heritage meat bird question

jermoatc

Songster
9 Years
Feb 5, 2011
238
78
171
Lake Crystal, MN
Those of you who raise heritage breeds (not crosses or broiler type) at what age do you harvest the cockerels? All the ones I've ever tried end up being very tough unless i crock pot them for many many hours. What breeds do you prefer and why?
 

BullChick

Enslaved by a Duckling
Premium member
7 Years
Apr 17, 2012
41,681
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White Rocks were the original meat bird before they were crossed for faster growth. Process around sixteen weeks for a tender bird. If memory serves, the range is 16-20.
 

Ridgerunner

Free Ranging
11 Years
Feb 2, 2009
24,310
12,614
707
Southeast Louisiana
You can eat any chicken of any sex and any age and get a good meal. The age they are harvested has a huge affect on how you can cook them. Also, how you manage them before you cook them (age, brine, or marinade) can have an effect. Coq au Vin is how the French make a gourmet meal out of an old tough rooster. So my question to you is how did you try to cook them and at what age did you harvest them? Or better yet, how do you want to cook them?

My target age for cockerels is 23 weeks but I often start thinning them down around 16 weeks. I typically decide which pullets will make my flock as replacements around 8 months so I eat the others then. The hens I am replacing are usually two to three years old. Since one of my goals is to play with genetics I often replace my rooster, usually at around two or occasionally three years old. The age I harvest and their sex determines how I cook them. I don't butcher any young enough to fry or grill.

Favorite breeds? I don't have one. I breed my own as a mix from several breeds. Before the Cornish X took over back in the 1950's three breeds were typically used for meat birds, New Hampshire, Delaware, and certain strains of White Rock. Not all strains of White Rock, some strains were more for laying or dual purpose. So for 60 years or more hatcheries have not been breeding these birds as meat birds. They are not a bad choice but there are a lot of other dual purpose breeds out there that can be as good. If you can find a breeder specifically breeding a dual purpose for meat (and the breeder knows what they are doing) you can get a better bird than a hatchery bird for meat but those people are hard to find.
 

Fairview01

Songster
Jan 26, 2017
1,047
1,454
226
Dallas, TX
I raise the other half of the Cornish Rock Xs. The heritage lsrge fowl white Cornish. I can harvest culls anytime after 8 weeks as Cornish game hens.

Higher than necessary scald temps and not allowing the meat to age before use are 2 primary reasons backyard poultry tough. Having the expectation that heritage birds will be tender as purchased in the store is unrealistic. Those store birds are processed at 4
20191102_091207.jpg
-5 weeks after hatch.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium member
7 Years
Nov 27, 2012
72,725
76,855
1,557
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
at what age do you harvest the cockerels? All the ones I've ever tried end up being very tough unless i crock pot them for many many hours.
14 weeks for my layer breed cockerels.......rest the cleaned carcass in fridge for at least 2-3 days before cooking or freezing to avoid to tough to eat. Older birds rest longer.
 

jolenesdad

Free Ranging
Premium member
Apr 12, 2015
2,264
8,327
542
Montgomery, TX
I raise the other half of the Cornish Rock Xs. The heritage lsrge fowl white Cornish. I can harvest culls anytime after 8 weeks as Cornish game hens.

Higher than necessary scald temps and not allowing the meat to age before use are 2 primary reasons backyard poultry tough. Having the expectation that heritage birds will be tender as purchased in the store is unrealistic. Those store birds are processed at 4View attachment 2003966-5 weeks after hatch.
This!

In addition to resting (at least 2 days on a heritage bird), you have to take into account methods of cooking.

Broiler means a young chicken that can be cooked almost any way. The young meat can take much higher temperatures to cook and so modern roasting methods are high temperature and quick time.

Older and/or exercised meat cannot take the modern methods of cooking. It simply takes longer for the fibers to break down. If you cook them at high temperatures, they’d completely dry out by the time they could even be tender.

This isn’t to say you can’t roast them, but slow and low is key.
 

jermoatc

Songster
9 Years
Feb 5, 2011
238
78
171
Lake Crystal, MN
You can eat any chicken of any sex and any age and get a good meal. The age they are harvested has a huge affect on how you can cook them. Also, how you manage them before you cook them (age, brine, or marinade) can have an effect. Coq au Vin is how the French make a gourmet meal out of an old tough rooster. So my question to you is how did you try to cook them and at what age did you harvest them? Or better yet, how do you want to cook them?

My target age for cockerels is 23 weeks but I often start thinning them down around 16 weeks. I typically decide which pullets will make my flock as replacements around 8 months so I eat the others then. The hens I am replacing are usually two to three years old. Since one of my goals is to play with genetics I often replace my rooster, usually at around two or occasionally three years old. The age I harvest and their sex determines how I cook them. I don't butcher any young enough to fry or grill.

Favorite breeds? I don't have one. I breed my own as a mix from several breeds. Before the Cornish X took over back in the 1950's three breeds were typically used for meat birds, New Hampshire, Delaware, and certain strains of White Rock. Not all strains of White Rock, some strains were more for laying or dual purpose. So for 60 years or more hatcheries have not been breeding these birds as meat birds. They are not a bad choice but there are a lot of other dual purpose breeds out there that can be as good. If you can find a breeder specifically breeding a dual purpose for meat (and the breeder knows what they are doing) you can get a better bird than a hatchery bird for meat but those people are hard to find.
I would prefer to roast them. I LOVE roast chicken. It would be nice to spatchcock and grill a few too. Any specific tips for those methods?
 

jermoatc

Songster
9 Years
Feb 5, 2011
238
78
171
Lake Crystal, MN
14 weeks for my layer breed cockerels.......rest the cleaned carcass in fridge for at least 2-3 days before cooking or freezing to avoid to tough to eat. Older birds rest longer.
I’ve never tried the resting method. What if you want to freeze them? Should you rest in the fridge before freezing?
 

jermoatc

Songster
9 Years
Feb 5, 2011
238
78
171
Lake Crystal, MN
This!

In addition to resting (at least 2 days on a heritage bird), you have to take into account methods of cooking.

Broiler means a young chicken that can be cooked almost any way. The young meat can take much higher temperatures to cook and so modern roasting methods are high temperature and quick time.

Older and/or exercised meat cannot take the modern methods of cooking. It simply takes longer for the fibers to break down. If you cook them at high temperatures, they’d completely dry out by the time they could even be tender.

This isn’t to say you can’t roast them, but slow and low is key.
What temp do you recommend roasting?
 

Acre4Me

Free Ranging
Nov 12, 2017
3,414
7,307
517
Western Ohio
This Past Christmas we decided the extra 2 males would be Christmas dinner - over the outdoor fire. It was upper 50s-60 on Christmas Day, very unusual, so that’s why we wanted to cook outside over the fire.

Sunday before Christmas, butcher both males. Age 22 weeks old. The Black Jersey Giant was approx 9.5 lbs live weight. TheRed Dorking was a bit lighter. I wrote a thread on this in this meat forum at that time, you can search for it. It includes pics. Overall, both were tender and tasty after grilled over the fire.

Contrast this to the first time we butchered a few unwanted males at approx 16 weeks. An EE and dark Brown Leghorns, no resting in the fridge. Then we unwittingly grilled them right after butcher. Yes, the definition of tough and stringy. Of course, neither of these two breeds are known for their eating qualities.
 

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