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Best Heritage Breed for Meat

 
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I’m planning to raise heritage chickens for meat this year. I’ve purchased instruments and am hoping to successfully learn to caponize without killing too many chicks 🤞 I intend to practice on some tom turkeys I need to slaughter soon—dead birds feel no pain—so that at least I’ll have some idea what I’m looking for. I might process a couple roosters as well but I’m not sure yet that I won’t want them for breeding, so maybe—maybe not.

Anyway, I’m interested in advice as to breeds that would be good to try. So far my short list consists of: Buckeyes, Brahmas, & Cochins. I’ve looked at Bresse, but I guess the gene pool here in the US is still pretty thin and I have no experience in breeding so I may not be up to that challenge just yet. Plus they’re killer expensive. I have a few Buckeyes and Cochins already, and I like them. I admire the Brahmas and have been wanting to get some. Oh yes, and Sussex. Speckled Sussex are supposed to be really nice birds and I had been wanting an excuse to get some of them as well.

Any advice? My concern with the large breeds is that I don’t want to end up just growing out a lot of bone with not that much meat. (Though I do like bone broth.) I need super good foragers to cut down on feed costs but I will supplement them as needed. I plan to start a small mealworm operation, just for my birds, so that should help. Looking forward to hearing from y’all. TIA!
 
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Cindy, I honestly don't know, but hopefully my reply will bump up the post for others to see.

Personally, I tend to totally ignore the "heritage" label; as it's recently become more of a marketing trend & many heritage breeds were developed in, and best suited for, specific regions. I also don't let the breed influence me, as any breed of animal will have specimens which are exemplary examples of the breed traits, as well as culls that are lacking in the traits specific to that breed.
Instead, I look at the individual animal and it's genetics to determine if I do/don't want those traits in my line; and I cull hard for only the best genetics to be passed down to the next generation.
Hardiness in my specific environment is always the top priority, for any type of livestock. The best animals in the world are useless if they won't reproduce, get sick/die easily, or constantly have to be pampered along to reach full potential.
In chickens, I want vigorous birds that grow quickly, are heat tolerant, efficient feeders/foragers, good layers/setters/mother's, good meat to bone ratio, protective roosters, and hardy against disease. I've used birds with those traits from various breeds, then paired the most complimentary animals in hopes of getting offspring that are a combination of the best of each parent, and anything that isn't an improvement of the parents is culled.
As I get the right genetics in place and cull the undesirable genetics, I also begin linebreeding/inbreeding for several generations; as this provides consistency by having the majority of the line being homozygous for the desired traits, which makes it less likely to have hidden recessive genes for the traits you don't want.
After 3-4 generation of line/inbreeding I usually get enough consistency in the offspring that I can start evaluating the line to determine what I'd like more improvement with. Then I'll look for something strong in that area to introduce to the gene pool, which starts the line/inbreeding process back up to isolate that strength, while also culling out anything undesirable in the new stock's genetics. Once I begin to produce my vision of the ideal animal, I keep the line pure by not bringing in new blood/genetics unless I begin to see a weakness show up that needs to be addressed by something new being brought in.

Sorry for the long post that wasn't quite a response to your question. I'm just a tiny bit of a need when it comes to genetics and building a line of livestock, so I tend to over-elaborate sometimes
 
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Freedom Ranger and Jersey Giant are two that come to mind. These are popular breeds to raise for meat, not industrially but on the backyard homestead scale, where flavor and quality can be of more importance instead of rapid weight gain and profit margins. These two breeds can turn into a nice carcass in 12 to 16 weeks, all the while being active and able to walk around and forage unlike the cornish cross commercial bird. If cost to raise a meat bird is of little concern, perhaps consider the American Bresse. The Bresse hails from France and is very popular in that country, and it's almost the industrial bird of that nation. They don't get strangely oversized like the cornish x can, but apparently the flavor is above others and the meat can even marble when fattened on milk soaked grains in the last few weeks of raising them.
 
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I like this subject.  Here are a few things we have noticed.  We have raised buckeyes, australorp, brahmas, jersey giant, rock and freedom rangers/red star/golden buffs.  We have found the australorp to be the most self sufficient of these breeds.  The buckeyes are the laziest.  Golden buffs that are caponized have been the largest carcass.  The older breed roosters if left with hens will grow much slower because he is busy with the hens.
All these breeds are a way smaller carcass than the typical cornish x for us.  The meat is a little tougher, but has a wonderful flavor.  There is a lot more yellow fat on older dual purpose type breeds and the broth we save for other meals down the road.  We have found the volume of meat is way lower and it takes a much longer time to get them to maturity, but they make a much better meal.
 
