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11 Best Meat Chicken Breeds for Your Backyard Coop

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This article is part of our Raising Meat on the Homestead series.

Although many homesteaders keep a few hens for eggs, the next stage for most homesteaders is to start thinking about rearing chickens for meat. Choosing the right breed of meat chicken is vital to the success of this enterprise. Otherwise, you’ll spend a load of money rearing birds that are too small, lacking in flavor, or even downright inedible! But what are the best meat chicken breeds for your homestead?

Let’s take a look!

Buff Orpington chicken grazing in a lovely green grassy meadow. One of the meat chicken breeds

What Is The Best Chicken Breed For Meat?

We’re about to share our list of the 11 best chicken meat breeds. But first – we should talk about how we came to this conclusion! Selecting the ideal chicken breed for meat will depend on several factors, such as your local climate, how fast you want the birds to grow, and the flavor profile of the meat you hope to achieve.

Many homesteaders opt for slower-growing heritage breeds over commercially-reared birds, as they suffer from fewer health problems and provide fuller-flavored, healthier meat.

Growth Rate

English sussex chickens. Light Sussex hen. Sussex is British breed of dual-purpose chicken, reared both for its meat and for its eggs.

Did you know that factory-farmed meat chickens only live for around six weeks? Industrial farming systems use broilers bred to grow as big and fast as possible, prioritizing profits over flavor and welfare. For this reason, many homesteaders and backyard chicken keepers are starting to rear their chickens for meat to provide a source of full-flavored, ethically-reared poultry.

When selecting the best meat chickens, opting for a breed that reaches its mature slaughter weight fast is a good idea. We’re not talking about the miserable six weeks that factory-farmed birds get, but the slower your bird matures, the longer you will feed them. A long lifespan also alters the texture and flavor of the meat, which many people dislike.

Climate

When rearing meat chickens, the aim is to convert feed to increased body weight as efficiently as possible. The more energy your birds use to keep warm or cool, the slower they grow. As a homesteader, you might not rear your birds in climate-controlled conditions. So, we urge you to choose the ideal meat chicken breed to cope with your local weather and temperatures.

Flavor

The other shocking factor associated with commercially reared poultry is that mass-produced chicken seriously lacks flavor and nutrients. When we ate our first home-reared meat chicken, my husband noted, “This is how chicken used to taste when I was a child!”. Sadly, the intensive production of chicken has turned this once-healthy food into something tasteless and, arguably, junk food.

By rearing slower-growing birds in a higher-welfare system, you not only get more flavorsome meat, but you can also guarantee that it will be more nutritious. Studies indicate that high-welfare systems produce poultry with less fat and more essential fatty acids, iron, and vitamin E.

Size Of the Chicken

Mottled Houdan meat Chicken Breed

When choosing the perfect meat chickens, consider your desired outcomes – do you want smaller birds for grilling or frying? Or large roasters to feed the whole family? Is a high proportion of breast meat a big priority, or would you prefer big, meaty thighs and legs? Factoring in your preferences at this stage is essential to produce the perfect birds to feed your family.

Egg Production

Large Brahma chicken. Brahmas are  great meat chicken breeds

Although you may be focusing on rearing chickens for meat, it helps to consider whether egg production is also a priority. Some chicken farmers keep separate breeds for egg and meat production, while others opt for dual-purpose breeds that fulfill both roles.

For example, we rear Brahma chickens. We raise the best hens for chick rearing and laying eggs. We then cull surplus roosters and lesser-quality hens for the table. The hens are consistently good layers and excellent mothers, and the meat birds are a decent size. And they have great flavor.

11 Best Meat Chicken Breeds For Your Homestead – Our Official List

So, we’re looking for a chicken that grows quickly but not too fast, will thrive in your climate, and will be the perfect size to feed your family – where do you start?! Luckily, we’ve got some fabulous meat chicken breeds for you to choose from, helping to get you off to the best possible start on your poultry-rearing journey.

1. New Hampshire Red

Striking New Hampshire Red chicken exploring the pasture on a lovely day.

New Hampshire Red chickens are one of the most popular breeds amongst homesteaders and backyard chicken keepers, particularly those who want to rear healthy, happy birds for meat. Derived from the famous Rhode Island RedNew Hampshire Reds were selectively bred to produce a tough, fast-growing chicken that yielded ample high-quality chicken meat.

With a mature weight of 5 to 8 pounds, New Hampshire Reds are table-ready within 14 to 16 weeks, producing a plump carcass packed with flavor and nutrition.

