Meat vs. Eggs: Choosing a breed of chicken
Let’s start with the meat birds. A meat bird is a breed of chicken raised specifically for butchering. They tend to be more densely muscled and have larger breasts than breeds that are primarily egg layers. The most popular meat birds for butcher are the notorious Cornish Rock Cross. You either love them, or hate them, in my case a little of both. Let me explain. The Cornish Rock Cross is a fast growing broiler that is ready to butcher in 6-8 weeks. They reach approximately 5-6 lbs. in this amount of time on a high protein feed that is recommended for broilers. They are a white feathered bird, very plain-looking with a medium comb. Some of the controversy over this breed is that they grow so fast they can end up with broken legs, heart problems, and premature death. You must restrict their feeding to daytime hours only, or they will quite literally eat themselves to death. Not quite natural, however, economic since they grow quickly and require less feed. Monitored closely these birds do come out to be the most economical for time and money spent.
Cornish Rock Cross Slow Broiler: A similar cross as the regular Cornish Rock Fast Broiler, but a hybrid chosen to slow down the growth by reaching maturity approx. 4 mo. slower than the fast broiler. I have not personally raised these, only the fast broilers, but understand that they are a very similar bird in temperament and appearance as the original Cornish Rock Cross.
Black and Red Broilers: Also a hybrid chicken, chosen for meat production. They tend to be a more active bird and less prone to leg problems. These are also slower growing than the original Cornish Rock Cross breed, maturing a full 4-6 wks. longer than the fast broilers.
Freedom Rangers, or Colored Rangers: This breed is non-designer, non-hybrid good old butcher chicken. I would like to try these this year. I have heard good reports, but know nobody personally who has raised these. Quinn from Reformation Acres raised Freedom Rangers last year and has a wonderful post comparing/contrasting Freedom Rangers with Cornish Rock Cross breeds. Check out her post here. There is also lots of info on butchering, stats and what it costs to raise freedom rangers here. Freedom Rangers or Colored Rangers as some breeders call them, do just what their name says they do; free range. So the cost of feed may be reduced if you have room to pasture them. Some prefer the taste and quality of the meat compared to the hybrid breeds. They seem like a pretty interesting proposition, although it appears that they have smaller breast meat. I also wonder if they pluck out as well as white feathered birds…my only experience with plucking colored chickens was with mostly black birds, and let’s suffice it to say it was not fun. The feathers did not pluck out, and the pin feathers were a nightmare, we eventually ended up just skinning them, as it was a lost cause. This makes me a little apprehensive to try them, as skinning a few free birds is another story, rather than your entire flock that was intended for a years supply of meat.
Dual Purpose Breeds: It should also be mentioned that a dual-purpose chicken may be a wonderful choice for your homestead. These birds can be raised for meat and eggs. They will grow slower, but can be utilized completely by placing a large order of one breed of chicken, (most hatcheries require a minimum order of 25 of the same breed, and the price goes down when purchased in larger quantities) then butchering the extra young birds when they reach the desired weight for culling, and keeping the number of egg layers you would like.
A quick list of a few popular dual-purpose breeds are as follows:
Rhode Island Whites
Heavy breeds can also be considered a dual-purpose breed, but they are much slower to reach maturity for butcher. Nonetheless they are still worth considering. When picking a dual-purpose breed, just be careful you don’t wind up with a January butcher if you live in Northern MN.
These are a few of the most common chicken breeds raised for meat, or dual-purpose. This is by no means a complete listing, there are many other breeds that can be and perhaps should be, raised for butcher. As you continue on your homestead journey you will be sure to find your families favorite!
Let’s move on to the Egg Layers!
There are many variables in choosing the breed of chicken that will work best for your homestead when it comes to eggs. Most people find they have a personal preference or opinion of what type of egg they like best. Perhaps the color is important to you, or the size of the egg, there are many choices, but most importantly the quality of your homegrown eggs will win you over! Nothing beats the feeling of a warm in your hand, fresh from the nest egg! And flavor is off the charts! The yolks are a rich orange and have a rich creamy consistency to providing sustenance and titillation, while the white is decidedly firm accepting salt and pepper with fortitude. Mmmmm….. We choose heritage breeds on our homestead to fill our coop. I feel it is important to continue the old-world style standard breeds, rather than furthering hybrids. The old breeds have been carefully raised and selected for quality and productivity over a long-span of time, and some have met extinction, or become endangered. By choosing heritage breeds it ensures that they will continue on creating a much more sustainable eco system for the future. Please consider a heritage breed when you are choosing which chickens to raise.