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Do any of these have worse feed-to-meat conversion ratios than the others?

The way I'd figure, I would be especially interested in self-sufficiency, especially if they free-range to any extent. Myself, I would probably use generously sized tractor setups.

I would be especially interested in caponisation if I was hatching my own in a scenario where I focused on layers, but in that case, wouldn't a sex-linked breed be advantageous? Or is there a reason of which I am not aware that this is a bad idea?

As to the Bresse, I don't know much at all about it, but fat-marbled chicken flesh sounds simply delicious to me. It sounds, though, like a lot of heritage production for market, where it might be an exceptional idea to spend the money to upgrade later if you already have regular clients for a less-expensive but still premium product.

-CK
 
Cindy Skillman
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I ought to have specified... my goal is for personal/family consumption. The only way I’d get into selling would be live birds. As far as I’m aware, there’s no processing facility in the area that accepts poultry, so probably not much future in that for me. I’m married to a retired insurance adjuster. 🤣 He freaked out over me even selling eggs to my friends. I don’t know and haven’t been able to find feed-to-meat conversion rates on any but the modern meat breeds. And I agree about the free ranging adeptness being important. I have some Suskovich tractors that I used last summer, so I would be using those, but I would allow the birds to range outside the tractors as well, and only provide feed in the evening. For the last two weeks I might provide the milk-soaked grains and confine them to the tractors unless they’re really hung ho to get out and forage.

Sex linked would be nice. I’m not sure there are any sex-linked meat birds though. I think they’re mostly first generation crosses also, which don’t breed true in second generations, etc. I don’t really understand the genetics well enough to figure it out myself at this time. What folks do as far as I’ve learned thus far, is first they wait until the chick weighs 1-2 lbs, at which time one can usually venture a pretty good guess based on behavior and possibly some other secondary traits. This is the preferred size for caponizing. The second thing is they start on the left side, from which the active ovary can be seen. At that point, if you see you’ve guessed wrong, you can either attempt to poulardize (remove a section of the oviduct) if you want female meat birds, or abort the procedure and put the chick into the recovery cage. I haven’t done this surgery yet. I’m pretty persistent though, and there’s an excellent thread on the subject at Backyard Chickens forum, so hopefully I’ll figure it out fairly quickly with minimal trauma to defenseless chicks. 😳 Not saying I’m not nervous about it, but other people have learned this, so I should be able to as well. 🤞🤞🤞
 
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I raised a mixed flock this summer, and noticed that Columbian Wyandottes were absolutely enormous compared to the others, with Black Australorps and Silver Laced Wyandottes tied for second. The CWs also have tight combs and wattles, which make them less vulnerable to frostbite. I noticed that you're in a cold area where that might be important.

My CWs wound up being saved as laying hens instead of butchered, so I can't tell you how the carcasses compared. But from examining the live birds, and from the difference in weight, I'd say there's a lot more meat there than what the others had.
 
Kc Simmons
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Definitely keep us posted on your caponizing adventure. I've done a lot of castrations over the years, but never on a bird and I wouldn't know where to even start. It'd be great to hear some first-hand experience from someone who just does it for personal use and not commercially.

One thought on feed to meat ratio... Most of the studies I've read on the topic with various livestock has mainly been for a commercial setting with clear-cut nutritional plan in place. From experience, I know rabbits will have much better feed to meat efficiency when fed a set amount of a quality, 16%-18% protein pelleted diet in a caged system, versus one foraging in a rabbit tractor with access to pellets to supplement the diet. If there are no significant genetic differences (like breed, adult weight,
bloodlines) the caged rabbit on the set, pellet diet will almost always finish out for slaughter before the tractored one due to activity levels and the fact that the tractor one will mainly just browse due to having constant access to food.
All that means is, if you're able to find any data about the feed/meat ratio in heritage breeds, don't compare it to the typical broiler ratio if you plan to free range. It would be apples and oranges, with the clear advantage to the broilers (even though they'd probably lose to the heritage breed if both were free range).

Maybe get some chicks of various breeds to raise for a season and see if you end up with a clear preference for one. If you order from a hatchery, you can usually get a batch of cockerels for a low price, which would also give you a chance to practice with caponizing 😁
 
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James Freyr wrote:Freedom Ranger and Jersey Giant are two that come to mind. These are popular breeds to raise for meat, not industrially but on the backyard homestead scale, where flavor and quality can be of more importance instead of rapid weight gain and profit margins. These two breeds can turn into a nice carcass in 12 to 16 weeks, all the while being active and able to walk around and forage unlike the cornish cross commercial bird. If cost to raise a meat bird is of little concern, perhaps consider the American Bresse. The Bresse hails from France and is very popular in that country, and it's almost the industrial bird of that nation. They don't get strangely oversized like the cornish x can, but apparently the flavor is above others and the meat can even marble when fattened on milk soaked grains in the last few weeks of raising them.



