If you’ve never raised chickens before, you might be surprised to realize that there are different breeds of chickens meant for laying eggs or raising for meat. Typically, the best egg layers aren’t the tastiest or fastest-growing meat producers and vice versa, though some breeds are pretty proficient at both.
When raising chickens to eat, you want to make sure you choose a breed that will produce a hefty bird with tasty meat in a relatively short time period. There are more than 50 chicken breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association, but this list will only cover the 20 that are the best birds to raise for their meat. Some of these breeds are strictly intended for meat production while others are dual-purpose birds that are also suitable for laying eggs. All of them are great chickens to raise for their meat.
Before we start checking out individual breeds, it’s important to differentiate the three main categories of meat chickens.
Broiler chickens are any breed that is intended specifically to be raised for meat. These birds grow much faster than their egg-laying counterparts so that you can use them for meat earlier than other breeds. They also develop more bodyweight on the same amount of food.
It only takes about 5 weeks for a broiler chicken to reach a weight of 4-5 pounds. This means you can slaughter a broiler chicken after just 5 weeks, though you can wait a bit longer to get bigger birds.
As the name implies, dual-purpose breeds are adequate at both egg and meat production. These chickens lay a fair amount of eggs at a reasonable rate while also growing large fast enough to be used for their meat. They grow much larger than laying breeds and do so quicker, though they can’t match the growth rate of broiler chickens.
In an ideal situation, you’d have separate flocks for egg production or meat. That’s not always possible though, which is where dual-purpose chickens come into play, offering the best of both worlds. Most backyard or homesteading flocks consist of dual-purpose chickens, even if they only use them for egg production since dual-purpose chickens tend to be more resilient and hardier than laying chickens.
Heritage chicken breeds have slow to moderate growth rates. It takes 16 weeks or more for a heritage breed chicken to reach market weight. But these birds have long lifespans and grow to be quite large. They’re also breeds that are maintained through natural mating, free of the genetic hybridization found in many modern breeds.
In recent years, as chicken farming has become more industrialized, new chicken breeds were created that could produce more meat faster than other breeds. Today, these hybrid breeds are used in commercial meat production. But heritage breeds offer a more natural option for those that don’t want genetically-altered commercial chicken breeds.
Unfortunately, many heritage breeds are in danger of extinction. But these birds are often the best choice for backyard chickens since they’re well adapted to many climates and have a proven history of solid production of both eggs and meat.
The 20 Top Meat Chicken Breeds
1. Cornish Cross Chickens
Cornish Crosses are a broiler breed. They’re one of the most popular of all meat chickens and for good reasons. If you’re raising a flock strictly for eating, then the Cornish Cross is one of your best bets.
These birds grow incredibly fast. In just 6-8 weeks, your Cornish Crosses can weigh 12 pounds each. They’re low activity birds that are ready for harvest in just one month. You get lots of white meat from these birds and their meat is generally considered to be some of the best tasting of any chicken breed.
2. Australorp Chicken
The name Australorp is actually a contraction of the words Australian black Orpington, which is another way you can think of this breed. They’re a relatively new breed but have made such an impact that they’re the honorary national bird of Australia. Their hardiness helps them thrive in many different regions, while their gentle temperament and quiet nature make them easy to raise and endears them to many.
These birds have become popular with backyard growers, partly for their temperaments, and partly because they’re very large and lay many eggs. Their large size makes them great for eating, with males routinely weighing 10 pounds. Dual-purpose chickens, they grow quickly and can be slaughtered anytime. But they’re also prolific egg producers, laying an average of 250 per year.
3. Bresse Chicken
Bresse chickens are a special breed that’s very difficult to get a hold of. True Bresse chickens can only be purchased in Bresse, France. But if you can get your hands on a few, it will be well worth the trouble. These chickens are highly sought after for one reason: they have succulent, delicious meat. In fact, many consider them to be the best tasting chicken in the world.
On top of being delicious, Bresse chickens are also excellent egg layers, producing about 250 yearly. It takes about 16 weeks for a Bresse to be ready for harvest, and they can be raised mainly on pasture grazing. They’re not large birds though, offering about 6 pounds of meat after processing.
4. Brown Leghorn Chickens
A dual-purpose breed that excels at laying eggs, the Brown Leghorn is a variant of the White Leghorn. This breed lays an average of 280 large white eggs per year. They’re very active birds that are known for being independent and high strung. Few consider the breed to be friendly.
