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Top 5 Chickens For Producing Meat

Lady Holding A HenOne important aspect to keep in mind when looking for livestock for homesteading is that animals you choose should be self-sustaining. Once again, chickens top the list of great animals for self-reliance. They are small and take up less space than most meat animals, they produce both meat and eggs, they are easy to feed and require very little in the way of housing, and best of all, they usually breed and reproduce easily and without intervention.

Newcomers to the lifestyle are sometimes a little dismayed at the end result of dressing out some of the more commonly kept chickens however. Being used to supermarket chickens that are all plumped up on hormones or specifically bred to produce enormous sizes, they feel underwhelmed at the sight of a home-grown chicken.

It’s true that most of the dual purpose egg/meat breeds and even the heavier meat breeds that naturally reproduce have less meat-to-bone ratio than the hybrids or chemically enhanced birds seen in the produce aisle, but they are generally healthier, and best of all, will produce a self-sustaining food source for you and your family.

When new homesteaders start out looking through the hatchery catalogs, or stop in at their neighborhood feed store to look at the new spring chicks, they are often tempted to select a flock of hybrids that are very common, even in backyard and homesteading coops: the Cornish/Rock cross. These animals grow at an amazing pace and produce a dressed-out carcass that will rival just about anything seen in a supermarket. Cornish/Rock cross chickens will reach an eight-to-twelve-pound dress-out weight at about eight weeks of age. That’s an incredible growth spurt that just doesn’t happen in nature.

The super birds are appealing and seem to make sense at first, but there are some definite drawbacks. First of all, those new to raising chickens may not realize that these specialized birds require a little extra care to reach their full potential. In fact, these monsters of the chicken coop often die before reaching the chopping block, and new flock owners feel disappointed and their freezers remain empty. The reason so many die too soon is that the terrific growth rate of these birds is unnatural. It puts too much strain on their hearts and also makes it difficult for them to stand. Their legs simply can’t support the massive weight being put on them at such a young age, and they can’t get up to get to water or food, so they die.

How to Raise Meat Hybrids to Slaughter Weight

High-protein foods and vitamins in the water are a very important element in raising Cornish/Rock crosses. The higher protein level gives them more muscle strength, and the vitamins also help them maintain the strength they need both in power and cardio aspects so that they can thrive.

This guide is full of advice and information you need to choose from the 100 most familiar breeds of chicken.

Cornish/Rock chicks also require a little more care in the beginning. They may actually crush each other if they have to huddle for heat, so making sure there is plenty of space under the heat lamps to keep them warm is a must. You should also be careful if you decide to keep other standard breed chicks with the hybrid chicks. The larger hybrids will easily crush smaller chicks and can keep them away from food and water sources if they are not plentiful enough or spread out enough.

Getting the Right Chick for Your Homestead

While the crosses are attractive and look like a great way to fill a freezer quickly, they aren’t the best breed of chicken for homesteading. First of all, they defy the first rule of homesteading: everything must be self-sustaining. If disaster strikes and you need to rely on your animals for food, those hybrids will provide for the current year, but what about later? Hybrids do not reproduce the way standard breed chickens do. First of all, they simply are too heavy to sit on any eggs they may produce. They also are not as inclined to seek out mating and set eggs. Chicks that do result from a miraculous mating and hatching do not necessarily carry on the traits of their parents because hybrids do not necessarily breed true to type.

The best breeds for homesteaders may be a little less impressive on the cutting board, but they will provide plenty of food and continue to provide it for years to come. They can exist on an easily grown diet that you can grow yourself, which makes them very efficient for those who want to be totally self-reliant. Selecting the best chicken breed to give you both eggs and meat is a little trickier. While many of the egg-producing breeds such as Rhode Island Reds are prolific egg layers, they don’t have a lot of meat on their bones. Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Black Australorps, and White Rocks are excellent dual-purpose chickens that will give you a good supply of eggs and provide a good meat source as well.

Not only are the dual-purpose breeds a smart choice for homesteaders since they will reproduce easily and true to type, they actually save more money in the long run. It is true that it may take two birds to equal the same meat produced by a single hybrid, but the quality of that meat will be just as good, perhaps even better, and it won’t cost as much to raise the standard chickens.

