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How Meat Chickens Fit Into Our Food Plans

On the left is a Cornish Cross - on the right is a good sized Dual Purpose breed bird in the prime for butchering.

The Stats:
Cornish-Cross Chicken at 10 weeks of age 11.4 lbs - $8.50 to raise - start to finish.
Dual Purpose Chicken
 at 10 months of age just under 6 lbs - $12 to raise (and was allowed to range).

People have argued with me before on why I don't raise dual purpose breeds of chickens for meat. Until you have raised both and can compare, it can be hard to completely understand. If you are growing chickens for your yearly food supply you need to be cost efficient in doing so. It is not cost efficient to raise most dual purpose breeds for meat. They take too long, and don't produce enough meat to justify the expense AND time. We have a flock that ranges from 10-15 of "dual purpose" layer birds plus a roo for eggs alone - we raise Broilers or Cornish Cross birds for meat.

If anything bad were to happen - because we have a roo and hens that have proven themselves to be good mothers within our laying flock they would be sustainable for a certain amount of time. And we could double or triple those numbers in one summer really easy. Therefore in the interest of time and money we raise meat birds for meat only.

The comments I get on Cornish Cross birds are these:
  • Those Cornish eat 4 times as much food in 10 weeks than those dual purpose eat in 6 months.
  • Cornish Cross birds also die off easier so more loss.
  • Then there is the amount of poop to deal with, it can get unhealthy very quickly, they do not range or exercise at all and don't find their own food.
  • They don't like to free range.
  • They will get so heavy their legs will break.

I want to address these concerns:

Cornish Cross chickens DO eat 4 times more. They are also ready to butcher in 8-10 weeks. Dual purpose breeds are ready to butcher in 8-12 months. At 6 months of age, dual purpose birds are still tiny. This is how meat bird breeds will save you money and time.

It is true there is more poo with any meat breed of chicken - they eat more, therefore what goes in must also come out. But, just like raising any other animal when their area is dirty you have to clean it to keep the animals healthy.  This is part of farm-steading and shouldn't be a big deal. Compost the poo and add it to your garden. 

The 'die off' ratio of meat breed birds differs from year to year, but I have never had more than two birds die on me.  The way you feed and care for your meat birds will effect this number greatly. After a few weeks of age you need to remove their food at night. This will prevent them from gaining weight too quickly and breaking their own legs. They also benefit from electrolytes in their water from day one. These are cheap and easy to mix up. As mentioned above their pens require more attention but its only for a short period of time, as they don't live that long.

It's is also true that CC and a majority of meat breed chickens don't like to free range, they aren't bred for that and don't "need" exercise like dual purpose chickens do, however this doesn't mean they are less healthy for you to eat.  Just make sure you are providing good quality food for them, and your end product will also be good quality. As you might have noticed I am not real big on free ranging my meat birds so if they want to stay in their pen all day that's fine with me.  It may sound cold but I would rather have my meat chickens plump. I have a chicken tractor for my meat birds so they get a new patch of grass every couple of days. I have found that "free ranging" meat breed chickens tends to make the owner happier than it does the chicken.

The feed to meat ratio of a Cornish-Cross is 1.9 - 1 which is extremely efficient.  Second only to salmon (and you can quote me on that). The chicken on the left (pictured at the top of this post) tipped the scales at just over 11 lbs (after they were dressed) the dual purpose chicken was just under six pounds.  If I were to have raised 25 dual purpose chickens it would've cost me $87 more to raise them compared to the Cornish Cross birds (not counting my time).

When my meat birds are ready to butcher in 10 weeks compared to 10 months - it frees up my time to take care of other animals, and the garden. Since Hubby and I work 40 hours plus a week - our time is just as valuable if not more so than the food we feed to those meat birds.  This is the experience I am referring to when you have actually raise both types of chickens for your year's supply of meat. While I'm not trying to make a big commercial for Cornish Cross chickens I am giving you a logical reason for raising meat breed chickens for food. Consider it, a defense of meat breed chickens.

Other Meat Breeds to consider if Cornish Cross is not your thing:

There are other heritage breeds that I know folks raise as meat chickens, because they don't like how modern meat breeds look and how unsustainable they are.  However, when both adults at your household work full time and you are on a tight budget - meat breed chickens can be every cost and time efficient. They give us the option of raising our own food - otherwise it would not be a possibility. 


  1. What an excellent observation. Not doubt free range livestock will put on less weight versus those fed a high protein/fat base chicken feed. Each of us have to decide whether we want to let our flock feed off of mother nature or use factory processed feed. Chickens that eat grass, clover or other green leafy vegetation will unquestionable put on less weight. Again it boils down to what each of us is trying to achieve from our livestock.

  2. And as I stated in the article, our goal, is to produce our food on our budget. Which one can do with meat breed chickens.

    And no where in my article did I state that the above results came from factory processed food. In fact the opposite is true. My meat birds are fed a fine mix of local organic grains, some are grown by me. Also they get all of the fresh grass and bugs they want.

    It is true that I high protein content is needed, as chickens are omnivores and need protein to thrive.

  3. Great comparison! I think Cornish Cross are in our future, at least for our first real foray into meat birds. Maybe Freedom Rangers after that.

    We have butchered roosters from our flock, but they were 15 week old Olive Eggers, so, you know *zero* meat. But at least we can say we've done that.

    Anyway I really enjoy your blog! I'm a new follower :D

    1. Thanks Kim! Hope we can learn from each other.

  4. Two comments:
    1. When you raise your own food, you want the best quality food, not the cheapest food. I do not think Cornish-Cross Chicken meat will be the best choice.
    2. When you raise dual-purpose chickens, you can sell their eggs to cover the feeding cost.

  5. Do you get a straight run or do you tend to order more of the roosters, I am trying to figure out which would be best. I tried Red Ranger broilers last time I ordered and they were much smaller than my expectations.


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