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Meat Birds

Meat Birds

Meat Birds

For the more adventurous backyard chicken crew, raising chickens for their eggs simply isn’t enough. Why not have access to wonderfully fresh chicken meat?

One visit to a commercial slaughterhouse is probably enough to convince even the most squeamish person that there are a significant number of benefits to knowing exactly how and where the meat on a dinner table was raised.

If you are looking for the best of both worlds, meaning eggs as well as the option to butcher, you may prefer a dual-purpose breed that lays more eggs than a meat bird and builds more muscle than an egg layer.

Breeds known for the meat production capabilities share the following characteristics:

  • Reach butchering weight of 6-7 lbs in 6 to 16 weeks
  • High efficiency ratio of muscle tissue developed compared to feed consumed
  • Large breast muscles, yielding good amount of white meat

All hens, even those known as meat birds, will lay eggs. However, the breeds raised as meat birds produce significantly fewer eggs than their counterpart egg layer breeds. Also, you will want to butcher meat birds as soon as they reach their desired weight, which doesn’t give you much time to collect the few eggs they do lay.

Many people raise both meat birds as well as egg layers. This way you start out spring with a larger flock of both types of breeds. Then, after butchering your meat birds, you have a smaller flock of egg layers and a freezer full of food until the following spring when you repeat the cycle again.

Meat birds are grouped into five classes based on their size and type of muscle tissue they have developed. Meat birds can be classified as:

  • Rock-Cornish Game Hens: Smallest meat bird weighing 1 to 2 lbs
  • Broiler-Fryer: 2 ½ to 4 ½ lbs in about 7 weeks with tender meat
  • Roaster: 5 to 7 lbs in 3 to 5 months with meat most suitable for roasting
  • Stewing: Mature hen, 10 months or older, less tender meat best for stewing
  • Rooster: Mature male with tough, strong flavored, dark colored, rarely eaten meat

The most common meat bird breeds include:

  • Cornish X Rock: Ready to butcher as early as 8 to 14 weeks, white skin, highly efficient converting feed (hybrid)
  • Cornish: Develop large breasts in average amount of time
  • Jersey Giants: world’s largest chicken breed, grows slowly with poor feed conversion
  • Orpington: Large growing meat birds that are also decent egg layers
  • Shamo: Large growing meat bird friendly with people but aggressive toward other chickens

We have an entire area of our classroom section devoted to Meat Birds with topics including:

Like many things in nature, nothing is guaranteed. But, the following table highlights what to expect from the various meat bird breeds.

Meat Birds:

Type of Chicken
Egg Production
Bird Size
Good Brooder
Cold Hardy
Below Avg
Above Avg
Egg Color
Egg Size
Below Avg
Above Avg
< 3 per week
3 - 4 per week
5+ per week
< 5 lbs
6 - 7 lbs
7+ lbs
English Cornish 
Light Brown  Small
Other Cubalaya 
Cream Medium
Other Malay 
Light Brown  Medium

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