The Best Chicken Breed For Meat (Top 3 Meat Chicken Breeds)

leghorn chicken

The Best Chicken Breed For Meat (Top 3 Meat Chicken Breeds)

So you’re looking for the right breed of chicken to raise for meat production. Broilers, or chickens raised to butcher, are usually bigger bodied birds that mature faster than a chicken bred for egg laying. That means that while you are shopping, you need to look for different qualities than if you were shopping for egg layers to add to the flock.

When looking into broiler breeds, it is a good idea to keep an eye on details like size, age to butcher, and other factors. (It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a chicken that lays eggs and can be dinner.) I put together this list of three of my top picks for broiler chickens, along with some facts to help you get started.

Best Chicken Breeds For Meat Production

1. Cornish Cross

flock of cornish cross chickens raised for meat

Cornish Cross chickens are a cross between the White Cornish and the White Plymouth Rock chicken. These great big birds literally changed the game in chicken production because of their big bodies and fast growth rates. Chances are, the meat you buy in the grocery store comes from a Cornish Cross chicken.

Age to Butcher

According to Purely Poultry, you can expect a Cornish Cross chicken to reach his or her max weight by the time they are just 9 weeks old. Cornish Cross chickens have an excellent conversion rate, meaning that their bodies are super efficient at putting on muscle. This is great news if you raise broilers, because it means you spend less on feed and get more bang for your buck.

Estimated Size

Cornish Cross roosters reach an average of 10 lbs each, with hens averaging around 8 lbs. Despite their high body weight, they tend to be very short and squat birds. That’s because the majority of the Cornish Cross’s weight is in muscle, which means more gets to the table.

Interestingly, store bought “Cornish Game Hens” are actually the exact same chicken (regardless of gender) as the rest of the meat sold in the store, just butchered earlier. By the time your Cornish Cross reaches 4 weeks old, it should be about 2.5 pounds, making it a “Game Hen.”

Quality as a Dual Purpose Bird

Hens of this breed tend to not lay many eggs, which does not make them great as dual purpose birds. On average, a Cornish Cross lays one small egg per week. If you plan on raising them for meat, this likely won’t matter much though. The age at which they are ready to butcher (9 weeks) comes well before they reach sexual maturity and begin laying, which happens around 15 weeks for most hens.

Additionally, Cornish Cross hens tend to have a relatively short life span. Their ability to pack on muscle puts a strain on the rest of the body, which makes for health problems later in life. Since most chickens of the breed are sent to butcher so young, they are rarely around long enough to lay eggs or encounter serious health issues.

2. Freedom Rangers

An excellent happy medium between fast growing breeds like the Cornish Cross and slower growing heritage varieties, Freedom Rangers are decently good at free ranging which lowers your cost of feed. Their plumage can be tri-colored or red, and their beaks, skin, and shanks are all yellow rather than white, as with the Cross. The yellow coloring comes from Omega-3 in the chicken, which gives it an excellent flavor.

Age to Butcher

Just as with the Cornish Cross, the Freedom Ranger chicken usually comes of age around 9 weeks. Sometimes waiting an extra week or two, up through week 11, can help maximize the weight the bird has put on.

Estimated Size

Freedom Rangers tend to be a little smaller bodied, but still very muscular. They clock in at around 5 to 6 pounds. Although they are smaller than the Cross, they are still very muscular and mature quickly which makes them a great choice as broilers.

Quality as a Dual Purpose Bird

Another great feature of the Freedom Ranger is its ability to lay eggs. Once hens reach maturity, sometime around the 15 week mark, you can expect them to lay 3 to 4 eggs a week. That is really a great level of egg production from a broiler! This added ability to lay eggs can help offset feeding costs if you plan on only butchering one or two chickens at a time through the season.

3. Chantecler

Credit: Flickr

Originally bred in Canada, Chanteclers were developed by crossing Cornish, Leghorns, White Wyandotte, White Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red chickens. If you know a bit about chicken breeds, you might notice that a few of these breeds are well known for big bodies and steady egg laying. Chanteclers certainly inherited these traits, which makes them a great option for backyard and small scale farmers. As a bonus, these northern chickens are great at handling even the coldest winters.

Age to Butcher

The Chantecler is certainly more of a slow burn than the other two listed here, which may or may not suit your needs. Typically, you can expect these fellows to be ready to dress at around 16 to 20 weeks old. Putting on their body weight slower means that the birds are healthier for longer, but it also means more money spent of feed.

Estimated Size

Most Chantecler chickens will max out around 5 to 6 pounds. While this isn’t huge, it’s good to remember that a 4 to 7 pound chicken will feed about 5 to 7 people. (Assuming that no one is chowing down on over a pound of chicken in one sitting.)

Quality as a Dual Purpose Bird

With their level of egg production, this breed could very easily be raised solely for eggs if you changed your mind. Producing an average of four eggs per week, Chantecler chickens tend to lay beautiful large brown eggs. That puts them on par with some single purpose breeds, clocking in at around 200 eggs per year. Not bad!

At the end of the day, choosing the right chicken really depends on your needs. In my opinion though, these three really represent the best cross section to get you started with broilers. With any one of these breeds, and good stewardship you’ll have farm fresh chicken on the table before the end of the season.

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