Sustainable Meat Chicken Breeds
Comparing the Delaware Broiler and Red Broiler Breeds
Selecting meat chicken breeds will vary based on your needs. The Cornish Cross is most popular among broiler breeds due to the short time it takes to reach maturity. However, many other broiler breeds can provide exceptional meat for your family.
Raising Chickens for Meat
Raising your own meat allows you to be sustainable and consume a clean food source. It also gives you a greater appreciation for the food you put on the table. However, raising chickens for meat takes work, and knowing which breed is best for your property. Is the type of broiler you wish to raise important? It most definitely is.
Select the Best Meat Chicken Breed
Make sure to do your research on raising, housing, and feeding broilers prior to incorporating them onto the property.
White or Dark Meat?
The first thing to consider when selecting meat chicken breeds is the type of meat your family enjoys. Take, for example, the Cornish Cross broiler. This breed is a large breasted breed, containing quite a bit of white meat, which is enjoyed by many. However, there are other breeds that produce darker meat such as the Delaware Broiler, Big Red Broiler, and other red broiler breeds.
How long a broiler bird takes to reach maturity is the next thing to consider. The Cornish Cross is the quickest of the meat chicken breeds to reach maturity at eight weeks of age producing roughly five to seven pounds of meat depending on the sex of the bird. For the health of the bird, it is best to butcher this breed between eight to nine weeks. The quick turnaround of this breed makes it worthwhile for those who choose to raise broiler breeds for meat.
Red Broiler breeds are ready to be butchered between 12 to 14 weeks, twice as long as the Cornish Cross. Unlike the Cornish Cross, red broiler breeds are a much heartier bird, maintaining good health past the prime butchering age. The Delaware broiler takes a bit longer to fill out, between 12 to 16 weeks. With this meat chicken breed, the roosters mature quite quickly, yet, the hens can take a longer time to reach good butchering weight.
Many individuals, myself included, raise our Cornish Cross separate from our poultry flock, opting to house and raise them on grass. The red broiler meat chicken breeds also do great on pasture, however, in a pinch, they can be integrated with your flock if need be. Red broiler breeds are known to be slightly feisty, if you intend to integrate them with your flock watch them closely around feeding time.
Unlike the two breeds mentioned, the Delaware broilers are an exception to the rule. This broiler breed takes on the personality traits of the Delaware heritage bird: gentle and loving, making them ideal for raising with your flock. In addition to their personality type, they also free-range and forage quite well. This breed does exceptionally well when integrated with your flock, in fact, you may forget they are considered to be one of the six meat chicken breeds available.
A quick tip for those who wish to raise these breeds with your existing flock: Placing leg bands onto the birds makes identifying them easier.
For those who seek to raise meat chickens for sustainability purposes, the broiler bird must:
- Remain healthy past the advised butchering time.
- Breed true, keeping the same traits as the parent flock in appearance and size.
Unfortunately, out of the six breeds mentioned here, there is only one breed that can achieve this, the Delaware broiler bird. This particular broiler bird will maintain the same traits as the parent flock regardless of how many years they are bread. These traits are essential for individuals like me who seek to live sustainable lives.
Delaware broilers have become a favorite on our homestead. Not only are they bred and raised for meat purposes, but they are also good egg layers, laying four eggs per week. Due to the white feathers, this broiler bird plucks clean, leaving behind no undesirable dark pinfeathers.
Though this bird has the longest grow-out than the other broiler breeds, the wait is worth it. When butchered the rooster weighed in at roughly six and a half pounds, where the pullets dressed out at roughly five pounds. On our homestead the Delaware broilers free range from day to night, consuming the same high-quality feed our chicken flock consumes.
These birds are exclusive to McMurray Hatchery and a great addition to our property.
Big Red Broiler
The Big Red Broiler is from McMurray Hatchery, an updated version of the Red Ranger. This bird is great on pasture and an excellent forager, consuming a high protein feed each day. These broiler birds can be butchered as early as 1two weeks with the roosters weighing in between five to seven pounds and the pullets at four to five pounds.
These birds have a calmer disposition than other red broiler breeds. When allowed to become layers the Big Red broilers are good layers laying three to four eggs a week. Unfortunately, these breeds do not breed true, and what you could end up with are birds with an inconsistent weight pattern.
Much like the Big Red broilers, the Freedom Rangers grow at a moderate rate, reaching their peak weight between nine to 11 weeks, weighing roughly between five to six pounds. They are an active breed, do well on pasture and foraging, and will lay roughly two to three eggs a week. However, this breed has a tendency to be aggressive during feeding time.
Based on experience, Freedom Rangers, level out at 11 weeks, any weight gained after 11 weeks consists of fat.
Red Rangers are much more robust than Freedom Rangers, and a much larger meat bird. This bird is butchered at nine to 10 weeks, with males weighing six to seven pounds, females five to six pounds. They forage well and do good on pasture, however, they are not good egg layers.
Rainbow Rangers are a dual-purpose bird, dubbed as both meat and egg layer. Unlike the breeds mentioned above, there is no rhyme or reason as to what feather pattern you will receive. Since this breed can be butchered as early as 10 weeks they are classified as a broiler bird. However, they are the smallest of the broiler breeds providing an average of three to five pounds of meat.
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy.