Before you decide to raise chickens for meat, know your local regulations. If you are within city limits there are restrictions concerning processing that meat on your own property, even if you live on acreage. Many metro areas and home owners associations prohibit all meat processing except through a processing plant or butchering facility or may require special permits for you to do your own processing.
Any chicken can be considered a source of meat, however there are breeds that are recommended for their rate of growth, and weight gain ability, that will provide thick breast meat, thighs and drumsticks.
When searching through hatchery catalogs you'll notice it will specify, meat, dual purpose, good layer and a variety of descriptions for individual breeds. A leghorn is a good layer, but is not specified for meat, mainly because they are a more slender bird, lacking the robust breast and girth representative of a good meat chicken.
Many of the heritage breeds such as we raise here at Just Fowling Around are dual purpose. Dual purpose means they are good choices for meat and for egg laying. Meat birds, specifically are the Cornish X and some of the cross links and production reds.
A meat bird has a broad breast area, and usually a round body. The Cornish X, though a meat bird is not typically a good layer and their growth rate is so fast that generally their legs do not hold out under the weight and they become sluggish. We have raised the Cornish X, however, we have found they are messy, sluggish and in order to get them to proper harvest weight, they have to be fed specific diets at specific intervals, which may or may not be profitable. Free-ranging is debatable with the Cornish X, as they have been known to be so sluggish that they will do little foraging and if weather is inclement, hot or cold, they do not seek refuge and will often expire for exposure. They have little defense against predators, and are often easy targets.
Our chosen meat bird is the Red Sagitta. They have nearly the same growth weight of the Cornish X, without the other known issues of the Cornish X. And the ladies are excellent egg layers of large to extra-large eggs. They are a family friendly bird, that does not require a strict feeding program for weight gain, and they are great foragers. We've been raising the Sagitta for about 5 years now and have never been disappointed in their rate of growth, egg laying or overall behavior and characteristics. We do recommend the Sagitta if you are considering raising meat birds to feed your family. We have found that the Sagitta eats no more feed than the Rhode Island Red that we raise, yet their growth rate is considerably faster. This growth rate comes from the breeding, not from any special additives to their feed. We have never had any of the fast growth issues associated with the Cornish X as a comparison, yet they are meat weight within a week or two of the Cornish X.
Though there are many dual purpose breeds to choose from, some are slower growing and maturing than others. Studies have been conducted on slower growing meat breeds, because of possible health issues in those birds that mature early and reach a meat weight within 8 to 12 weeks, however the economical and environmental impact would far outweigh any advantages. Environmentally, there would be more waste produced, that would need disposal, more space, to raise more birds, and possibly a higher mortality rate. Economically, to feed the world, it would require millions more chickens be raised for a longer period of time, and would cost more to feed those birds, so the prices would increase not only for the grower, but for the consumer, on what has always been an affordable protein for the masses.
For a good meat bird, it should have a relatively fast rate of growth, be active, a broad breast, short girth and round body. The Marans are the chosen meat of France and claims are made that the meat is superb, however they have a very slow rate of growth and though they are average egg layers, they are not the best egg layers, even though they are a dual purpose breed.
A healthy balanced diet rich in protein, fresh greens, fresh fruits, bugs, seeds and weeds, will not only encourage weight gain, but will also provide the proper nutrients needed for the growth, and vigor and will be cost effective. Free ranging your meat birds as often is possible will keep them healthy and active until they have reached a weight suitable for processing. In addition to a healthy balanced diet, always provide ample fresh water daily, year round. Chickens need as much water in the cold months as they do in the warm months.
You may choose to mix your own grains suitable for meat birds. If so check with your county extension office or State Agriculture University for their recommended percentage of each nutrient to provide daily and at what stages to increase or decrease that feed formula. Game bird feed or Turkey Mash may also be an option, which provides a higher percentage of protein than most chicken feed, however check your farm store for *Broiler* ration. This feed is formulated to meet the needs of birds that are being raised for meat.
The Orpington, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Rock and other heritage breeds are good choices and grow to meat weight within 5 months, but may not be as economical to raise depending on the amount of feed consumed versus harvest time. Since they are all dual purpose breeds, the egg laying may average out the economical aspect, which still makes them suitable choices. We currently raise or have raised each of these breeds, and feel they are all good dual purpose birds, good foragers and typically family friendly.
Any chicken can be cooked for meat, it's a matter of the cooking method used. Even an old rooster or hen can be cooked to be as tender as a spring chicken. By the way a Spring Chicken is one that is hatched in spring and sold in the summer or fall. A spring chicken is considered to be more tender than a bird that has aged. An aged bird will be tender if cooked in a slow cooker. Instant Pot or in a pressure kettle. That meat is perfect for soups and casseroles. Refer to my links for cooking those older birds in a pressure kettle
And for soup in the slow cooker, http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-soup-recipes
And cooked in an Instant Pot:
The older birds can always be used for making nutritional meat broth:
Though I have not named all breeds that make good meat birds, it comes down to economy, and how soon you expect to have meat on the table versus the time, effort and feed consumption it may require to raise the chosen breed. Whatever breed you do choose, you will know what goes into the meat, you will notice an immediate difference in the meat you raise versus the meat chickens you may purchase from the store. All store bought meat chickens are Cornish X, but you have many choices when you raise your own birds for meat and not limited to a single breed to get good quality meat for the table or freezer.
To Cut up a whole chicken refer to my link:
If you choose not to raise your own, and you're looking for chicken meat (or other meat) at affordable prices in your area, check into Zaycon foods. They deliver to communities around the nation. I have personally dealt with the company and used their products and highly recommend. I do receive a small compensation ONLY if you order from the company. But do check them out, there is no commitment unless of course you do place an order.
(Referral Link) https://zayconfresh.com/refer/zf53597
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