What are the best meat chickens?

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by cece119, Jan 16, 2017.

  1. cece119

    cece119 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 10, 2016
    I just had someone ask if I would start incubating meat birds. This is new to me so I have a ton of questions.

    1. What is the best breed?
    2. How long does it take a meat chicken to lay?
    3. Is it worth keeping them till they lay to incubate their eggs or just buy them to incubate?
    4. Where is the best place to order eggs? I have to start somewhere right??? [​IMG]

    We were given some meat birds and I have no idea what they were, all I know is they were white. We butchered them because the lady said they were ready. It was before the hens started laying but Im not sure how old they were. We did about 20 of hers and 10 of our dual purpose birds the same day and froze the meat. When we decided to eat some of the chicken it was soooo tough! Pretty much if we want to be able to eat it we have to cook it in the crock pot for hours. Any ideas why this would have happened?

    Any advice is welcomed!!!

    Thank you
  2. redsoxs

    redsoxs Chicken Obsessed

    Jul 17, 2011
    North Central Kansas
    Well, there's a lot to go over in your post. The meat chicken that nearly everyone is familiar with is the Cornish Cross. It is the bird raised by the poultry industry due to its rapid weight gain, thus fast maturing....6-7 weeks old is all. It is also the chicken you get from the super market or restaurant. It wasn't always so as the dual purpose breeds you referenced were once the only option. To get to an acceptable size, these dual purpose birds might be 16 weeks or older. The toughness you noted may be due to that....a chicken can put on a lot of miles in 16 weeks if allowed to free range. And even at that age it still may be smaller than the Cornish Cross.
    So, the "best" breed is difficult to answer. If you want fast growing to have it over and done with and have a bird you are likely already familiar with in terms of taste, Cornish Cross is the obvious choice. Heritage dual purpose birds have the aforementioned slower growth rate, smaller carcass, and have a different taste...not unpleasant, just different and probably only a matter of folks not being used to it. There is a middle ground...the Breeds called Rangers (and other names) that are said to have a faster growth rate than dual purpose - like 12 weeks instead of 16. I have also heard the Cornish breed (not Cornish Cross) is a delicious bird.
    In terms of when do they lay....All depends on breed. Dual purpose - 20-25 weeks. Cornish Cross will eventually lay but this is not their design and the increased weight that comes with reaching that age will result in a hen with health, particularly leg problems.
    Hatching eggs can be ordered through the mail but pleaee know the success rate goes down due to being shipped - you never know how jostled they were. You can research hatcheries and breeders in this link. I hope this helped. Best of luck to you.
  3. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    I assume the tough chicken you had was your dual purpose bird. The white meat birds were likely CornishX and they grow to butcher size by 10 weeks old max. Tender age and can be grilled or broiled. Dual purpose birds will be very small if wanting to use as broiler. Names of birds is by age, toughness, and methods used to cook. In order it's broiler, fryer, roaster, stew. None of those names means a thing to CornishX as they are never slaughtered over age 10 weeks so can be cooked any method you want. Dual purpose age means much, broiler- up to 15 weeks, fryer- up to 20 weeks, roaster over 20 weeks and under a year old, stew- over year old birds.

    CronishX are easiest to be purchased as chicks. Purchase a batch for slaughter in 8 to 10 weeks. Most economical feed to meat conversion is the CornishX. It's the double breasted tender, albeit lacking flavor, bird everyone is accustomed to purchasing at the supermarket.
  4. Fat Daddy

    Fat Daddy Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 11, 2010
    Good morning Cece, You have been given some good answers above. But Ill add to it a bit. As to best breed.... This is something that is different for everyone. It depends on what you want out of the endeavor. If you want the most cost efficient meat possible, well the cornish cross, "white birds" are likely the best choice. These chicks need to bought as day olds and raised to the weight suitable for the end product you have in mind. As in frying, broiling, stewing, ect....I have found the cornish cross, raised penned for meat purposes to be short on both personality and flavor.... I enjoyed raising them least of all.... I have tried many "dual purpose" breeds as meat birds as well.... Black copper marans, Cochins, Orpingtons, Rhode Island reds, and buckeyes to name a few. I also have tried to cross all the above with heritage Cornish too, both dark and white... Not the cornish cross you find at the feed store, but the heritage Cornish used in the development of the fast growing "cornish cross" feed store type .... For the last few years I have kept pure heritage LF white cornish as my meat birds. The main draw back to this is their egg laying. They lay well for about 5 months starting in mid march. They are also harder to find than they should be. This means they bring a good price if you choose to sell any too though. I have never had to do more than mention I had some to sell, and they are gone.....The only bird Iv ever raised that will actually come close paying its own way. I use buckeyes as my egg layers by the way. The LF cornish are great for a sustainable meat bird as in a SHTF, preper, or survivalist situation. Plus just a personality on the farm.

