Opinions on the best chickens to raise for meat vary greatly, depending on who you ask. There are two primary options: Cornish cross (aka Cornish Rocks) and heritage breeds.
Cornish cross have been bred to produce meat quickly and efficiently. They reach slaughter weight in about seven weeks. Without a restricted diet and careful management, they are unlikely to survive more than several months. There is a common misconception that these birds are genetically modified. The truth is that they’re the result of highly selective breeding. The parent stock can reproduce without artificial insemination.
Heritage chickens are standard-bred chickens that grow more slowly (they take 16 weeks or more to reach “market” weight) and live much longer. Some people say heritage chicken meat is more flavorful, although it must be cooked differently; others say it’s tough.
There is a third option: chickens that fall somewhere between heritage chickens and Cornish cross. These birds, such as Freedom Rangers, are large enough to process in about 10 weeks. (Since writing this in early 2010, my opinions have changed. See Wrong About Freedom Rangers for more information.)
Deborah Boehle did a side-by-side comparison of the carcasses of Cornish cross and heritage breed chickens: Chicken for Dinner? and Chicken for Dinner? Part 2. She clearly favors the heritage breeds, both for flavor and the experience in raising them.
Robert Plamondon says that Cornish cross are Tender and Tasty Birds and compares the carcasses of heritage breed chickens to rubber chickens.
What do you see as the pros and cons of raising Cornish cross of heritage breed chickens for meat? Which do you prefer to raise? Which would you rather eat? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Photo: iStockPhoto/Matthew Heinrichs