I really like Freedom Rangers.  Raised them last year (50) and this year (100).  But they are not "heritage" chickens.  They're broilers that grow out significantly faster than what most people call heritage chickens.  They also are a hybrid of a couple other hybrids and won't breed true.  They're slower growing than the CRX of course, but not that much.  Certainly not 12-16 weeks.  I was getting 5lb dressed weights in just 10 weeks with mine.  And they were allowed to range over a pretty large area, and once big enough to get out of the brooder were never confined.

For Jersey Giants, you'd want to be pretty careful about who you get them from.  Ours (from Cackle Hatchery, I think) didn't ever get much bigger than our Austrolorpes.  They also took longer to get up to that size.  A good strain of Jersey Giants might be better performing as a meat bird.
 
Cindy Skillman
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:I raised a mixed flock this summer, and noticed that Columbian Wyandottes were absolutely enormous compared to the others, with Black Australorps and Silver Laced Wyandottes tied for second. The CWs also have tight combs and wattles, which make them less vulnerable to frostbite. I noticed that you're in a cold area where that might be important.

My CWs wound up being saved as laying hens instead of butchered, so I can't tell you how the carcasses compared. But from examining the live birds, and from the difference in weight, I'd say there's a lot more meat there than what the others had.



I have CWs and they’re kind of skinny, though nice girls and so pretty. Isn’t that interesting? Where did you get your CWs? Poultry isn’t a big thing around here, so not a lot of breeders to buy from, but I object to paying $29 for a single straight run chick from Greenfire. I guess it’s just gonna be a total DIY thing. I really do like my CWs. They’re such sweeties. They’ve got something of a tendency to broodiness, though I’m not sure I’d trust them with any eggs I cared about very much.

Yes, I like the rose and pea combs. They’re dominant though, I believe, so in my limited understanding, I think it might be fairly easy to erase single combs from any breed I really wanted to work with. I don’t like my birds having frost bitten combs but it doesn’t seem to bother them. That said, I do want rose or pea combs on all my birds eventually.

KC, I’ll keep a bit of a journal on the caponizing—hopefully at least a little bit successful. What I really want is as self-sustaining system as possible. Feed is pretty expensive here, and we live far enough out that collecting food scraps from restaurants and grocery stores seems a daunting proposition. Next year I’m going to attempt a garden, if we get a spring or summer. 🥶 If it materializes, that should help some. I’m getting old, though, and I seem to get tired more easily. I’m especially tired of never-ending rain/snow & cold. I really want to make this happen. I have considered the frypan specials. I might just do that—it’s a good idea.

Andrew, I had Color Yield broilers this summer, from Cackle. Then I ordered CX from a local feed store. I kept them in the tractors, moving them 2-3 times a day and while I felt like the CYs were livelier, I was pleased with them both. They were really gentle, likable birds. I hated butchering days, but I’m not going to stop eating meat, so I want to be honest about it and in touch with the cost involved. I feel like maybe I just don’t want to be involved with causing these birds to be made. I think I’ll be happier raising more survivable birds that have a bit more enjoyable life. And of course, there’s the whole matter of being dependent on the hatcheries. I don’t like that. So... I do like tender chicken and I’m pretty sure DH would not be happy with tough birds, hence the caponizing idea. I’ll try to keep y’all apprised as to how it’s going. 😊
 
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A meat bird is a meat bird, and all chickens are edible.  What I've found for myself, and many others, is that in the end, you end up picking the chicken with the personality/temperament and/or egg productivity you like more than anything else.  A lot of production breeds eat a lot of food, stay close to the coop, and make lots of noise.  I like a hen that is quiet, smart but trusting, lays where she's supposed to,  has a good chick survival rate and good broody instincts.  I like a roo that's protective against birds of prey, won't challenge me, doesn't crow constantly, and isn't violent or sex-obsessed.   I've raised loads of purebreds, but usually my best birds are crosses.  I like Marans for their egg color, and it never fails that my MaransX's are excellent meat birds.  Long-boned with lots of meat and a decent growth rate.  I always keep a docile marans rooster, and their deep gutteral crow doesn't travel as far as a high pitched one.  I keep the best hens and best roos, let them reproduce naturally, and am never short on good, healthy birds.  My 12 hens produced almost 100 chicks this year on their own.  Just a good illustration of flock perpetuation.  I get to eat most of those new birds, too!  And they're every shape, size, and color.