    All of the breeds I have worked with can lay at 20 to 25 weeks of age. This is provided with suitable temps and 15+ hrs of light.....

    Depending on the numbers of birds you plan to butcher. Raising a flock of meat birds year round to incubate the eggs they produce, is always going to be more expensive than buying the eggs. This is assuming you can buy the eggs you want! If you raise the flock, you get to improve the line every generation. Breeding for exactly the qualities you want most. Again, if the cost is your main deciding factor, day old feed store/hatchery cornish cross chicks will always the best in this regard.

    As to where to get your eggs. No matter what breed you decide to raise. I strongly suggest finding a breeder of the birds you want. Somewhere you can at least see pix of the actual parent stock. Understand that a lot of breeders will not allow folks to stroll around their pens. More so if the buyer has birds of their own! A good breeder will always have a better "Line" than can be bought at a hatchery. A good breeder is always working to improve their stock with every season. Its a matter of pride and love of the breed. With hatcheries, Its a business... Profit has to dictate how birds are bred. Low producing lines are crossbred to high producing lines to up output, no matter if that is what best for the breed type or not.....

    Mostly, Pick birds you like! Good luck, Bill
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
    2 people like this.
  5. Molpet

    Molpet Overrun With Chickens

    Sep 7, 2015
    N. Illinois
    My Coop
    all good advice given .. just want to make sure you rested the birds a day or 2 before you froze or after you thawed., so the Riga mortise relaxed.. it can make even a CX (whitebird) tough
    1 person likes this.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Boy, is there a lot to cover. “Best” depends on what you want from a meat bird. If all you want is meat, you cannot beat the Cornish Cross, Cornish X, whatever you call the hybrid bird used commercially. They have been bred to grow to butcher size in 6 to 8 weeks and are excellent in feed to meat conversion. They gain weight so rapidly and are so great at feed to meat conversion if you don’t butcher them when they are ready they outgrow their heart or skeleton and break down or die. You have to make a commitment to butcher them when they are ready, you can’t blow it off for another week. And you have to have sufficient freezer space to handle them butchered all at the same time.

    There are several threads on here where people have tried to keep them to breed. Most are disappointed. To keep them from growing so fast they break down or die, and to keep them from getting so big they can’t mate (especially the males) you have to restrict their feed. I don’t know how you determine how much and what you feed them to keep them from growing too big yet be healthy enough to lay. I’ve seen posts where they lay pretty well though the eggs are medium sized, not large. They have real trouble getting them to last more than one laying season.

    Since the purpose of the parent and grandparent flocks for meat birds is to lay eggs for hatching, it stands to reason they would also be bred to lay a lot of eggs. It would be ridiculous to develop a bird like this and have to pay to feed a bunch of free loaders that don’t lay well.

    The commercial operations have this down to a science. The Cornish Cross is a 4-way hybrid, made from four different distinct flocks, each flock to produce a specific grandparent of the chicks that will become the meat birds. They know exactly how much to feed the birds, have techniques so that each bird gets enough to eat without overeating, and feed the hen and roosters separately so they eat the feed they need to eat.

    As the chickens get older, the meat develops more flavor and texture. The Cornish Cross are butchered so young they are fairly bland tasting but extremely tender. Usually the chicken you buy at the store has brine and often flavoring injected to get the taste you are used to. If you butcher a dual purpose bird that young there is no meat there.

