The 7 Best Meat Chickens for Your Homestead

So, you want to put meat on the table yourself, but what are the best meat chickens to raise? There are a lot of different breeds of meat chickens available, each having its own pros and cons. It’s important to do your homework before you jump into raising them.

We’ve been raising meat chickens since 2016 and have learned a lot along the way. In this article, I’ll help you figure out what your goals are and what the best meat chicken breed is for your homestead. 

Let’s jump in!

A red ranger chicken sitting next to a layer chicken
A Ranger broiler next to a layer rooster (they are both the same age!)

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What to Consider When Selecting Meat Chickens

Not all meat chickens are created equal! Some excel at growing super fast and keeping the feed bill low while others are more apt to foraging and have more flavorful meat. Here’s everything that you need to consider before picking the breed for your homestead.

Broilers vs Dual Purpose Breeds

While both broilers and dual purpose chickens can be used for meat, they are quite different from each other. Let’s break them down!

Broilers

A broiler is a hybrid, which means they were developed by combining multiple breeds to create something new. The genetics behind these combinations are a highly protected secret.

The major positive of broiler hybrids is that they have a very efficient feed conversion by putting on 1 lb of weight for every 2-3 lbs of feed consumed. This means much lower feed costs for you! They also finish out fast (8-16 weeks), have a meaty carcass and the chickens grow at the same rate. 

The major negative is that you are dependent on a commercial hatchery and you cannot breed them together to continue to create more chicks yourself. You can try, but you’ll end up with a completely different bird that likely won’t perform as well. Plus, broilers typically won’t survive to maturity for breeding, anyway.

Dual Purpose

Dual purpose breeds are what our great grandparents used to put meat on the table. They are simply large-sized, purebred chickens that are used for both eggs and meat (hence, their dual purpose!). Hybrid broilers from commercial hatcheries didn’t exist back then. 

Most purebred chickens are lean and put their energy into making eggs (not meat), making them more suited for soup rather than roasting in the oven. The dual purpose breeds stand out due to their large-size, making them useful for both eggs and meat. The young hens are typically kept for egg production while the roosters (and retired hens) are butchered for meat. 

The big con against dual purpose breeds is that, while they can serve both purposes, they don’t do either particularly well. They aren’t typically very efficient egg layers, nor very efficient at converting feed into meat. Plus, they take a lot longer to mature (16-24 weeks). You’ll spend quite a bit more, in the end, raising these.

What do we do on our homestead?

We prefer to keep different types of chickens around that excel at what they are designed to do. I’ve given up on the middle-ground dual purpose chickens, personally. 

We keep efficient and lean layer breeds for eggs and slower-growing broilers for meat (more on this later!). This works well for us and keeps the costs down.

2 freshly butchered rudd ranger broiler chickens sitting on a table

Time to Market Weight

Are you in a rush to get meat in your freezer or do you want to take your time the old-fashioned way? 

While the old-fashioned way is a nice thing to consider, a slower-growing bird eats more feed, requires care for a longer period, and with a longer period comes an increased risk of something happening along the way (illness, predators, etc.).

On the other hand, a slower-growing chicken results in more time on pasture. And more time on pasture means more opportunity for nutrient-dense meat (vitamins D and E, plus a better omega 6:3 ratio). 

How long does it take?

  • Fast: Dual Purpose breeds (16-24 weeks)
  • Faster: Ranger broilers (12-16 weeks)
  • Fastest: Cornish Cross broilers (6-8 weeks)

*Of note, broilers need to wait until they are 2 weeks old to move to the outdoors. Therefore, if you’re raising the freaky fast Cornish Cross broilers, that means there are only a few weeks left for them to obtain those vital nutrients from the grass, bugs, sunshine, etc. before harvest day.

Skin Color

Chickens, just like humans, come in a variety of skin colors! When it comes to eating a skin-on chicken leg for dinner… you might want to consider this point! Of note, skin color doesn’t really affect the taste.

What colors are there?

  • White: Bresse, Orpington
  • Yellow: Ranger broilers, Cornish Cross, Cornish Roaster, Cornish, Cochin
  • Pinkish: Catalana
  • Black: Silkie, Ayam Cemani

Sometimes, you just get a surprise! These are all Rudd Rangers, but one of them happened to have black skin! The meat itself even had a black tint to it. It was delicious!

