Preparing for Meat Birds: Picking the Right Breed

One of the most appealing parts of raising poultry is the sustainability and self-reliance it can provide. You don’t have to run to the store to pick up eggs every other day, and if you raise meat birds, you can have a freezer full of chicken goodness in 6-12 weeks. 

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when you’re preparing to process your poultry. If you are a more hands-on type of homestead, you’ll do everything yourself. There are special tools required to be efficient, and even clothing if you want to go that far. Timing is important, too. It’s safe to say a lot of new homesteaders assume they will raise a flock of layers and as they get older, they’ll cull the flock and stock their freezer. That’s not always the best option to get the most bang out of your chicken buck.

Let’s start with a brief recap on the different types of chickens. For the most part there are two main types: layers and meat birds. There’s also that dual purpose bird, one who’s a good layer AND meat bird. Here are our top three picks for each:

Layers

  1. Sex Link
    Approximately 200-280 eggs annually
    Hens mature around 6-7 pounds
    Roosters mature around 8-9 pounds
    Can be butchered starting at 4-5 months
  2. ISA
    Approximately 300 eggs annually
    Hens mature around 5 pounds
    Roosters mature around 6 pounds
    Can be butchered starting at 3-4 months
  3. Novogen
    Approximately 260-280 eggs annually
    Hens mature around 3.5 pounds
    Roosters mature around 4 pounds
    Can be butchered starting at 3-4 months

Meat Birds

  1. Cornish Cross
    Approximately 160 eggs annually
    Hens mature around 8 pounds
    Roosters mature around 10 pounds
    Typically butchered at 8-9 weeks (can be butchered around 4 weeks for cornish game hen)
  2. Red Ranger Broilers
    Approximately 175 eggs annually
    Hens mature around 5-6 pounds
    Roosters mature around 6-7 pounds
    Typically butchered around 11-12 weeks 
  3. Red Broilers
    Approximately 150 eggs annually
    Hens mature at 5-6 pounds
    Roosters mature at 6-7 pounds
    Typically butchered around 12 weeks

Dual Purpose

  1. Black Australorp
    Approximately 250 eggs annually
    Hens mature at 6-7 pounds
    Roosters mature at 8-9 pounds
    Typically butchered around 16-20 weeks (most tender at this time but you can stretch it to roughly 6 months)
  2. Rhode Island Red
    Approximately 200-300 eggs annually
    Hens mature at 6-7 pounds
    Roosters mature at 8-9 pounds
    Typically butchered around 16-20 weeks (these produce a slightly tougher meat)
  3. Wyandotte
    Approximately 200 eggs annually
    Hens mature at 6-7 pounds
    Roosters mature at 8-9 pounds
    Typically butchered around 16-20 weeks (most tender at 4 months but you can wait as long as 8 months)

This list isn’t all inclusive, but these are some of our favorites. If your homestead is small or you’re limited on space, dual-purpose birds are the way to go, such as the Rhode Island Red. This is typically a bird we sell all year round, too. If you’re looking at something similar to what you’d buy in the store for meat, Cornish Cross can’t be beat, and also sells year round.  

Next week we’ll talk about tools of the trade and butchering options. Stay tuned!