Raising chickens for meat is a great way to increase your self-sufficiency and sustainability. However, not all chickens are created equal and some are great for meat, some are great for meat and eggs, others… not so much. These are the best meat chicken breeds you can raise on your small homestead.
Can any chicken be raised for meat?
While any chicken can be made into a meat bird, breeds like easter eggers and leghorns aren’t particularly suited to meat since they don’t have a lot of it. We do utilize these spent hens to make bone broth, though.
Other breeds are excellent dual-purpose chicken breeds, meaning they’re both productive and dress out to a good-sized carcass. While other breeds are good only for meat, being essentially non-productive or not producing enough eggs to make it worthwhile. So, which is best for you?
What to Consider When Selecting a Meat Chicken Breed
Breeds like cornish cross grow rapidly. Other heritage breeds do not. If you want fast food, you’re going to want to go with a cornish or similar. If you’re more into heritage, slow food… you have more options.
Meat chickens, particularly cornish cross, eat a lot of commercial feed. Other heritage breeds can grow off solely pasture. Learning how much feed you’re going to have to purchase, if any, in order to successfully grow out the flock is important, especially when the cost of commercial feeds continues to increase exponentially.
If you’ve only ever had store bought chicken, you’ve never really tasted chicken as that is all cornish cross and they just really don’t have much flavor, especially when raised in a commercial setting.
Diet, of course, affects the flavor of the meat, but so does the breed. Some breeds are prized for their rich flavors while others are prized for their rapid growth rates… but not all chicken tastes the same.
Heritage breeds have a lot of benefits. However, they are smaller birds than cornish cross, which can make a difference if you’re needing large birds to feed your family. While there are plenty of meaty heritage breeds, the meat is more evenly distributed, not all in the breast. Again, a difference not many are aware of.
Wanting to raise chickens for a dual purpose? Then you’ll want to know what the egg production is like. If you’re raising solely for meat, this may not be as big of an issue.
Cornish cross can’t really reproduce naturally. They’re a breed you’ll have to buy again and again from the hatchery. Heritage breeds, however, can. So, you can get started with a breed and then continue on without needing an outside source by keeping a few hens and a rooster to produce more eggs for hatching.
Where to find meat chickens
Meat chickens, whether hybrid or dual-purpose, can be purchased from multiple hatcheries as day-old chicks. For some of the more specialized breeds, or to find someone breeding for specific breed standards, there are several small farms and homesteaders that sell hatching eggs and some that also sell day-old chicks.
On the farm sales from small farms can sometimes be your best bet, sometimes a hatchery is better. You just have to do your due diligence and figure out what works best for you and find a reputable breeder, regardless of the source.
There are many hatcheries in the United States that are committed to preserving heritage breeds and meeting breed standards and we’ve not had any bad experiences with any of them, just do your homework. We really like Cackle hatchery and Murray McMurray, but we’ve had experience with several others and they’ve all been good.
Best Meat Chicken Breeds
The most well-known and popular breed for meat production is the cornish cross. Known for their rapid growth rates, these birds can be harvested around eight to ten weeks of age.
Cornish cross broilers are a great option if you are looking for something to grow quickly, but they’re not sustainable because they cannot naturally reproduce meaning you’re likely to need to purchase new chicks every year.
This breed also has multiple health issues due to their rapid growth rate and die of heart attacks and other ailments quite easily, especially if you let them grow out for too long. They don’t handle extreme heat well at all but can manage in cooler temperatures a little better.
If you choose to raise cornish crosses, it’s best to have them in a tractor or enclosed large pen because they’re slow and can’t easily run from predators.
Age at maturity: 8-10 Weeks
Average dressed weight: 7-9 Pounds
- Grows Quickly
- Not sustainable
- Requires a lot of feed
- Multiple health problems
Not to be confused with the cornish cross, true cornish chickens are a heritage breed of meat chickens. Previously known as the Indian game or Cornish game, these chickens are more slow growing as they aren’t hybrids.
We raised a group of these this past summer and I was very impressed. While they do take longer to grow out than a cornish cross, they have decent growth rates, are better foragers, don’t eat as much feed, and are fairly docile.
We kept ours in a tractor, but they would do well on free range as well, they’re quick. They look small, but they have a lot of meat, despite their look. These birds are dual purpose, while they don’t lay many eggs, they do lay and they can naturally reproduce.
Age at maturity: 18-20 Weeks
Average dressed weight: 4-5 Pounds
- Sustainable, naturally reproduce
- Low feed requirements, pastures well
- Long grow-out time
- Roosters can be aggressive
Traditional Bresse is raised in a specific region of France, however, there are American Bresse chickens available. Known as the king and queen of chickens, this breed is known for its remarkable flavor and fat marbling.
These chickens have bright blue legs, white feathers, and a single, red comb… the colors of the French flag (and the American if you want to get specific). They lay about 4 to 5 eggs a week and are known for their intense flavor and juicy meat.
Age at maturity: 16 to 20 weeks
Average dressed weight: 3-5 pounds
- Active Forager
- Excellent flavored meat
- Can be pricey to get started
- Not the largest of chickens
We raised Delawares a few years ago and while I wasn’t overly impressed personally, I’ve heard good things so it may have just been the handful we raised.
Since Delaware chickens lay a decent amount of eggs, they make an excellent dual-purpose breed. They are a heritage breed and can naturally reproduce if sustainability and having a closed flock is something you’re wanting to implement.