Vacuum sealed rudd ranger meat chickens, but one of them has black skin

Gender

This has been an ongoing debate for me for years and I finally have it dialed in! It really comes down to you and your preferences. 

Let’s get the lingo down first:

  • Rooster: male chick
  • Hen: female chick
  • Straight Run: unsexed chick (so you’ll receive roughly 50% of each)

What should you choose?

  • If you are on a tight timeline and/or budget, I’d pick roosters. They are usually ready several weeks before the hens and because of this, they consume less feed as well. 
  • If your main concern is avoiding the fuss of crowing, the hormones, and the overall “stinkiness” of roosters (yes, they stink), I’d go with hens. I’ve found that my ranger roosters start crowing a solid month before they are ready to butcher. 
  • If this is your first year raising broilers, or if you don’t really have an agenda, I recommend straight run. Straight run is cheaper, plus having your chickens mature at different times is nice if you are just starting out. That way you don’t have to commit to butchering ALL of them in one day.

The 7 Best Meat Chickens

We’ve come to the fun part! Let’s chat about and compare the 7 best meat chicken breeds available to you.

A chart comparing the 7 best meat chicken breeds

#1: Rangers (broiler)

Rangers are a broiler chicken, however, they don’t grow quite as scary-fast as the traditional Cornish Cross and thus, don’t carry as many risks. I view them as a happy medium between the Cornish Cross and dual purpose breeds. 

They have red and black feathers, yellow legs, and skin and typically finish out in 12-16 weeks. They can be found under many names: Red Rangers, Rudd Ranger, Big Red Broilers, Freedom Rangers, Kosher King, Red Meat Maker, and so on.

We’ve been raising them since 2016 and I’ve been very impressed with them each year. They are hardy, fairly active foragers, and delicious! You can see the breakdown of our costs when raising them in my article: Why You Should Raise Red Ranger Chickens

Rudd Ranger meat chickens inside a chicken tractor

Ready for processing:

12-16 weeks

Finish weight:

8-10 lbs

Pros:

  • More economical to raise (put on 1 lb of weight for every 3 lbs of feed consumed) compared to dual purpose breeds
  • Meat is more flavorful and nutrient-dense than the Cornish Cross
  • Moderate amount of edible meat at 70% of live weight
  • More proportional than the Cornish Cross with more dark meat (yum!)
  • Fairly sedentary and don’t need much space
  • Very docile and easy to work with
  • Better foragers and less feed driven than Cornish Cross (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Less prone to health issues than Cornish Cross
  • More weather tolerant than Cornish Cross
  • Dark feathers make them less attractive to aerial predators

Cons:

  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • Less economical to raise compared to the Cornish Cross
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross
  • Will need a predator-proof structure to protect them
  • Are a hybrid (needs to be purchased from a commercial hatchery)
  • Not kept for egg production

#2: Cornish Roaster (broiler)

The Cornish Roaster is a slightly slower-growing cousin to the Cornish Cross. They look similar, but finish out in 12-14 weeks, rather than just 6-8 weeks. 

Because of this slower growth, they are generally healthier, similar to the Rangers. If you’re looking for a happy medium between the Cornish Cross and dual-purpose breeds, this is it!

A Cornish Roaster hen

Ready for processing:

12-14 weeks

Finish weight:

8-9 lbs

Pros:

  • More economical to raise (put on 1 lb of weight for every 3 lbs of feed consumed) compared to dual purpose breeds
  • Meat is more flavorful and nutrient-dense than the Cornish Cross
  • Moderate amount of edible meat at 70% of live weight
  • More proportional than the Cornish Cross with more dark meat (yum!)
  • Very docile and easy to work with
  • Fairly sedentary and don’t need much space
  • Better foragers and less feed driven than Cornish Cross (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Less prone to health issues than Cornish Cross
  • More weather tolerant than Cornish Cross

Cons:

  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • Less economical to raise compared to the Cornish Cross
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross
  • Will need a predator-proof structure to protect them
  • White coloring makes them attractive to aerial predators
  • Are a hybrid (needs to be purchased from a commercial hatchery)
  • Not kept for egg production

#3: Cornish Cross (broiler)

Our list wouldn’t be complete without the popular Cornish Cross. This is the only breed that you’ll ever find in the grocery store, and even at many CSAs! 