Speaking of growth rate- for meat birds, ask yourself some basic questions; do you care how big the bird actually gets, and do you care how quickly.  Every ounce of flesh the bird grows must be earned by eating, so a big, fast growing chicken is going to eat as much or more as a slower growing or smaller bird to reach the same size.  You're not 'saving' anything but time.  

Some friends of mine this year decided to raise some purebred 'heritage' birds for meat.  They picked Jersey giants (the first to get eaten because they were so violent), A 'star' or 'ranger' type hatchery-branded variety, wyandottes, brahmas, and, oh ,some other breed.  They liked the bramhas the best; biggest, fastest growing, and least violent of the roos.  They even kept one as a breeder from the group.  These birds were finished within just a few months.  They're not a 42-day  cornishX, nor are they a 60 day ranger, but unless you're meeting commercial demand, do you really care if you have to wait 4 or 5 months for a full size bird?  Remember, a fast growing bird eats a heck of a lot of food and the bigger, faster growing breeds are often not good at foraging.  They're good at sitting in front of the feeder and getting fat.  Rangers are pretty good at pasturing though, I'll hand em that.

I don't mind a slow growing bird, especially when it's free ranging.  I don't like having to process large amount of birds at once; I like picking em off as I want to eat em.  And a smaller, hardier bird eats less while it's waiting for its turn on the 'whack list'.  A big meat bird is eating a lot  every day to keep its weight up while you get around to butchering.

edit; caponizing; go for it if you want... but I found it's not worth the trouble.  If I have aggressive young cockerels, they die young.  If I have lazy, docile roosters, they grow nice and big before they get eaten.  If you don't want a tough bird, just be sure to whack it in its first year.  I've never really had a problem with birds under 1 year old.   I'd rather all my roosters get to eating size than to kill some of them on accident trying to cut their testicles out of their ribcages.  I'm unaware of any specific breeds that are 'tougher' than others.  Though a super active free-rangin' wide-roamin' chicken will probably have darker, more robust meat.  If you really want a trip, look into purebred cornishes.  They have double-musculature, like little bull dogs.  They're a fun breed.  

It all depends on your setup and what you ultimately want.  Get some chickens!  If you don't like em, eat em and try a different breed!  Have fun with it
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Jen Fan wrote:Every ounce of flesh the bird grows must be earned by eating, so a big, fast growing chicken is going to eat as much or more as a slower growing or smaller bird to reach the same size.  You're not 'saving' anything but time.  



That might seem logical but if you look at real data the reality is that the fast growing hybrid broilers do consume less food food per pound of total gain than the slower growing heritage breeds.  The purchased feed might be less with the heritage chicken depending on how well they forage for food.  

I think the choice between heritage chicken and hybrid broiler (whether CRX, Freedom Ranger or Red Ranger, or something else) comes down to a matter of freezer space, preference for a huge slaughter day vs one or two as needed all year long, taste preference, willingness to keep roosters, and so on.  Feed conversion is a big factor for those that really need to maintain a tight budget while raising meat, and those making a living selling the meat.  But for some that is a secondary or even lower priority.
 
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My favorite foragers of the old breeds ("heritage") chickens so far have been Dark Cornish and Black Australorp.


(I admit I'm not consistent about my "favorite" chickens; my opinion changes from day to day.)

Those interested in maintaining old breeds of livestock may want to consult the Livestock Conservancy to see which breeds need support.  Purchasing rare livestock from breeders and then continuing that breed helps keep these genetics alive.  https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/conservation-priority-list#Chickens
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Cindy Skillman wrote:

Ellendra Nauriel wrote:I raised a mixed flock this summer, and noticed that Columbian Wyandottes were absolutely enormous compared to the others, with Black Australorps and Silver Laced Wyandottes tied for second. The CWs also have tight combs and wattles, which make them less vulnerable to frostbite. I noticed that you're in a cold area where that might be important.

My CWs wound up being saved as laying hens instead of butchered, so I can't tell you how the carcasses compared. But from examining the live birds, and from the difference in weight, I'd say there's a lot more meat there than what the others had.



I have CWs and they’re kind of skinny, though nice girls and so pretty. Isn’t that interesting? Where did you get your CWs?



I got mine from the local hardware store, but they order theirs through Cackle Hatchery.
 
Cindy Skillman
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Jen Fan wrote:A meat bird is a meat bird, and all chickens are edible.  



