The Best Chicken Breeds for Meat Production
Here's a frightening statistic: the chicken you buy at the grocery store may be up to 30% saline. In fact, the amount of water pumped into chicken carcasses is so high that producers have begun adding sugar and a chemically-produced broth to the mix to recover some of the flavor. This process is known as 'plumping,' and it makes chicken meat extremely bland and tender. Unfortunately, it also means that you're paying as much as one third too much for the meat, all so that you can take in some extra preservatives and sodium.
Before they are slaughtered and injected, commercially-raised meat birds, or Cornish Cross, live a miserable life. They are popular with both commercial poultry raisers and backyard flock owners for their quick and simple lives before slaughter. They are hybrids, developed for decades to reach astounding weights in only eight weeks. As a result, their bodies cannot keep up with their growth and many suffer from broken or deformed legs, atrophied breast muscles, and heart attacks. As a general rule they are too fat to reproduce and too malformed to live beyond a few months. Their meat, while plentiful and very tender, also lacks the flavor of older birds.
For this reason, more and more people are searching for an alternative to the Cornish Cross. Heritage breeds and dual-purpose chickens, which were on the decline for decades, have seen a resurgence in popularity. They are slower to grow and have less breast meat than the Cornish Cross, but the flavor of a bird raised on vegetation and bugs is incomparable. However, some chicken breeds are more suited for the table than others. A Silkie, for example, is cute but will have very little meat on it. These are the top ten alternatives to the Cornish Cross for meat production.
While not technically a breed, Freedom Rangers deserve a spot on the list. These are a slower-growing alternative to the Cornish Cross. They possess the same meaty build and rapid growth rate, but it takes anywhere from 9 to 12 weeks to hit slaughter weight rather than six to eight. Freedom Rangers are more active and are capable of foraging much of their own feed.They are still hybrids, however, and will not breed true.
A heritage breed, the Cornish or Indian Game is a squat, meaty bird and a direct influence on the Cornish Cross hybrid. Cornish are easily identified by their compact, muscular build and wide-spread legs. They look smaller than they are- pick up a high quality Cornish and you'll be surprised by its weight! They have wide, full breasts that make them a prized choice for white-meat fans.
Rooster Weight: 8.5 lbs
Hen Weight: 6 lbs
Marans are a tough dual-purpose breed. Their most distinctive quality is the deep, chocolate shade of their eggs. They are extremely popular for colorful egg assortments, but they also make excellent meat birds. Marans meat is described as having a gourmet taste and an exceptionally fine texture.
Rooster Weight: 8 - 9 lbs
Hen Weight: 6.5 lbs
The Dorking dates back to the early Roman Empire and is easily distinguished by its five toes, as opposed to the standard four of other breeds. Dorkings were brought to England during the Roman conquests and flourished there as a popular table bird. Today they are known for their fine meat and large size.
Rooster Weight: 8 - 10 lbs
Hen Weight: 7 - 8 lbs
Although not a particularly large bird, Delawares nonetheless mature more quickly than heavier breeds. They were one of the most popular broiler breeds in the United States before the Cornish Cross emerged, but became critically endangered as they no longer had a commercial use. Now they are becoming a common sight as dual-purpose birds in backyard flocks.
Rooster Weight: 8.5 lbs
Hen Weight: 6.5 lbs
Another breed with five toes, the Faverolles is a french chicken with a beard, muffs, and feathered legs. Nowadays the Faverolles is most well-known for its vibrant plumage and excellent qualities as a showbird, but once it was considered to be some of the finest eating in France.
Rooster Weight: 9 - 11 lbs
Hen Weight: 7.5 - 9.5 lbs
One of America's most popular and enduring chicken breeds, the Plymouth Rock is a cold-hardy and robust bird that combines some of the best qualities sought after in a backyard chicken. They are productive egg-layers, delicious meat birds, docile, and prone to broodiness. Plymouth Rocks today are still a heavy part of the Cornish Cross hybrid.
Rooster: 7.6 - 9.5 lbs
Hen: 6.5 - 7.5 lbs
This beautiful dual-purpose breed is built long and wide for better meat capacity. In their home country of England the Light Sussex is the most popular variety, but in America the splashy Speckled Sussex is more common. Sussex have bold personalities with a good temperament and lay about 250 eggs per year. Combined with their quick maturation and muscle mass, Sussex are some of the most productive chickens around.
Rooster Weight: 9 lbs
Hen Weight: 7 lbs
The Orpington is a large and fluffy chicken, prized by show enthusiasts and flock owners alike for their lovely feathers, size and production qualities. Orpingtons grow quickly for their weight and are renowned for their easygoing temperaments, which makes raising cockerels to slaughter a much more comforting proposition.
Rooster Weight: 10 lbs
Hen Weight: 8 lbs
The king of chickens, the Jersey Giant is the largest breed and was originally meant to be "the poor man's turkey." They were popular as capon broilers before the Cornish Cross, but fell out of style because they take a while to mature. Jersey Giants spend their first months building up bones, and only then begin to fill out. If you learn how to caponize or are willing to wait, however, they can be a delicious and massive meal.
Rooster Weight: 13 lbs
Hen Weight: 10 lbs
If you have any comments, disagreements or further information on this list, please feel free to leave a comment!
More by this Author
Quick and easy plans to add nesting boxes to your chicken coop. No technical skill required!
Chicken Wing Band Wing bands are a method of record-keeping among poultry farmers. They are very similar to earrings on humans, except that they are permanent and their only decoration is a number. Most flock owners...
Curious about the breeds in your mutt's family tree? Here's how to use their physical traits and temperament to make an educated guess about which breeds factor into your dog's unique mix.