Joel Salatin calls them “race car chickens” because they grow freaky fast and crash hard if anything in the slightest goes wrong. They are often raised in confinement so that the conditions can be tightly controlled. They can also be raised on pasture, with close monitoring.

The Cornish Cross breed is a hybrid between a White Plymouth Rock and a White Cornish chicken, however, the rest is a highly protected secret. 

Many Cornish Cross broilers together on dirt flooring

Ready for processing:

6-8 weeks

Finish weight:

6-8 lbs (can get much larger, if allowed)

Pros:

  • They have very large breasts and finish FAST
  • Minimal feathering and underlying hairs (easy to pluck)
  • Very docile and easy to work with
  • Highest amount of edible meat at 75% of live weight
  • Economical to raise (they put on 1 lb of weight for every 2 lbs of feed consumed)
  • Sedentary and don’t need much space

Cons:

  • Feed should be removed every night to prevent overeating
  • Prone to leg and heart problems (due to rapid growth)
  • Breed for climate-controlled housing and not very hardy in the outdoor elements
  • Will need a predator-proof structure to protect them
  • Very feed driven and less prone to foraging
  • Must be butchered once they hit market weight, otherwise they can develop bone ailments or die of heart failure
  • White coloring makes them attractive to aerial predators
  • Are a hybrid (needs to be purchased from a commercial hatchery)
  • Not kept for egg production

#4: Bresse (dual purpose)

The Bresse chicken originates from France, but is rapidly becoming popular in the United States. They are often pricy and sold out! They have white feathers and steel blue legs. Bresse chickens are a true dual purpose breed in that they will provide a fairly meaty carcass (in 16-20 weeks) while also providing 4-5 eggs per week once mature.

It is said that the Bresse chicken produces the best-tasting meat that is also marbled, similar to beef. However, they are a smaller bird than broilers at only 5-7 lbs when they reach market weight. They are easy to raise, forage well, and have a good disposition. 

Bresse hens together outside

Ready for processing:

16-20 weeks

Finish weight:

4-7 lbs

Pros:

  • Balanced proportion of white meat to dark meat
  • Meat is more flavorful due to their age and more time on pasture (can be a con, for some)
  • Better foragers and less feed driven than broilers (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Finish out faster than most dual purpose breeds
  • Can be raised with layers and free-range without a dedicated chicken tractor
  • Less prone to health issues than broilers
  • More weather tolerant than broilers
  • Are a purebred and can be reproduced on the homestead
  • Good for egg production (200 cream eggs/year)

Cons:

  • Less economical to raise compared to broilers (they put on 1 lb of weight for every 4 lbs of feed consumed)
  • Lowest amount of edible meat at 65% of live weight
  • Meat can be tougher and leaner due to being more active and older at processing time
  • They are a smaller bird (only 4-7 lbs)
  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross
  • White coloring makes them attractive to aerial predators
  • Can be expensive and hard to find

#5: Cornish (dual purpose)

The Cornish chicken is one of the base breeds for the Cornish Cross, so we know it will be good for meat production! Comes in 12 different varieties to choose from. Can be aggressive in nature.

Has yellow skin and a blocky body type. They lay a fair amount of brown eggs at 150 a year. The hens are also known to go broody, which is a blessing if you want to reproduce chicks every year. 

3 cornish chickens in a crate outside

Ready for processing:

20-22 weeks

Finish weight:

8-10 lbs

Pros:

  • Balanced proportion of white meat to dark meat
  • Meat is more flavorful due to their age and more time on pasture (can be a con, for some)
  • They can get as large as broilers (8-10 lbs)
  • Better foragers and less feed-driven than broilers (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Can be raised with layers and free-range without a dedicated chicken tractor
  • Less prone to health issues than broilers
  • More weather tolerant than broilers
  • Are a purebred and can be reproduced on the homestead

Cons:

  • Less economical to raise compared to broilers (they put on 1 lb of weight for every 4 lbs of feed consumed)
  • Lowest amount of edible meat at 65% of live weight
  • Meat can be tougher and leaner due to being more active and older at processing time
  • Slower to mature than broilers and Bresse dual purpose chickens
  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • Can be aggressive
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross
  • Not great at egg laying (only 150 brown eggs/year)

#6: Cochin (dual purpose)

Cochins are one of the largest chickens out there clocking in at up to 11 lbs. While the Jersey Giant is the largest of all dual purpose purebreds (11-13 lbs), they are very slow growers (taking 6-12 months to finish out).  The Cochins move things along a bit quicker at 20 weeks, making them a great choice!