Very true. And all breeds lay eggs. That said, I wonder whether it’s not worthwhile to keep primary layers AND breed(s) intended (by me at least) primarily for meat use. Multi tools are great in an emergency or as an expedient for minor repairs but I wouldn’t want to use a multi tool for all my needs, tool-wise. Not that I wouldn’t eat the meaties’ eggs, if I didn’t need to hatch any more meaties any time soon, and not that I wouldn’t make soup of a layer, esp extra roosters. I like your management style. 👍🏼 It sure suits my temperament. 😋

OTOH, I also like my chickens roasted or smoked as well as other more tenderizing means of preparation. (Not that I have anything against soup, but that’s where the leftovers go.) CX and other hybrid meaties are just oversized chicks so they’re nice and tender. I like tender meat. I’m old and my teeth are tired—they’ve never been my best feature and age has not been their friend. I don’t like being dependent on hatcheries however, and I’d like not having to process all my birds in a couple of days. That’s frankly exhausting and takes a heckuva lot of freezer space. So, I want to make capons.

Andrew, I grew out a batch of Color Yield this spring. I think they’re pretty close to the FRs. Really nice birds. I just want to have birds that breed reasonably true, or if hybrid, that it was me making the mix and me who could repeat it. I gather that JGs are kind of like the giant rabbits—mostly bone—so I haven’t really considered them although I think they’d be way cool. 💕

You bring up a good point about sourcing... There aren’t a lot of serious breeders around here that I know of, and I sort of worry about bio security even if there were. I visited the local poultry club and got the impression they were mostly pretty casual regarding that sort of thing. So, if I wanted to get good bloodlines, is there some hatchery I maybe should consider? I’d bite the bullet and order from Greenfire if only they’d at least try to give me a girl and a boy. I’m not big on gambling. I don’t want to order half a dozen super-expensive chicks only to find I have all boys or all girls, and it could definitely happen. (That said, I’ve been real lucky on turkeys, twice having gotten a very even mix, but they’re less than half what Greenfire wants.)

Tyler, I have BA females... they’re really nice birds and decent layers though not very big. I got them from Cackle Hatchery. I know people do use them for meat birds. Maybe I’ll order some from Meyer or Murray and get some from our feed store, then try breeding them into larger birds. I have some Buckeyes I could throw into the mix to give them less vulnerable combs... I’m also very open to giving the Dark Cornish a go. I’ll look into them. I’ll also have a look at your link.  Thanks, everyone!

 
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As far as not saving anything but time, I think that might depend on both your timing and whether they free-range. If you are buying rapid growing meat birds, and time the flocks so they hatch in early to mid spring, & are ready to harvest before winter wipes out the good, easy forage, then you're saving money, by not having to feed them over the winter. If your birds are going to be primarily laying, then I don't think the rapid growth makes much difference, financially.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Carla Burke wrote:As far as not saving anything but time, I think that might depend on both your timing and whether they free-range. If you are buying rapid growing meat birds, and time the flocks so they hatch in early to mid spring, & are ready to harvest before winter wipes out the good, easy forage, then you're saving money, by not having to feed them over the winter. If your birds are going to be primarily laying, then I don't think the rapid growth makes much difference, financially.



Fast growing breeds are generally selected for putting on meat quickly, and are generally poor egg layers compared to those selectively bred for maximum egg production.  So it would be counterproductive to use them for a laying flock.  Individual exceptions I'm sure exist, but on average that is true.

Most fast growing broilers will be starving if you only give them forage.  Purchased or harvested feed is necessary for them to be healthy, or at least happy.
 
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I have been doing some research into chickens for my own new flock and I really like what I have read about Sussex chickens. Apparently before the modern breeds were developed for meat production they were the most popular meat chickens in England--they are also supposed to be decent egg layers. Some sites also claimed that they are one of the oldest breeds of chicken available in the United States and England. Apparently there are descriptions of them dating back to the time when the Romans were in England.

If they are that old of a breed to me that is a good sign since I doubt they would have been maintained as a breed for that long if they were not good for the small farm / homestead.

Not sure since I have not had any personal experience with Sussex chickens but I like what I have read about them and I'm heavily leaning towards getting some for my new flock. I like the idea of having birds that are good for eggs and meat.
 
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My first flock of chickens had a Speckled Sussex named Susie who was the sweetest, but also the cleverest, of all the chickens. Beautiful bird. I'm not sure how well they do in heat, and I had to give mine up before they started laying, but I really loved my little Susie.

I've got an Easter Egger named Pippin now who is a laying fool, but definitely not a meat bird.