Males are about 6 pounds when fully mature with females weighing a pound less. They’re slow to mature and will take up to 21 weeks before they’re ready for harvesting. Luckily, you’ll be able to gather eggs for much of that time since Brown Leghorns start producing early.
5. Buckeye Chicken
Buckeyes are great birds for anyone that lives in a cold climate. Their populations don’t dwindle in the winter like many breeds since they’re well-suited for the cold weather. Plus, they’re highly adaptable and resistant to disease. Many consider them to be docile, making them easier to raise.
These chickens are on the larger side with males weighing in around 9 pounds. They’re not the fastest-growing birds though, requiring 16-21 weeks to reach butchering size. Adequate egg layers, you’ll get an average of 200 birds per year from a Buckeye hen.
6. Orpington Chickens
Available in buff, white, blue, or black varieties, Orpington chickens are hefty birds that are slow to mature. Males tend to be about 10 pounds when fully grown with females weighing in at 2 pounds lighter on average. However, it takes 18 weeks minimum to reach harvesting weight — often as long as 24 weeks.
Laying an average of 200 eggs per year, these dual-purpose chickens can produce quite a few eggs in the time it takes them to reach slaughtering weight. But what really draws people to Orpingtons and helps make them a popular choice is their meat. Orpingtons have delectable, tender meat that people love.
7. Chantecler Chicken
A dual-purpose breed, Chanteclers are some of the fastest-growing chickens, reaching butchering size in only 11 to 16 weeks. Hens also start laying eggs early, so you can still get some eggs from them before harvesting them for their meat. With an average of 200 eggs per year, they’re pretty solid egg layers.
Hens weigh an average of 7 pounds with roosters coming in a bit heavier at 9 pounds on average. They’re great chickens to raise free-range since they can survive on forage, though they do enjoy feed as well. Chantecler chickens are resilient to cold temperatures, making them perfect for people in cold climates that require hardy chickens.
8. Croad Langshan Chickens
Croad Langshans are dual-purpose chickens that lay an average of 210 dark brown eggs per year. Sometimes, their eggs have a purple tint to them. Roosters weigh just under 10 pounds and hens weigh nearly 8 pounds. They’re known to produce abundant white meat that’s full of flavor.
This is a heritage breed that has been around since the mid-1800s. They first originated in China, though they were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1883. Because they can fly over fences, they require a roofed enclosure. Their hardiness makes them suitable for many climates.
Delaware chickens are one of the best choices if you’re looking for a dual-purpose bird that can produce a lot of meat while also laying many eggs prior to slaughter. This breed grows relatively quickly with males reaching a harvesting weight of around 9 pounds in just 12 weeks. Meanwhile, hens lay up to 280 eggs per year, so you’ll get nearly an egg per day while your chickens are maturing.
But it’s not just about production with Delaware chickens. They were made by crossing a Barred Plymouth Rock with a New Hampshire Red, which helps this breed to have a high meat quality while also producing excellent eggs.
10. Dorking Chicken
This breed isn’t the fastest-growing or the best at laying eggs. What Dorking chickens are known for is producing some of the best meat of any breed around. Their succulent meat is renowned for its tender texture and tasty flavor. They still produce eggs, though only about 140 each year. The eggs they do produce are large and white.
Unfortunately, Dorking hens are very slow to mature. They don’t start producing eggs until they’re about 6 months old. However, they reach processing weight in about 16-20 weeks. This breed is poorly suited for cold climates since they’re highly susceptible to frostbite.
11. Egyptian Fayoumi
Rarely aggressive birds that are resistant to most diseases, Egyptian Fayoumis are dual-purpose chicken with delicious meat and eggs. They’re not the fastest layers, producing just 150 eggs each year. Moreover, they’re one of the smaller chicken breeds used for meat. Males only reach about 5 pounds. But hens start laying eggs early, so you should have plenty of eggs by the time you harvest your chickens for food.
These birds are active foragers, causing them to be more flighty than other breeds. They take about 14-18 weeks to reach harvesting weight, which is a bit faster than some of the other chickens we’ve looked at.
12. Freedom Rangers
Freedom Rangers, also called Red Rangers, are broiler chickens, though they do also lay brown eggs that are great for eating. What’s great about these birds is how quickly they’re ready for slaughter — just 9-11 weeks. They’re not the largest chickens, with males weighing 6 pounds on average, but since they mature so quickly, they’re a great choice for meat.
Unlike many other breeds, Freedom Rangers are specially bred to be raised on pasture. They’re the favorite of organic farmers since the breed was created for the pesticide-free meat market. Though they don’t produce as much meat as some of the other popular broiler breeds, Freedom Rangers do create tender and flavorful meat that’s certain to satisfy.