For the sake of time and sanity, I will give a few popular breeds of egg layers. Please let this be a starting place for you, as there are so many breeds out there. Check out some online catalogs from hatcheries and research what might meet the needs of your homestead.
A very incomplete list of egg laying breeds as follows:
Plymouth Rocks: Includes Buff Rocks, Barred Rocks, White Rocks, and Partridge Rocks. Considered a heritage breed Plymouth Rocks are generally rock stars in the egg laying world! Ha, ha, couldn’t resist! They are prolific layers and generally lay a large brown egg. They are considered a dual-purpose breed. They are a steady breed, and their temperament is active and friendly.
Black Australorps: One of the best layers of light brown eggs. This breed was selected and refined for egg production. One hen on record layed 364 eggs in 365 days! They are a heavy breed and are considered dual-purpose. Their temperament is quiet and gentle.
Rhode Island Reds: A very popular breed and truly American chicken. Developed in the United States in the early part of the century, Rhode Island Reds have outstanding egg production, laying brown eggs. They are also a dual-purpose breed with a temperament similar to Plymouth Rocks.
Orpingtons, Buff and White: An excellent dual-purpose breed. Orpingtons are very popular, produce a nice brown egg, and are good mothers willing to set on a nest and raise a brood of chicks. While the catalogs describe Orpingtons as a quiet, docile and gentle breed, this has not been my personal experience. Those I have known have been broody, flighty, active, and even aggressive. I know many people love their Orpingtons, but they are not my personal favorite.
Jersey Giants, White, and Black: Beautiful extra-large breed of chickens, they aren’t kidding when they call them giants! They are nearly twice the size of the average chicken! They are a super heavy bird, considered dual-purpose, but grow very slowly, so their feed conversion is not as good as other dual-purpose breeds. They are beautiful chickens. The whites are pure white, while the black giants are jet-black with an iridescent green sheen. They have large bright red combs, which makes them a very handsome bird. They are very good layers of EXTRA-LARGE brown eggs. The temperament of those I have personally known has been calm, and gentle.
Brahmas, Light and Dark: Brahmas are my all time favorite chicken. I love the Light Brahmas for their beauty, temperament, and egg production. They are considered a dual-purpose bird, although we have not raised them specifically for butcher, but have culled our flock when their productivity has tapered off into the stew pot. They are a very old heritage breed of massive size, they are very heavy. They have very striking plumage and pretty little red pea-combs. They lay very large brown eggs, sometimes with speckling. They are prolific layers, especially in cold climates like ours. I also love the feathered feet! It makes them very endearing. They are exceptionally quiet, gentle, and easy to handle. Which makes a great starter bird when you have small children. They are not generally flighty, and love to come for treats, without being aggressive. Light Brahmas are my very, very, favorite.
Wyandottes, White, Columbian, and Silver Laced: Another dual-purpose breed, Wyandottes are easy to dress and are good layers of nice brown eggs. They are beautiful and hardy, making them an excellent choice on the homestead. They are an active, friendly breed. Araucana/Americana, “Easter Egg Chicken”: This breed originates from Chile, but have become popular in America. Often times they are a mix of the original Aruacana, and Americana breeds, not the original breed discovered in Chile. They are called the Easter Egg Chicken because of their beautifully tinted pastel eggs. The colors can range from turquoise, to deep olive, to varying shades of brown and beige. They are wonderfully fun for children, because each trip to the coop to gather eggs is like an easter egg hunt! It is fun and exciting to see all of the colors! They are a hardy breed and come in all colors, plain and fancy. They are a fun, friendly flock.
Whew! Well folks, I am going to stop there. I hope this helps you find a starting place for your chicken adventures!
(*Photo Credit: David Snobl)
Happy Chicken Keepin!
*Just a quick note…The photo credit goes to my youngest son, David Snobl, for his great pictures! He captured of our flock on a warm spring day… the featured image at the top of the blog post, and this fun angle at the end are his awesome work! Way to go Davie!!!
Shared With Our Neighbors at The Barn Hop