Purchasing Chicks for Meat Production
As our knowledge of industrial farming and poultry production has grown, the demand for humane and pasture raised poultry in the United States as has also risen. More and more small farmers are beginning to raise their own broilers to feed their families as well as to sell to their local community through farmer's markets and co-ops.
If you're looking for a breed to raise strictly for meat production purposes, and you want the fastest growing bird on the market, the Jumbo Cornish Cross has no rival. The Jumbo Cornish Cross has taken over the commercial meat industry in the last half century and is an extensively developed cross between the Cornish and White Rock Chicken Breeds. They became the most popular breed due to their outstanding speed of growth and quality of meat, with males reaching up to 4.5 pounds after 6 weeks and up to 9.5 pounds in 11 weeks.
This breed is meant to be raised strictly for meat production, and is not recommended for breeding or for hobby farming. While this is the same breed used in commercial poultry production, the method and conditions in which they are raised can make all the difference in the quality of meat produced.
If you want to raise poultry for meat, but the idea of the rapidly growing Cornish Cross doesn't appeal to you as much, you do have a few other options. One of these is a breed called the Red Broiler.
The Red Broiler is an excellent alternative to the Jumbo Cornish. Still boasting an excellent growth rate and feed conversion, the Red Broiler will be more suited for a longer life span and free ranging capabilities. Where you will need to butcher the Jumbo Cornish within 12 weeks before it's large growth begins to impede on the birds' mobility, the Red Broiler has very strong legs and can be raised into maturity without a set time table for production. This allows for more flexibility for the farmer who may want to stagger production for a single clutch.
The Red Broiler is incredibly versatile a free range forager, and is well suited for most environments. We highly recommend this breed for poultry meat farmers looking for a free ranging alternative to the Jumbo Cornish.
Dual Purpose Breeds
Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds are chickens that can be raised for both egg or meat production. Most Dual Purpose Breeds will also be Heavy Brown Egg Layers like the Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, or the Black Australorp.
These breeds are not typically raised primarily for meat purposes because they are much slower to develop, and they will generally not yield quite as much meat when dressed. However, if you're not relying on meat production as a business and you're simply stocking your freezer for the family, using the males of these breeds can often be an economical choice.
Many promoters of Heritage Breed Chickens and culinary experts claim that the slower growth of many dual purpose breeds actually give the meat more flavor and tenderness than in a commercial variety. This is certainly the claim amongst Heritage Turkey breeds. It's a common practice among smaller family farms to purchase Straight Run Chickens (randomly selected gender) each Spring with the intention of raising the females for eggs and processing the males as broilers once they mature.
One of the most popular of the Dual Purpose Chicken Breeds is the Delaware Chicken. Developed in the 1940s by George Ellis by successfully, crossing New Hampshire Reds with Barred Plymouth Rocks, the Delaware was briefly the leader in the broiler production industry before being surpassed by the prowess of the Jumbo Cornish Cross.
Regardless of losing it's status as the nations top broiler, the Delaware still remained wildly popular as a Dual Purpose breed, producing an excellent number of large brown eggs each year. The slower growth of the Delaware is believed to lead to a higher quality meat, and it's reputable size yields a significant amount of meat for a dual purpose breed.
Another reason that the Delaware Chicken is such a valued dual purpose and meat variety is that it's offspring are predominately white feathered, meaning that the feathers do not leave spots on the carcass when plucked. You can order day old Delaware's from eFowl, but you can also breed the Delaware Rooster with New Hampshire Red and Rhode Island Red Hens to produce chicks with the white Delaware color pattern.