 
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People call Plymouth Bar Rocks and Rhode Island Reds "duel purpose" birds—that they are good for both eggs and meat.

Nope.

In my experience, they look fantastic (like what you'd think a heritage breed should look), are great layers, but only have about a third of the meat that a commercial meat bird would have.  Lots of feathers but not much body mass.  Not only that, but they take a long time to get to full sized, at which time they are already pretty tough and stringy.  So eliminate those two breeds.

Are Freedom Rangers a "Heritage" breed?  I thought they'd only been around a short time.  Weren't they a cross breed from a Cornish Cross?
 
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I’ve been looking at Tyler’s Livestock Conservancy link and it led me to Cackle Hatchery to look at Delawares. That got me (somehow) to a mixed breed called Indian River, which comes out of a DE over New Hampshire cross. They were apparently very popular back in the 40s. I’m interested in the Delawares anyway and apparently the NHs are great egg layers, so I think I’ll order a dozen Indian Rivers to grow out and see how we like them. I’ll also get some male DEs (and a couple-three pullets in case I want to make more DEs), some of the males to grow out and process, while saving the best two for breeders, Ditto the NHs.

Of course there are only another dozen more breeds I also really, really can’t imagine not trying. I already have 40 hens & pullets, 7 cockerels, 30 heritage turkeys, 4 drakes that I hatched to try out my new incubator and (hopefully) 3 geese and a gander (American Buff), plus three Scottish Highland cows and a bull. So three calves soon to join the menagerie, hopefully. I might be letting this get a little out of hand...
 
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:

James Freyr wrote:Freedom Ranger and Jersey Giant are two that come to mind. These are popular breeds to raise for meat, not industrially but on the backyard homestead scale, where flavor and quality can be of more importance instead of rapid weight gain and profit margins. These two breeds can turn into a nice carcass in 12 to 16 weeks, all the while being active and able to walk around and forage unlike the cornish cross commercial bird. If cost to raise a meat bird is of little concern, perhaps consider the American Bresse. The Bresse hails from France and is very popular in that country, and it's almost the industrial bird of that nation. They don't get strangely oversized like the cornish x can, but apparently the flavor is above others and the meat can even marble when fattened on milk soaked grains in the last few weeks of raising them.



I really like Freedom Rangers.  Raised them last year (50) and this year (100).  But they are not "heritage" chickens.  They're broilers that grow out significantly faster than what most people call heritage chickens.  They also are a hybrid of a couple other hybrids and won't breed true.  They're slower growing than the CRX of course, but not that much.  Certainly not 12-16 weeks.  I was getting 5lb dressed weights in just 10 weeks with mine.  And they were allowed to range over a pretty large area, and once big enough to get out of the brooder were never confined.

For Jersey Giants, you'd want to be pretty careful about who you get them from.  Ours (from Cackle Hatchery, I think) didn't ever get much bigger than our Austrolorpes.  They also took longer to get up to that size.  A good strain of Jersey Giants might be better performing as a meat bird.



We got some from the local feed n seed from a different hatchery (don’t remember which) and have the exact same experience. Our roo is half the size of some friends’ roo and the hens are maybe 75%. The shame is they had a mammoth roo who was killed just before we could get some eggs fertilized. He was easily 22 lbs, the size of their turkeys. They can’t remember where they got that genetic profile but they lost few to foxes and hawks. A rooster that size is what we are after- fewer birds taking up less roost space in the portable coop. The egg production is more than adequate for us and the bugs are free, so the idea is to hatch out in the spring and butcher in fall. Fewer but bigger birds also means less butchering time for the same amount of meat.

The Jerseys are adequate foragers- not great and lazy in summer heat. Lots of fat by one summer. More flighty than advertised (which makes me think there’s some austrolorp in there). Next round is going to be brahmas.
 
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Marco Banks wrote:
Are Freedom Rangers a "Heritage" breed?  I thought they'd only been around a short time.  Weren't they a cross breed from a Cornish Cross?



Nope, on both counts.  They're a hybrid of hybrids designed for fast growth.  They won't breed true, assuming they'll breed naturally.  I don't remember the mix, but I know RedBro is one of the hybrids used.  They're totally unrelated (to the extent any chicken can be) to the CRX.  They came from the Label Rouge program in France that was meant to produce a fast growing meat chickens that would thrive in a free range or pasture rotation system.
 
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:
Are Freedom Rangers a "Heritage" breed?  I thought they'd only been around a short time.  Weren't they a cross breed from a Cornish Cross?