Just the water soluble vitamins to put in the drinking water for a hybrid will run between $3 and $5 per week for twenty to fifty chicks and must be used for the duration of their growing life from birth to slaughter. That increases the cost of your meat a great deal and also further removes your efforts from self-sufficiency. You have to rely on outside resources to get your chicks every year and to purchase the vitamins they need to live and grow.

With the standard chicks, you buy them once, provide the proper housing and good healthy food from your own resources, and you don’t have to buy replacements anymore. So when looking at the options for your new homestead flock, keep in mind that in some cases, smaller is actually better, and go with the birds that will truly satisfy your needs and goals.

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  1. Bill Bohmholdt

    thought this might be of interest to you.

  2. We have found that cross breed reds and barred are more resilient and better mothers for chicks . When using a incubator they seem to survive very well and grow faster .

  3. Interesting article, since I’ve got one of those Cornish/Rocks in my lap right now, because he can’t walk… 2-1/2 weeks old. We bought 9 of them just to try them out, and to get an immediate return to the freezer, as we wait for the rest of our standard flock to get old enough to lay eggs, and start being sustainable. His 8 brothers are doing fine… he’s the only one (so far) that is showing signs of distress. I am taking care of him, since I don’t work out of the home, and seeing if I can get him big enough for slaughter. If I do, great, another one for the freezer… if not, oh, well… I went in, knowing what I was getting into with this hybrid chicken.

    • We have raised rock/Cornish crosses for years, small flock units of up to 50 birds at a time, for home use. We have found that removing feed from the pens early in the evening and replacing it in the morning (be sure to leave the watering unit in the pen, the birds need water all the time) reduced leg/joint/internal problems to a great deal. These birds are bred for fast growth, more meat to bone weight than normal and huge breasts. This makes for great eating but does cause some potential growing problems for the birds and the farmer. Cleanliness, as good quality of feed as can be obtained, clean water, proper heat and available cooler areas, plenty of room, get the birds in the sun as much as possible, greens available (but they tend to not eat much) all help keep the flock healthy. We do not use Coccidiosis medications but instead we use H202/ hydrogen peroxide in the drinking. We also use electrolytes (from the hatchery) in the water for the first week or 2. One last thing is getting good, healthy and viable chicks. We have over the years, received chicks that all had bent leg and dropping/drooping wing problems. Changed hatchery source and had no further problems. We have been trying caponizing in attempts to get bigger more succulent finished birds,,, more work, caponizing is not something I like to do, long time to get decent carcass weight (still not close to rockX birds) but pretty good eating. One last thing, we tend to raise our meat birds to a bigger than “normal” size, usually to at least 8 pounds dressed, most often to 10 pounds and the biggest to date is 14.5 lbs, dressed and — no giblets included were in these weights. We like the bigger birds as less slaughter work/pound of meat, better use of freezer space for Xlbs of chicken. No matter what weight you grow your chickens to, the price per pound of meat will be more that what you can buy chicken in the store for, but one knows what did and did not go into the chicken to get the resulting food.

      • Hello I read ur post u said u raised Cornish cross where do u buy them I have found eggs at dunlapfarms have u ever tried them also have u ever tried to crossed white rock with with Cornish rock to make Cornish cross x

  4. Excellent article, I’ve raised all the hybrids and dual purpose chickens listed (except the white rocks) and have found my favorite dual purpose breed for meat is the Wyandotte, they grow bigger faster than the other dual purpose breeds I tried and they are excellent foragers doing quite well on simple free range. They are great egg producers as well as laying quite large eggs.
    I raised Cornish/Rock crosses once and will never do it again, they are disgusting birds. No matter how much room you give them, all they do is eat and then lay around the feeders in their own excrimate. I had to thoroughly wash their carcasses, but the stench seemed to penetrate the meat. It nearly put me off ever eating chicken again.

  5. I am new to chicken keeping, wanted to provide good chicken for my grandkids, and expecting a 50% mortality rate from Cornish crosses, ordered 100 last year. The hatchery (Cackle Hatchery) sent me, I04, I put 99 in the freezer. I lost one in the first few days, one to a fox, and the other 3 — who knows?