13. Jersey Giant
The aptly named Jersey Giant is a massive breed of chicken, commercially bred for their large proportions. They take longer to grow than other popular meat breeds like Cornish Crosses, but they also get much larger, with males reaching an average weight of 13 pounds. It takes 16-21 weeks for them to reach harvesting size, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff considering the amount of meat you’ll get from each chicken.
Another advantage of raising Jersey Giants is that they’re robust animals not prone to many diseases and health issues. And while they’re not prolific egg layers, hens do lay eggs that you can use in addition to the meat.
14. Kosher King
If you want chickens that look as good as they taste, you might consider Kosher Kings. These are beautiful birds with plumage that’s striped white and black. Roosters grow much faster than hens in this breed, though hens can lay a substantial amount of eggs if kept until maturity. These birds grow much faster than some of the other popular meat breeds, reaching a full weight of 5 pounds in only 12 weeks.
15. New Hampshire Red
New Hampshire Red chickens are a larger, hardier version of a Rhode Island Red. They mature quite quickly and grow rather large, reaching a harvesting weight of more than 8 pounds in a mere 8-10 weeks. Due to the fast maturation rate, New Hampshire Reds are considered a broiler species, even though they’re also excellent egg layers.
One of the best things about New Hampshire Reds is that they’re very tolerant of rough weather. They’re relatively quiet birds that are known to be quite adaptable. Males tend to be a little aggressive, but it’s usually forgiven for their impressive productivity.
16. Plymouth Rock
The Plymouth Rock chicken was one of the first breeds to be raised in America. They’re one of the most popular backyard breeds today, thanks to their impressive egg and meat production. These chickens are such great meat chickens that they became one of the foundation breeds for many broiler chickens used by the commercial chicken industry.
For quite some time, pure Plymouth Rock chickens were difficult to get a hold of. Today, they’re making a comeback, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some specimens for your flock. A Plymouth Rock chicken will be market weight in just 8-12 weeks, offering 7-8 pounds of delicious meat.
17. Rhode Island Red
Though they’ve been used to create many different breeds, Rhode Island Reds were originally produced as a dual-purpose chicken meant to provide eggs and meat. They lay extra-large brown eggs at a rate of about five per week. Moreover, they get pretty heavy, weighing in at 7-8 pounds fully grown.
These chickens can easily deal with cold winters, though they don’t do as well with heat. They’re very docile birds that do well grazing and feeding on a free-range. Generally, they’re quiet and easygoing, though sometimes roosters can show aggression.
Turkens are also called naked neck chickens. Appearance-wise, they look like a mix of a turkey and a chicken, which is where the name Turken originates. They’re very hardy birds that excel in both cold and hot weather conditions.
These birds are dual-purpose, laying just over 100 eggs each year on average, and reaching a harvest weight of about 6 pounds between 11-18 weeks of age.
19. White Leghorn
White Leghorns are very similar to Brown Leghorns. They’re prolific egg layers, offering a large white egg nearly every day. These birds are more nervous than their brown counterparts, though they’re very adaptable, robust birds. They do well in both heat and cold, though they’re not considered to be especially docile chickens.
Wyandottes are equal parts work of art and food. These birds are beautiful and they come in several different feather patterns, including silver penciled, golden laced, Columbian, white, and blue. All of them are pretty rare, though they’re solid favorites among those who raise chickens in their backyards.
Hardy in winter, Wyandottes are not particularly well suited for warm weather. They lay about four eggs a week and reach a pretty hefty size of 8 pounds on average, which takes about 16 weeks.
- You may also find this interesting: 18 Friendliest Chicken Breeds
Whether you’re looking for chickens to raise solely for their meat or for both their meat and eggs, you’ll find the perfect breed on this list. Every chicken we’ve covered is a great choice for meat, growing large to offer plenty of protein. Some of these breeds are also great for egg production.
There are breeds you can eat in hardly more than a month, such as the Cornish Cross, which is a great choice for a flock intended just to be eaten. Other breeds, like the Egyptian Fayoumi need more time before they end up on your table, but produce enough eggs to keep your family fed in the meantime. Whatever your needs, the perfect breed for you is on this list, you just have to figure out which breed that is.
Additional Chicken Breed Reads:
- 7 Chicken Breeds with Aggressive Roosters (with Pictures)
- 8 Endangered Chicken Breeds (with Pictures)
- 3 Russian Chicken Breeds (with Pictures)
Featured Image: Reijo Telaranta, Pixabay