Best Breeds for Raising Meat Chickens
From Backyard to Table
It has become increasingly popular to raise chickens in one's backyard. Most families raise dual-purpose chickens, choosing breeds that yield both eggs and meat. Not all of us are as interested in eggs as we are in meat, however, and some breeds are better for those who prefer to enjoy more delicious roasted chickens for dinner than spring omelettes.
What follows is an overview of the best chickens to raise for meat.
The Broiler Plate
If you're interested in raising chickens for meat in the most economical way possible, your best bet is to go with a broiler bread. These breeds include the Cornish Rock, Ixworths, and Hubbards.
The benefit these breeds offer is speed- they're ready to be slaughtered and cooked much faster than dual-purpose breeds- meat birds such as these can be sitting on your kitchen table within 8 weeks (often 6-7), which is a pretty impressive turnaround.
These breeds are amongst the most popular ones used for the typical free-range chicken you'd be getting at Whole Foods, so the quality is high, but these are not considered the most gourmet of all meat birds.
The downside to these birds is they are not designed to have particularly pleasant or long lives. They must be processed fairly quickly because they put on weight so quickly that after a certain amount of time, they simple cannot support themselves anymore. Families that choose these breeds agree that it is best to give them as much space as possible, as the free range chickens tend to taste better- and have slightly less pathetic existences than they would endure otherwise.
Heirloom & Heritage Chickens
If you see yourself as a slightly more gourmet individual and don't want to raise breeds that have been genetically engineered to crush themselves under their own weight after a certain amount of time, consider raising a heritage breed.
Many recommend Delawares, both for their production of large eggs (which, if not enjoyed by you personally, may be appreciated by friends and neighbors) and for their delicious meat. Apparently these birds also fare well in warm, slightly humid climates. It takes a bit longer before these birds are ready for processing (around 12 weeks), but at 2-3 pounds, they'll certainly make for a delicious feast. Delawares were actually used by many major meat producers before Cornish breeds became the mainstay, so you can rest assured that these are an excellent option- and a classier one to boot.
If taste is your number one priority, you might consider the Dorking. The breed is well known for very white, fine-textured meat, and the birds are relatively calm and non-aggressive to boot. You might also consider the Dominique and Buckeye breeds. And if you're a feminist, you'll love the Buckeye, as it is the only American breed of chicken that was created exclusively by a woman.
Blue Foot Chickens / Poulet de Bresse
When it comes to real premium chicken meat, there appears to be one breed that everyone is buzzing about: the French Poulet de Bresse.
This French breed (known for its distinctive blue feet) is not allowed to be exported and packaged Bresse chickens ready for sale may go for as much as $70 each. Getting your hands on such a breed and succeeding in getting it out of the country is exceedingly difficult, though some folks pecking around chicken forums have claimed to have successfully imported some (pointing out that while French does not allow exports, the U.S. has nothing against this breed making its way in to the country).
In an effort to create some equivalent to this high-profile breed, Canadian breeder Peter Thiessen labored for 15 years to eventually create the Blue Foot Chicken. This breed, which made its debut in the 1980s, took a major hit when Thiessen's flock was eliminated amidst the avian flue scare. Luckily, before that point, a handful of breeders had been moved to California, hence it lives on.
Californian breeders of the Blue Foot Chicken have, according to more chicken forum buzz, been contacted by several backyard chicken raisers, but have indicated absolutely no interest in selling breeding chickens, so getting one's hands on either premium meat breed is pretty difficult.
That said, if you do want the ultimate meat chicken in your own back yard coop, the Blue Foot Chicken or the Poulet de Bresse, would be your best options.