Not a great layer (175 brown eggs/year), but they are very docile, cold hardy, and a good forager. They are heavily feathered (all the way to their toes!, which may make plucking more difficult. Cochins come in a variety of colors and the hens are known to go broody, which is a blessing if you want to reproduce chicks every year. 

A blue cochin chicken outdoors foraging

Ready for processing:

20 weeks

Finish weight:

8-11 lbs

Pros:

  • Balanced proportion of white meat to dark meat
  • Meat is more flavorful due to their age and more time on pasture (can be a con, for some)
  • They can get as large as broilers (8-10 lbs)
  • Better foragers and less feed-driven than broilers (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Can be raised with layers and free-range without a dedicated chicken tractor
  • Less prone to health issues than broilers
  • Very docile and easy to work with
  • More weather tolerant than broilers
  • Are a purebred and can be reproduced on the homestead

Cons:

  • Heavily fathered, which can make plucking more challenging
  • Less economical to raise compared to broilers (they put on 1 lb of weight for every 4 lbs of feed consumed)
  • Lowest amount of edible meat at 65% of live weight
  • Meat can be tougher and leaner due to being more active and older at processing time
  • Slower to mature than broilers and Bresse dual purpose chickens
  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross
  • Not great at egg laying (175 brown eggs/year)

#7: Orpington (dual purpose)

Orpingtons are decent meat birds while also laying well (200 brown eggs/year). They have pinkish-white skin and are plump and juicy. They are also good foragers and very docile. Orpingtons are a cold hardy breed, which can come in handy if you live in a cold climate like me!

The Orpington comes in a variety of colors such as white, chocolate, silver, blue, buff, and lavender. The hens are known to go broody, which is a blessing if you want to reproduce chicks every year. 

3 Orpington chickens out scratching in front of the coop

Ready for processing:

20-22 weeks

Finish weight:

8-10 lbs

Pros:

  • Balanced proportion of white meat to dark meat
  • Meat is more flavorful due to their age and more time on pasture (can be a con, for some)
  • They can get as large as broilers (8-10 lbs)
  • Better foragers and less feed-driven than broilers (feed can remain in their space 24/7)
  • Can be raised with layers and free-range without a dedicated chicken tractor
  • Less prone to health issues than broilers
  • More weather-tolerant than broilers
  • Very docile and easy to work with
  • Are a purebred and can be reproduced on the homestead
  • Good for egg production (200 brown eggs/year)

Cons:

  • Less economical to raise compared to broilers (they put on 1 lb of weight for every 4 lbs of feed consumed)
  • Lowest amount of edible meat at 65% of live weight
  • Meat can be tougher and leaner due to being more active and older at processing time
  • Slower to mature than broilers and Bresse dual purpose chickens
  • More feathered and has underlying hairs compared to the Cornish Cross
  • They don’t grow at a uniform rate as well as the Cornish Cross

Where to Buy Meat Chickens

Meat chickens are typically always purchased as day-old chicks and then raised by you until they reach butcher weight. Where do you get them from? There are a few different options – let’s jump in!

Hatchery

Ordering straight from a hatchery is the most common place to buy meat chicks and where we get ours from every spring. They get shipped in the mail shortly after hatching and arrive at your local post office the next day.

A box of day old meat chicks red rangers arrived in the mail

Pros:

  • Guaranteed availability
  • Many breeds to choose from
  • Can select gender
  • Can select a delivery day
  • Can buy in large quantities (100+ chicks)
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Risk of chicks arriving weak or dead in the mail
  • Have to meet the minimum chick order for them to be able to ship (there needs to be enough chicks so that they can keep each other warm in transit)

Options: 

**TIP: Always order from whichever hatchery is located closest to you. That means a shorter trip for your chicks! 

Local Feed Store

Have a feed store nearby? You can pick them up there, too! You can either just swing by and see what they have available, or some feed stores will let you reserve chicks ahead of time.