    Being new to chicken keeping, I lavished my little ones with care–vitamins, Apple cider vinegar and garlic in their water. Fresh greens and alfalfa sprouts from day two. at about three weeks I put them on pasture, and they ran and played like normal chickens. I did not feed them at night (to slow down their growth a bit), kept the bedding clean. I sprouted grain for them, and feed them a mix of grains–both dry and sprouted. After about six weeks I started supplementing with chicken feed too.

    They came when I called them. Sat on my lap and talked to me, and when the time came, were very easy to process. The average weight was about 7 lbs, the meat was very tasty and the broth was amazing.

    This year (so far) I only have some laying hens and four naturally hatched chicks. They are fine, but they are not at all tame, and not nearly as much fun as my Baby Huey flock was last year!

    Never underestimate the power of ignorance, great mentors and attentionn to detail!

  6. Hope this is of interest to you. I am a backyard homesteader and have 9 adult layers, all mixed breeds and one of them is a little Banty. She loves to sit every year on everybody else’s clutch and when she is ready she thinks they are hers to hatch and has to be physically removed from the nest. This will last about 21 days and we always hope it is when chicks are available. I then place about 3 natural color wood and very large egg shape beads that can be gotten at a place like Hobby Lobby in place of the real eggs, at about 20-21 days we go and get the number of chicks we want, usually about 3-4, and after dark, it must be dark, I go and do the switch, babies in wood eggs out. The chicks want warmth and go under her wings, she hears the peeps and will kill if you go near them. By morning total bonding and a better mother you will not have. I have had a difficult time trying to get those babies to do a little check up on them due to her protectiveness. I realize that out in the country a rooster would take care of the problem but in a suburb a rooster is out of the question. This system has worked every single time.

  7. I’ve raised the Cornish/Rocks you can buy from hatcheries or feed stores, and fondly call them “monster birds”. At butcher time it is no problem as their lives are horrible. They stand up only long enough to slack the insatiable hunger bred into them.
    After searching for 10 years, I finally found one of the handful of people outside the commercial industry that has one part of Cornish-Rock equation, purebred Standard White Cornish, who sold me a trio: two hens and a rooster. Purebred Standard Cornish are extremely meaty birds, with large breasts and wide backs. The problem is they are slow growing and only lay around 60 eggs a year. The true commercial birds you buy at the grocery are the result of a two step hybridization, the breeding populations closely guarded and never sold to the public.
    All that said, this year is the first year I’m trying my own little experiment of a basic one step hybrid cross between my Cornish rooster and purebred Standard White Rock hens. So far, I would say these chicks are growing about one third faster than a purebred Rock. They are active and haven’t had any problems like the “monster birds”. Meanwhile, I am raising purebred Cornish chicks and hope to start selling next year. I have to admit I am more than a little concerned. I’m sure the huge commercial industry does not want people doing this. Just like the seed control happening now, Big Ag wants to keep control of these birds. My plan is to get these birds into as many people’s hands as possible. I’m more than a little concerned even about writing this…

    • Hi Bonnie, wow…do I ever agree with you. I live in Costa Rica and raise free range chickens for eggs plus I hve my own incubator.

      I also have tried the monster chickens and I said “NO MORE”. I never had any health issues in my flock till I brought those freaks in. Now, I have this eye infection that is making some of my hens blind. They get it in one eye only. I know for a fact that it came from the Franken Birds.

      Do you have any idea what this could be? I have tried antibotics in the mouth and the eye and it seems to help a bit.

      Any help would be greatly appreciated

    • Dear Bonnie:

      Your are on the right track. the Bible tells us not to cross breed animals nor mingle seed (hybrids). See
      Leviticus 19:19: “Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.”

      Clothes even last longer when they are not mingled with other fabric materials. I buy only 100% cottons, linens, silk, wool, etc. and my clothes last for years. I hate synthetics as they are hot and uncomfortable.

      Betty Miller

    • Would like to stay in touch. Should have cabin finished early next year and will start raising chickens immediately. I’m interested how you’re project works out and also if you have any “interference”. Thanks

    • Hi, I’m interested in developing a sustainable non hybrid meat bird also. How are the standard cornish doing?

    • GREAT that you are working on doing in big ag!

