Lets talk about a good breed of meat chicken for the homestead that does well on free range.
For the sake of discussion lets say that some kind of SHTF / TEOTWAWKI situation has happened. Whether its some kind of new SARS virus, wide spread civil unrest, nuclear war with China, hurricane, blizzard,,, something has happened to disrupt food shipments.
You go out to the chicken coop, survey the flock for dinner, what kind of chickens would you see? Did you focus on egg production, meat production, or both? Did you buy hens that go broody, or did you go with breeds that do not go broody? If you butcher a hen, will it be replaced?
What are some of the traits we are looking for? Lets start with heritage breeds that have a proven track record of over 100 years. The older the breed the better.
Lets look for chickens that weigh at least 6 – 7 pounds before processing, because do we really want to butcher 2 or 3 small hens for a single meal? We want a hen that can go broody, is a good mother, raise her chicks for the next generation, is a good forager and will feed a family of 4.
Dominique – There are lot of other breeds out there that are larger and lay more eggs, but, how can we argue against a chicken that has fed America since the colonial days?
The Dominique is a result of chickens that were brought to the new world by early settlers. It is considered Americas first true chicken breed.
Unlike the Barred Rock which has a single comb, the Dominique has a rose comb. But otherwise, the two breeds look alike.
Why the Dominique? The breed flourished for centuries before modern chicken feed was developed, heat lamps,,, or anything else used to raise chickens in todays society. If society was reset back to the middle ages, the Dominique should not have a problem.
Dominique hens weigh around 5 or 6 pounds, with roosters weighing 6 – 8 pounds.
Dominique hens go broody and make good mothers. How else did they survive for hundreds of years on primitive frontier farms.
After the introduction of the Barred Rock in the middle 1800s, the popularity of the Dominique slowly faded away. The popularity of the Dominique has made a comeback in the past few decades.
If a chicken breed can survive through the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages,, all the way to the 21st century, that is something we need to pay attention to.
Sussex are good foragers. The Sussex in my flock will try to escape the chicken pen every chance she gets. As soon as she gets out of the pen she starts scratching looking for something to eat.
The Sussex can weigh anywhere from 7 – 9 pounds, depending on whether its a hen or rooster.
Jersey Giants – If you plan on feeding a bunch of people, one large chicken breed I would seriously consider is the Jersey Giant. The Jersey Giants are one of the largest chicken breeds on the market, and they take a long time to mature.
If someone had the room for free range, and the time to dedicate to Jersey Giants, you will have a large bird that can feed several people. My current flock includes 2 Black Jersey Giants. After my wife and I get moved to the homestead I plan on buying several more Black Jersey Giants.
Jersey Giants are friendly, go broody from time to time, quiet and can weigh 10 – 13 pounds when fully grown.
Consider the psychological effect of having a chicken the size of a small turkey for dinner during a stressful situation. Everyone gets plenty to eat and has a good nights sleep.
The Jersey Giant was originally bred to replace turkeys. However, the slow growth rate prevented them from gaining popularity with commercial growers.
If you want a large fowl, but do not want to mess with turkeys, then look at the Jersey Giant.
The Jersey Giant is a relative new bred as it was developed in the early 1900s and recognized as a full breed in 1922.
Cornish (Indian Game Chicken) – Developed in the early 1800s in England, is the backbone of todays commercial meat market. Often bred with New Hampshire or White Plymouth Rock, and butchered around 6 weeks old.
The hybrid offspring often grow faster then their legs to keep up, may become crippled, die of a heart attack or die from heat stroke.
If you want a quick growing chicken that can be butchered in just a few weeks, Cornish crossed with some other breed may meet your needs.
HOWEVER, since the offspring grow faster then their legs can keep up, they are unable to forage for their own food, which is what this article is about.
I can not in good faith recommend Cornish crossbreeds for a homestead. The goal of this article is to talk about breeds that can forage for themselves. Some of the CornishX cross breeds may become lame and unable to fend for themselves. This type of bird likes for the food to be brought to it, rather then to go find the food itself.
Plymouth Rock – The Barred Rock, (part of the Plymouth Rock family) is one of my favorite chicken breeds. Because the Barred Rock is one of my favorite breeds, it was bumped down the list as to not show favoritism.
The Barred Rock was developed in the mid 1800s, weighs 6 – 9 pounds, cold-hardy, can go broody, friendly and easy to handle.
The Barred Rock is a good forager. My personal Barred Rocks love to forage. They walk up and down the fenced in run wishing they could be outside scratching on the leaves.
One of the problems with the Barred Rock is the urge to go broody has been slowly bred out of them. Hatcheries want egg production, they do not want a hen that stops laying to sit on her eggs.
If you want a self-sustaining chicken flock for the homestead, buy some Plymouth Rocks, eat the ones that do not go broody, and let the ones that do go broody reproduce.
Some of my other choices are:
New Hampshire Reds
Silver Laced Wyandotte
The reason why I wanted to try and stay with heritage breeds was so someone could get the names of good meat chickens for a homestead, and either go to a local feed store and buy/order the chicks, or go online and order the chicks.
Before we get too into cross breeds, the homesteader has to develop good breeding stock.
Long Term Goals
My goal is to cross breed barred rocks, rhode island reds, australorps and dominicker in one large flock.
I am aiming for a flock of around 30 – 40 hens, maybe 3 or 4 roosters of different breeds, and what comes out comes out. But I also want to make sure these are going to make good meat chickens.
I am thinking 1 Dominicker rooster, 1 barred rock rooster, 1 australorp and 1 rhode island red rooster.
Once you throw 4, 5 or 6 different breeds into a flock, its going to be difficult to control which hen is breeding with which rooster.
But then again, maybe having different types of roosters and hens will ensure genetic diversity.
Forum thread – Free Range Meat Chicken