Nope, on both counts.  They're a hybrid of hybrids designed for fast growth.  They won't breed true, assuming they'll breed naturally.  I don't remember the mix, but I know RedBro is one of the hybrids used.  They're totally unrelated (to the extent any chicken can be) to the CRX.  They came from the Label Rouge program in France that was meant to produce a fast growing meat chickens that would thrive in a free range or pasture rotation system.



I used to keep a few red ranger hens and breed them to a marans rooster- the resulting birds were excellent meat birds.  The red rangers all died before the age of 4, all of them to internal laying, so to me the genetics aren't that great.  Considering I've had hens live to 9 years old and still laying eggs well.  The red rangers were actually good layers though, while they were able to lay.  I got a lot of good crossed meat chicks from em though.  I tried keeping a few crossed hens but they died young as well from internal deformities.
 
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Jen Fan wrote:

Andrew Mayflower wrote:

Marco Banks wrote:
Are Freedom Rangers a "Heritage" breed?  I thought they'd only been around a short time.  Weren't they a cross breed from a Cornish Cross?



Nope, on both counts.  They're a hybrid of hybrids designed for fast growth.  They won't breed true, assuming they'll breed naturally.  I don't remember the mix, but I know RedBro is one of the hybrids used.  They're totally unrelated (to the extent any chicken can be) to the CRX.  They came from the Label Rouge program in France that was meant to produce a fast growing meat chickens that would thrive in a free range or pasture rotation system.



I used to keep a few red ranger hens and breed them to a marans rooster- the resulting birds were excellent meat birds.  The red rangers all died before the age of 4, all of them to internal laying, so to me the genetics aren't that great.  Considering I've had hens live to 9 years old and still laying eggs well.  The red rangers were actually good layers though, while they were able to lay.  I got a lot of good crossed meat chicks from em though.  I tried keeping a few crossed hens but they died young as well from internal deformities.



Red Rangers are a different breed with entirely different origins to the Freedom Ranger, even if they're a little hard to tell apart visually.  I'm not surprised at the shorter lifespan and greater difficulty with laying though, and would expect the same from Freedom Rangers.  Bummer the cross with the Maran wasn't any better for that.
 
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Marco Banks wrote:People call Plymouth Bar Rocks and Rhode Island Reds "duel purpose" birds—that they are good for both eggs and meat.

Nope.

In my experience, they look fantastic (like what you'd think a heritage breed should look), are great layers, but only have about a third of the meat that a commercial meat bird would have.  Lots of feathers but not much body mass.  Not only that, but they take a long time to get to full sized, at which time they are already pretty tough and stringy.  So eliminate those two breeds.

Are Freedom Rangers a "Heritage" breed?  I thought they'd only been around a short time.  Weren't they a cross breed from a Cornish Cross?



Sorry.  "duel purpose" chickens are for fighting.  "Dual purpose" chickens would be for meat and eggs.  

 
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Wow! They’re really going at it. My birds (even most of the males) thus far generally get their hackles up and stare at one another for a few seconds, then one backs down. The end. 🤣 Yours are much more enthusiastic about the whole thing.
 
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Cindy Skillman wrote:Wow! They’re really going at it. My birds (even most of the males) thus far generally get their hackles up and stare at one another for a few seconds, then one backs down. The end. 🤣 Yours are much more enthusiastic about the whole thing.



Not my chickens.  Just a random YouTube video to show "dueling" chickens.
 
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This was our " Year of the Fowl". I needed to focus both money and time on one thing, birds.  We built a brooder inside the lean to green house for chicks. I started with 30  cornish cross picked up from the local Jenks Hatchery the end of Feb.  they were to go out on grass in the tractor, but a massive snow storm meant  keeping them in the brooder all 8 weeks weighted in at 5lb 7 oz average cost per pound $1.92. We also purchased a chicken plucker.  Next were 30 cornish cross from Jenk's purchased in May put out on grass at 4 weeks and pulled in the tractor everyday. They weighted 6lbs 7oz and cost $1.57/ per lb. The last cornish were again from Jenk's 40 birds put out in the tractor at 4 weeks Nov. 1st it was unusually cold and I had to keep lights on them the whole time. They finished at 5lbs 10oz cost $1.85/ lb. We add 92 cent to each bird to cover fixed costs.

In June while the brooder was empty 20 Buckeye chicks were purchased from Crackle Hatchery.  The idea was to have a broody breed that was heritage and would then become both our meat and egg source. Thus eliminating the need for a hatchery.  While the birds grew in the brooder we built a static chicken coop and bought electric poultry netting. The birds were butchered at age 24 weeks the same day we butchered the last batch of CX.   We had 13 roosters in that group, I could not even walk in the run.  These birds dressed out at 3lbs6oz and cost $4.20/lb.   The difference in carcass shape was very noticeable.  Now I do not have enough Buckeyes left as layers and need to decide do I add more  dual purpose birds or add just egg layers.  