While not the largest on the list, this breed dresses out to a medium-sized table bird in about 16 to 20 weeks and they are active foragers, keeping feed use to a minimum.
Age at Maturity: 16-20 Weeks
Average dressed weight: 3-6 pounds
- Active foragers
- Ability to naturally reproduce
- Good layers, even into the colder months
- Longer grow out time
- Not as large
Plymouth rocks are a great choice for a dual-purpose breed, laying a good amount of eggs, even into the winter. They are excellent foragers and don’t need a lot of feed. We raise blue Plymouth rocks and barred Plymouth rocks and they’re one of my favorite breeds. A lot of folks raise white rocks, which are one of the two breeds used to create the cornish cross chicken.
Be aware, however, that if you choose to raise the white variety, like many white backyard chickens and poultry, they are more prone to predatory problems due to the feather color (they stand out more). So, putting them in a chicken tractor or another covered solution is better than free ranging them.
Age at maturity: 16 to 20 Weeks
Average dressed weight: 4-7 pounds
- Good layers
- Grow large
- Excellent foragers
- Predator issues if white rocks
- Longer grow out time
A heritage breed chicken, the chantecler has a low risk of frostbite due to its small comb and almost non-existent wattles making them great for cold climates.
These dual-purpose birds are decent layers and reach maturity earlier than a lot of other dual-purpose, heritage breeds. This means they will reach butcher weight more quickly as well as begin laying eggs at an earlier age.
Age at maturity: 12 to 16 weeks
Average dressed weight: 3-7 Pounds
- Good for cold weather
- Fast growth
- Good foragers
- Do not do well in hot weather
Sometimes called the ultimate homesteader’s chicken, Orpingtons are great dual-purpose chickens being good egg layers and having amazing, tender meat.
We raise lavender Orpingtons on our homestead right now and our resident rooster, Gandalf the grey is docile and large and the ladies are all docile and good layers. They dress out to a good-sized table bird, but they take quite a while to grow out.
They are a great breed for a small farm, though since they lay eggs well and they grow fairly large.
Age at maturity: 18 to 24 weeks
Average dressed weight: 5-7 lbs
- Decent egg layers
- Reaches a large weight
- Slower to grow
Like the cornish cross, freedom rangers are a hybrid breed of chicken. However, they do not have the health problems that cornish cross chickens do and grow more slowly… making them at least marginally more natural than the cornish cross.
Freedom rangers do not grow quite as quickly as a cornish cross, nor do they grow quite as large. Due to the fact they are hybrid, though means they are not a sustainable option if you want to hatch out your own meat birds later.
Age at maturity: 9 to 11 weeks
Average dressed weight: 4 to 6 pounds
- Good foragers
- Grows out fairly quickly
- Hybridized so breeding won’t result in favorable outcome
Known as one of the best-tasting chickens in all of France, the French Barbezeiux is not well known outside of its country, but is an excellent meat breed.
Tall and the largest original French chicken breed, the French Barbezeiux is friendly, excellent at foraging, a decent layer of large eggs, and results in an excellent tasting table bird. However, due to their black feathers, the bird isn’t as “pretty” as a table bird.
Age at maturity: 20 to 24 weeks
Average dressed weight: 4 to 5 pounds
- Great forager, won’t require much feed
- Require careful breeding
- Need a decent amount of space
- Black feathers result in a difficult to clean carcass
One of the best meat-producing chickens in the world is the Brahma. They grow large and can be butchered as small broilers at a young age. However, it is most profitable to wait until the bird matures, which takes several months.
These chickens are docile (though we’ve had some pretty mean Brahma roosters), they lay well in the winter months, and they grow quite large and the result is tender, flavorful meat.
Age at maturity: 24 to 32 weeks
Average dressed weight: 6 to 8 pounds
- Good foragers
- Large bird with lots of breast meat
- Take a while to grow out
Originally bred to replace the turkey, which didn’t happen, Jersey Giant chickens are, well, a giant breed of chicken. However, that large size takes quite a while to put on the pounds and they eat… a lot.
Roosters can be on the aggressive side, but overall this breed is fairly docile. Hens lay a decent amount of extra large eggs, so you can definitely keep them as a dual purpose breed, but again, they take quite a while to grow and eat quite a bit.
Age at maturity: 17 to 21 weeks
Average dressed weight: 7 to 9 pounds
- Large birds
- Long grow out time
- Eats a lot
- Roosters can be aggressive
New Hampshire Reds
Closely related to, but meatier than the Rhode Island Red, the New Hampshire chicken is my favorite breed. We’ve tried so many different breeds over the years on our homestead and I have found this is the best choice for us. A good layer, they also grow well, forage amazingly well and eat very little feed, plus they are friendly.
We free-range ours and have never had a bit of trouble with them. I find them much less aggressive than their RIR cousins and they’re definitely meatier.
Age at maturity: 16 to 20 weeks
Average dressed weight: 6 to 8 Pounds
- Excellent forager
- Cold hardy
- Some say they’re food aggressive, we haven’t had that experience with ours.
Whether you choose fast food or slow food, homegrown food is far better than anything at the grocery store. Local, homegrown food helps us increase our self-sufficiency and food independence as well as reduce our carbon footprint. All win-wins in my book.