New Hampshire Reds can live in spacious confinement or a free-range system and adapt to warm and cool climate conditions. They can be aggressive over food, so it is vital to ensure multiple feeding stations are available to prevent bullying. Other than this, New Hampshire Red chickens are easy to care for and will yield impressive amounts of meat in a relatively short space of time.

2. Jersey Giant

A mighty Jersey Giant flock patrolling the backyard homestead.

Jersey Giants seem to make it onto every chicken list I write, but there is a good reason for this! These docile, friendly birds are shockingly easy to care for and tick all the boxes when rearing chickens for meat.

Jersey Giants are a slower-growing heritage breed, but their large size and delicious flavor make them worth the wait. Mature females weigh 10 pounds, with roosters tipping the scales at a whopping 13 pounds. They take at least 20 weeks to reach their optimum slaughter weight, but some breeders prefer to leave them for up to two years to develop full flavor.

This magnificent breed was supposed to replace turkey as the ultimate table bird, and although it didn’t quite achieve this, a roast Jersey Giant is a feast for all the family! They do well in free-range systems where they can forage freely and cope well with cold climates.

Related: The Cost of Raising Chickens In the USA [Meat and Egg Chickens!]

3. Freedom Rangers

Epic Red Ranger chickens exploring the area outside their coop.

Freedom Ranger chickens, also known as Red Rangers, are a hybrid breed designed specifically for meat production in free-range systems. Like many specialist hybrid birds, their precise origins are a closely guarded secret. However, many chicken advocates believe they could be related to Cornish Crosses and Rhode Island Reds.

Freedom Rangers are one of the fastest-growing breeds that can be kept in a free-range system, reaching their mature weight of 5 to 6 pounds in 9 to 11 weeks. These ginger broilers are relatively small compared to most heritage breeds of meat chickens, but they will provide you with a tasty dinner all the same! And, if a few birds live beyond their optimum slaughter date, they are also reasonable egg-layers, producing 3 to 4 eggs per week.

The only issue with Freedom Rangers is that they are hybrid birds and will not breed true to type. So, whenever you want a new batch of meat chickens, you must purchase chicks from the hatchery.

4. Delaware

Delaware chicken foraging for breakfast in the autumn leaves. One of the fastest growing meat chicken breeds

Delaware chickens are one of the fastest-growing heritage meat chicken breeds, so if hybrids are not your thing, Delawares are a great alternative. Delawares reach an impressive 7 to 9 pounds of flavorful meat in 12 to 16 weeks. Not bad for a low-maintenance, hardy chicken that thrives on any homestead or backyard chicken coop!

This cross between Barred Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire Red chickens is also a prolific layer. They produce up to 280 eggs per year. Their egg-laying abilities make it a great choice if you want a dual-purpose meat and egg flock, and the adept mothering instincts of the hens make raising chicks a doddle.

5. Cornish Cross

Cornish Cross meat chicken exploring a neatly landscaped lawn.

Cornish Cross chickens are perfect as the ultimate meat breed, but it pays to think carefully before rearing these chickens at home. Cornish Crosses are hybrid broilers and are one of the fastest-growing meat chicken breeds you will come across. They have incredible appetites and will reach their mature weight of 5 to 8 pounds in an astounding 6 to 8 weeks.

While this might sound impressive, there is a price to pay for this rapid meat production. Cornish Crosses grow tremendously fast. They are prone to issues such as limb deformities, particularly if they never get slaughtered as soon as they reach their optimum body weight. And, as with all hybrid broilers, they cannot be hatched at home and usually get purchased from a hatchery.

Putting all this aside, is it feasible to rear Cornish Crosses on a homestead or in your backyard? Absolutely! But don’t expect these birds to forage and explore like your most robust farmyard birds. They often prefer living relatively confined and enjoy ample food to satisfy their incredible appetites. That said, if you want to produce large amounts of tender meat as cost-effectively and quickly as possible, Cornish Crosses can be an excellent option.

Related: 39 Cheap Ways to Feed Your Chickens: Without Buying Feed!

6. Brahma

Brahma hen foraging and looking for a tasty snack.

Brahmas are a large heritage breed that is slow to mature. But they’re worth the wait! This impressive breed is my favorite for a free-ranging dual-purpose flock, as their excellent foraging instincts mean they eke out the maximum nutritional value from the land available to them. Their foraging proclivity results in meat that is rich and almost gamey in flavor, with a subtle sweetness and deliciously juicy texture.

We also find that Brahma’s slow growth rate works to our advantage. The one time we reared fast-growing hybrids, the pressure to process them all before they got too old and unable to walk was quite stressful! Whereas our Brahma chicks get 6 to 9 months of lovely free-range life before we even start to think about processing them for the freezer, at which stage they weigh an impressive 8 to 10 pounds.