I kept one rooster and will continue to run the experiment to see if Buckeyes are broody and will raise their own chicks and would this be self sustaining. But I will also continue with CX the meat is excellent, the grow out is quick and 3 batchs from April till July will mean the weather is better, the food/ meat  ration was better and I am done for the year.  All the feed was the same for all birds sourced from a local mill, Mosaic Farms and is non gmo.

I also added 6 Cayuga ducks and 6 guinea flow to the mix.  So the "Year of the Fowl" has ended. We will continue incorporating the birds into next year which I am hoping becomes "The Year of the Sheep"
 
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Cindy Skillman wrote:I’m planning to raise heritage chickens for meat this year. I’ve purchased instruments and am hoping to successfully learn to caponize without killing too many chicks 🤞 I intend to practice on some tom turkeys I need to slaughter soon—dead birds feel no pain—so that at least I’ll have some idea what I’m looking for. I might process a couple roosters as well but I’m not sure yet that I won’t want them for breeding, so maybe—maybe not.

Anyway, I’m interested in advice as to breeds that would be good to try. So far my short list consists of: Buckeyes, Brahmas, & Cochins. I’ve looked at Bresse, but I guess the gene pool here in the US is still pretty thin and I have no experience in breeding so I may not be up to that challenge just yet. Plus they’re killer expensive. I have a few Buckeyes and Cochins already, and I like them. I admire the Brahmas and have been wanting to get some. Oh yes, and Sussex. Speckled Sussex are supposed to be really nice birds and I had been wanting an excuse to get some of them as well.

Any advice? My concern with the large breeds is that I don’t want to end up just growing out a lot of bone with not that much meat. (Though I do like bone broth.) I need super good foragers to cut down on feed costs but I will supplement them as needed. I plan to start a small mealworm operation, just for my birds, so that should help. Looking forward to hearing from y’all. TIA!



hau Cindy, this is very much a double sided question in my opinion. Heritage birds are not "meat birds" per se, they are usually more dual purpose whereas a meat bird is ready for the knife in under 8 weeks, the heritage bird will take up to 16 months to get to that same "eating" weight.
The heritage birds have better flavor because they live longer and grow slower.
What this means to the raiser of heritage chickens is a longer period between getting them and butchering them and then  there is the cost factor if you are purchasing chicks, good heritage birds don't come from a hatchery, they come from breeders seeking the elusive Standard for that breed.
Hatchery chicks tend to be smaller adult birds than those from a breeder too, that can mean more birds raised so that you end up with the pound amount you want in the freezer.

Great dual purpose birds are usually in the 6 to 8 lb. range and include: Buff Orpington., Wyendote, Favorelles, Australorp, Brama, Cochin, Rode Island Red, White Leghorn, etc. Most can be purchased from any of the top hatcheries but the birds might not be the size they are supposed to be when fully grown.
I raise Black Copper Marans, probably one of the most expensive breeds but very winter hardy in my area and hawks, owls and other predators seem to stay away since these are large birds with some attitude, especially the cocks.

If all you want is meat in the freezer, you are really better off going with a Cornish or Cornish cross type of bird, bred for heavy breast and fast growing out. The issue with these birds is that they will put on weight so fast that by week 6 they are having trouble standing and walking, at week 8 they probably will break their legs since these breeds do not have good bone structure by design.

I much prefer flavor over quantity in any bird (or other meat animal for that matter), I'm willing to wait and collect eggs from the hens while they grow up, but that is just my take on raising chickens. I also prefer to free range them as much as possible.
In the two years I've been raising BCM's I have purchased two bags (50 lbs. ea.) of feed for them, I do give them meal worms and crickets for treat time, grasshoppers they catch on their own in the summer and now they are digging up worms and grubs on their own.

My take on this subject is that one should set down their desires and expectations for their chickens, then select the breed or breeds that best meet that list, that is what we did when we selected the BCM birds, then we found a breeder and purchased a few to trial. Now we are ready to add more to the flock.
One of the things we considered was the ability of our chickens to self perpetuate by going broody, the others were egg color, size and flavor, along with easy to keep in cold and heat, their ability to stand some draftiness at times was another selection factor.

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Been there. Done that. Went back for more. But this time, I took this tiny ad with me:
Why Free Range Fails Every Time!
https://permies.com/t/66064/Composting-Chickens-Comic-Book-Ulitmate
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