    Different people have different tastes and are able to handle different textures. Some people are quite happy to grill or fry a 14 or 16 week old chicken, to some people that would have the texture of leather. Grilling and frying techniques could make a difference, so could how it is handled after butchering. So what you are used to and personal preference comes into play too.

    You need to adjust your cooking techniques to suit the age of the meat and your preferences. Generally the older the chicken when butchered the more need to cook it slowly at a lower temperature and with moisture. One exception to this is a pressure cooker which uses high temperature but plenty of moisture and gives you extremely tender meat. You can cook any chicken of any age and sex and get a great dish. Coq au Vin is a traditional French way to cook an old tough rooster and get a gourmet meal. Chicken and Dumplings is great comfort food made from older chickens. I normally bake my older chickens in a tightly sealed baking dish with just a bit of moisture at 250 degrees, for an old rooster I’ll probably go around 4 hours. Slow and moist.

    What traits you want in a meat bird can influence what birds you use. If you pluck your birds instead of skinning them a white or buff colored bird will give you a prettier carcass because of the pin feathers. Dark feathers show up too well. The age you butcher can have an influence. Some people butcher at 14 weeks so they can cook the bird the way they like so they need a bird that mature early and puts on a lot of meat early. I target butchering around 22 to 23 weeks so I want a bird at butcher weight then.

    How big of a bird to you actually want? Many people fixate on size, which I totally understand. If you are raising them for meat you want meat, I do too. But there are only two of us so I can make a couple of meals off of a pullet or hen, it doesn’t have to be a huge cockerel. I don’t purchase all their feed, mine forage for a part of their feed. If you are buying all the feed you probably want something that matures early.

    I’m not a great believer in breed, I believe a lot more in strain. Back before the Cornish Cross took over the meat industry in the 1950’s, certain breeds of chickens were developed as meat birds, generally Delaware, New Hampshire, and some strains of White Rock. But with the advent of the Cornish Cross, people stopped breeding these breeds as meat birds. If the person selecting which birds breed selects for certain traits the can develop a flock that meets his goals. If they ignore a certain trait then that trait is not enhanced.

    I’ll use Delawares. If someone selects for egg laying they can develop a strain of Delaware that are great egg layers, but not great for meat. If they select for meat properties they can develop a strain of Delaware that are great for meat but maybe don’t lay that well. It’s all in what the person selecting the breeders select for, plus how good they are at it.

    The hatcheries we buy from are not in the business of providing great meat birds, there are Cornish Cross for that. They are not in the business of providing tremendous laying birds, the commercial egg laying hybrids fill that niche. They are not in the business of providing show birds, that takes a breeder dedicated to breeding show birds. They are in the business of mass producing birds that generally meet the breed standards (but not close enough for show) at a cheap price. Each hatchery has different people selecting which birds get to breed so there are differences between hatcheries for the same breed, but there are a lot of similarities too. For the vast majority of people with small backyard flocks they work great.

    There are generally more differences in breeders than hatcheries. Some breeders are really good at what they do, or you may get someone that breeds hatchery birds, has no idea of genetics, and calls them purebreds. Some breeders that know what they are doing breed for show. They look hard at the traits a judge will see. A judge does not see how fast or efficiently a bird puts on weight or what kind of egg the hens lay so many show breeders don’t worry about these traits. Some show breeders do though. If a breed is supposed to have certain production traits they select for those traits as well as what the judge sees. Some breeders concentrate more on production traits and don’t worry that much about what a judge sees because they are not going to show them. If you can find a breeder that is breeding for the traits you want you will be way ahead but it’s possible those hatching eggs or birds may be fairly expensive. It takes generations, expertise, and money to develop an outstanding flock, whether for show or production. For good backyard meat birds it may not even be a specific breed but a mix that has been developed over time.

    I don’t have any great suggestions for you, it pretty much depends on what you want in a meat bird. I started with hatchery stock and bred for the traits I want. In a few generations I made some good strides but my goals are more than just a great meat bird. They are not purebreds either but a backyard mix. The more traits you breed for the harder it is and I didn’t make it particularly easy on myself. If you can find someone breeding for the traits you want and can afford the breeding stock you are way ahead. But I don’t know of any easy way for you to find that breeder that matches your goals. I wish you luck.

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