7. Bresse

Legendary Bresse chicken exploring in a bright green meadow.

If you want to rear meat chickens with the best possible flavor, look no further than the delicious Bresse chicken! Hailing from the Bresse region, these elegant chickens once existed only in France. But, they are becoming more widespread worldwide thanks to their reputation as the ultimate table bird. Only Bresse chickens raised in their area of origin can bear the name Bresse, but in the U.S., you may find hatcheries rearing American Bresse chicks.

Bresse chickens are highly prized because of their meat’s luxurious flavor and texture. The breast meat is almost pure white and has a rich, slightly grassy flavor, thanks to the herbs and plants these free-ranging birds forage throughout their lives.

Rearing Bresse chickens is a specialist skill, with a careful balance of diet, foraging, and confinement required to achieve the desired result of marbled breast meat. Day-old American Bresse chicks will set you back $5 to $10 each and can be processed when they reach 16 weeks of age. At that point, they will weigh around 5 to 7 pounds.

8. Buff Orpington

Young Buff Orpington chicken exploring the backyard and looking for lunch.

For a heftier heritage breed, Buff Orpingtons are tremendously fast at reaching their mature butchering weight. By 18 to 22 weeks, you can process them for the table. They attain weights of 6 to 8 pounds at this time. Their meat is high-quality and full of flavor. But, you must be careful not to overfeed these birds as they are prone to obesity.

Buff Orpingtons are an excellent choice for a backyard flock of dual-purpose chickens, as they are friendly, docile, and easy to care for. They cope well with confinement and are excellent layers, producing up to 280 eggs yearly. Buff Orpington hens are prone to going broody and have potent mothering instincts, taking all the hassle out of rearing the next generation of meat chickens.

Related: 13 Best Meat Turkey Breeds for Your Homestead

9. Croad Langshan

Langshan chicken exploring on a beautiful sunny day.

Croad Langshan chickens are a large, low-maintenance breed that is easy to rear for meat. The roosters have long legs and deep breasts, which, combined with their 9-pound bodyweight, makes them an impressive feast for the whole family. The hens are slightly smaller at 7 pounds. But no less delicious.

The joy of Croad Langshans is that they are super easy to care for and rarely have any problems. They are peaceful birds and get along well with other breeds of chicken, and the hens will lay around 200 eggs per year. Because of their beautiful feathered feet, it is essential to ensure that your Croad Landshan meat chickens live in dry, mud-free conditions.

10. Dark Cornish

Baby chickens exploring the farmyard with their mom.

Like the world-famous Bresse, Dark Cornish chickens are an undeniable gourmet delicacy. Reaching a mature weight of 8 to 10 pounds within 22 weeks, these chickens have a rich, gamey flavor that is quite unlike any chicken you could buy from the store!

Dark Cornish chickens can be flighty, and the roosters are famous for their aggression. So, this breed would be better suited to experienced chicken keepers. They have exceptional foraging skills and thrive in a large run or free-range system, helping to contribute to the meat’s savory flavor.

11. Turken

A funky looking naked-neck chicken exploring their surroundings.

While the Turken wouldn’t win any poultry beauty contests, this unusual broiler breed is an excellent choice for poultry farmers who want to rear meat chickens in hot climates. Also known as the naked-neck chicken (for obvious reasons!), this is one of the few breeds that will yield a reasonable amount of delicious meat even in the hottest temperatures.

Turken broiler chickens are also surprisingly hardy and efficient at scratching around for food. They can forage for extra protein and herbage on even the most arid ground. In return, the hens will lay roughly 100 eggs yearly, while any spare roosters can get culled for their flavorsome meat. This heritage chicken breed is certainly not the largest, and they only weigh around 4 to 5 pounds. But it is a good meat source for anyone living in a warmer climate.

11 best meat chickens for your homestead! Fried, roasted, and broiler chicken breeds.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading our guide about the best broiler chickens, meat chickens, and backyard farm birds!

We know the cost of feeding a homesteading family keeps going up. We hope our meat bird tips help.

What about you?

  • Do you like white meat? Or dark meat?
  • Do you prefer raising chickens for meat only? Or do you also appreciate a dual-purpose bird?
  • Have you ever had chickens in colder climates? Which are your favorite hardy breeds?
  • Do you prefer a docile breed? Or would you rather have an active forager flock?
  • Would you consider raising small bantam breeds? Or – do you favor gentle giants – like Jerseys?

We love brainstorming with fellow homesteaders. And we hope to hear from you!

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

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