’t have dwindling populations throughout winter, so you can have the chicken no matter the temperature.
It can also adapt to its surroundings well, plus it tends to be docile and disease-resistant. Still, males can become moody toward cats and other small animals.
The male weighs about 9 pounds, with the female weighing about 6.5 pounds. It can take anywhere from 16 to 21 weeks before it reaches butchering size, though you get about 200 eggs a year until then.
Meat-Producing and Egg-Laying Chickens: Are They Different?
Is there a difference between meat chickens and laying chickens? Yes, chickens have different traits and many were bred for certain traits: either to produce meat or to lay a lot of eggs. Some breeds and hybrids are considered dual purpose and are decent at both.
Generally, meat chickens are called broilers and are bulkier and bigger to be consumed later. Often, they include more muscle tone than layers, which means you can get tender meat. They are bred to grow breast meat.
Additionally, broilers are male or female, while layers can only be female. Keep in mind that female meat chickens can produce eggs, too, but they do so at slower rates than a laying hen.
You should be aware that meat birds require a different diet than layers. The hens can eat the feed, but they are going to get too big to lay eggs.
Properly Fattening Meat Chickens
Regardless of whether you choose a dual-purpose or a traditional broiler, you need to feed them appropriately. Otherwise, you risk them getting too big or not big enough.
Generally, all of these birds on the list have similar diets. To make sure that the chickens have the right fat-to-meat ratio, you should feed them on the 12/12 schedule.
Food needs to be accessible for about 12 hours each day and removed for the rest of the time. Water needs to be available, too, but it should be put on the opposite side of the food.
That way, they have to walk just enough to create some muscle so that they don’t just become fat. Keep in mind chickens can be quite lazy.
Usually, they are going to thrive if you use the food and water setup mentioned earlier. They need enough food to get plump and ready for consumption within the time frame specified for each bird.
Though they aren’t likely to mix the food and water, you need them to get just enough exercise. The same applies to humans; we need enough calories to survive, but we need the right amount of movement so that we don’t gain extra weight.
You don’t want to force the chickens to overeat since their meat will taste different and won’t be as tender and moist. Both of these things are important, regardless of whether you raise the food or buy it at the store.
Best Meat Chickens to Raise
As you can see from the list, the best meat chickens tend to be those that are docile, foragers, and large. They can produce eggs, but that is not their primary goal. Layers (egg-laying chickens) are typically smaller.
Though you can use them as meat, they tend to be less tender and may not have as much food to provide. If you are wanting a chicken with coarse meat, choose Cochin chickens.
If you plan to raise chickens as a meat source, the Cornish Cross may be the best choice, but the others can be just as tasty, though maybe smaller.