  8. Farmers beware!

    Monsanto wins landmark patent case in Supreme Court May 13, 2013

  9. I raised 20 of the Cornish/Rock crosses this year. We lost none but we did take the feed away at night and let them out of the coop to run around as much as we could. They dressed out well and were clean birds but that could be that the coop was clean and they got to run around and eat grass and any garden scraps I had that day which they loved. I also fed an organic feed. No you can’t keep these birds going very long due to the weight and leg problems but I have a flock of chickens that are a mix of Rhode Island Reds fighting chickens, sexlinks and have hatched out chicks from a Mutt Rooster and get great eggs and no health problems.I also l live in the Desert and some birds that are not the crosses can’t take the heat here so that means I don’t have those ones it doesn’t make them bad chickens just bad for my area. The quote on crossing animals is rather funny as it is suppose to mean between animals not different breeds of chickens. All most every chicken listed here is a cross of something.

  10. I have a flock of R.I.Red and Jersey Giants, both gentile breeds but not setters at all..:(

  11. Son Of Liberty

    From experince in true organic farming is to (a) have patience and don’t be in a hurry, (b) stay with solid established and peaceful non aggressive breeds, (c) get chickens that are good layers and good brooders. That being said, the orpington varieties, americaunas, and giant jerseys are excellent. Jersey is slow to grow, but the cockerell gets above 13 pounds and hens lay extra large eggs. The time and patience is worth it. All these breeds are hearty for cold and hot temps. Stay organic on feed and pest control and youwill have minimal problems with diseases if any. Use diotomacious earth in feed and in coop and let free range. Feed organic with variety of cracked corn, wheat, lentils, squash and melons and chickens will live longer pay longer and outproduce longer than non organic chickens. Put Braggs apple cider vinegar in their water to eliminate algai and microbes. Colloidal silver works in water to aid in health as well.

  12. Great tips! I’m also new at raising chickens. I was told by a TSC employee that we have Rhode Island Red/Red Star., but the pictures of Comets, I’ve seen on the Internet resemble the chickens I have. (Red pullets).
    Any way I do have a question for Son of Liberty. How much brags do you use in the water? I feed my girls an all organic diet of grains, seeds and sprouts, and let them free range in the yard. I also use the DE in their food. I will start using it in the coop however, but do I put it inside where they sleep or outside, or both? Not sure on that one. Any help would be appreciated..

    Thanks! 🙂

    • We use about 1 TBS per gallon of Braggs – 4-5 TBS for the 5 gal waterer. Also on the DE, be sure to use insecticidal DE and not swimming pool DE – totally different items. The Pool/filtering DE is mostly rod shaped but all of it is heated and thus sort of smooth. Insecticidal grade is from diatom deposits that are snowflake in form and then it is air milled to make VERY small particles. We also used a short TBL spoon full per gallon of water of CONCENTRATED h2o2 for coccidiosus in new chicks and for a few weeks after they arrive.

      • Thank you, I will add the Braggs today, as for the DE, I have the food grade one. I’m still not quite sure how much I should use and where to put it. 🙂

        • We added it to the scratch. We have also had it alone, free choice, but there was nothing to get the birds to even look at it so into the scratch it went. Not a huge amount, a TBS per pound or 2 of scratch. By the way, we get Braggs by the case from our local small market (coops are good too but we have none here) and we get a case of gallons (not currently available from Braggs but will be again when apple season comes around) and we do save a bit doing this. Just a thought……..

  13. A good trick to keep the Cornish cross from having bad legs is raise the feeders as they grow this forces them to stand on there feet instead of laying down and increase leg strength as they grow.

  14. I was interested to read your article as I’m new to raising chickens and have been looking for a meat breed to add to my flock. However I’m disappointed at a phrase in the second paragraph, which is completely false and leads to an uneducated fear of commercially produced food. “Being used to supermarket chickens that are all plumped up on hormones…” In Canada and the US, NO CHICKENS ARE RAISED WITH THE USE OF HORMONES. Those giant birds are a result of genetic selection and breeding over time. There is enough fear-mongering in the media already, we all need to ensure we’re properly educated about how our food is SAFELY raised for human consumption, and hormones are not part of the process when it comes to chickens!

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