A photo of baby chicks and a person is holding one in their hands held out

Of note: the feed store doesn’t hatch them themselves, so if you’re trying to avoid the big hatchery business model, going this route doesn’t help. They get the chicks mailed to them in bulk from a commercial hatchery and then sell them off themselves.

Pros:

  • Guaranteed live chicks
  • You can pick them out yourself (usually)
  • Pick-up times are more flexible than at the post office
  • Always available during peak months (usually)
  • Inexpensive and they are sometimes on sale
  • No minimum orders

Cons:

  • Chicks can be weak or sick if the store doesn’t care for them well
  • Can be picked over
  • Limited breed selection
  • Often only available in smaller numbers

Options:

Local Breeder

This is a great, sustainable option if you’re planning on raising purebreds like Cochins or Orpingtons. True broiler breeds like Rangers and Cornish Cross are hybrids and cannot be reproduced outside of large hatcheries.

3 yellow chicks outside in the grass

Pros:

  • Support local, small businesses
  • The birds are adapted to your local climate
  • Healthier birds (less stress from shipping)
  • A more ethical choice than large, commercial hatcheries

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • May have to drive hours away to locate one
  • Limited breed options
  • No options for true hybrid broilers
  • Likely only offer smaller order numbers

Options:

Yourself!

If you want to raise heritage breeds, you can totally breed and raise them yourself! All you need is a good set of breeding stock and an incubator. Check out my article The 8 Best Egg Incubators to snag the best one!

Freshly hatched chicks sitting next to 3 eggs

Pros:

  • Full control over the quality of your birds
  • True self-sufficiency
  • Can sell chicks or fertile eggs for a little side income

Cons:

  • Maintain a set of breeding stock year-round (can get expensive)
  • Invest in an incubator (or multiple broody hens!)
  • No option to raise hybrid meat bird breeds
  • Likely unable to produce a large number of chicks at once unless you keep a large number of breeding stock 

FAQ About Raising Meat Chickens

Can any chicken be a meat chicken?

Technically, yes, you can eat any chicken. However, the breed and age of that chicken will determine how “meaty” it is for a meal.

  • Layers are known to be lean and put their energy into making eggs, so they are best used for soup.
  • Broilers and dual purpose breeds are bigger and meatier, making them great for the BBQ or roasting in the oven.

Is it worth raising chickens for meat?

Absolutely! Once you have your meat chicken infrastructure set up, they are quite easy to care for. We only spend 5 minutes a day topping off feed, and water, and moving our chicken tractor to a fresh spot of grass. Is a great step to being more self-sufficient while also saving money. 

What chickens are best for meat and eggs?

The best chickens for both meat and eggs are dual purpose breeds like Orpingtons. They are heavy birds that are suitable for meat while also laying eggs. However, they don’t do each particularly well. My favorite is to raise dedicated egg chickens and dedicated meat chickens and let them excel at what they do best.

What is the fastest-growing meat chicken?

The fastest-growing meat chicken is by far the Cornish Cross. They reach market weight within an astounding 6-8 weeks. However, this fast growth comes with a catch. They are prone to leg issues and heart attacks. Plus, with less time out on pasture, that means fewer nutrients going into your food.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when picking the best meat chickens for your homestead. You’ll spend twice as much money and three times as much time raising dual-purpose breeds compared to Cornish Cross, but there are some definite pros to raising them as well!

Maybe you’re like me, and you like the happy medium of rangers! They really take the cake, in my opinion. Now, if they were a purebred so that we could breed them on our own homestead, I would give them an A++!

Are you a first-time chicken keeper? Or maybe you don’t even have chickens yet? Definitely check out my ultimate resource How to Care for Chickens: A Beginners Guide.

Blog post promo photo for article how to care for chickens

*Information in this article was referenced from personal experience and/or from the following two books: Pastured Poultry Profits and Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, unless otherwise noted.

The Homesteading RD's Product Picks:

This is THE chicken book to have! I've had my copy since the beginning and it's the one that I keep going back to time after time. It provides everything you need to know from coop design, hatching chicks, layer nutrition, and much more! 

This book is well-written, easy to read, and enjoyable. An excellent resource on meat chickens! Joel Salatin produces high-quality “beyond organic” meats, which are raised using environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable agriculture. 

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