Consider Raising Heritage Breed Poultry for Meat and Eggs

Heritage Breed - White Plymouth Rock Hen

Over the past few years I have been very thoughtful about what breeds of poultry I purchase for eggs and meat. My goal as a healthy homesteader is to provide the best food for my family, so choosing a bird for meat and eggs requires research and thought on my part. When choosing an animal for the purpose of food, I think their health is very important. In my opinion healthy animal will offer better tasting more nutritious food. The health of the animal also involves their genetics. If the genetics of an animal has major flaws it affects their vitality, thus affecting the quality of the meat. I recently found an article published on The Modern Homesteader website that puts it best.

I may be accused of waxing “mystical” here: But I believe that when we eat another living thing, plant or animal, we are eating not only its physical nutrients but its vitality as well. We have quite rightly condemned the broiler industry for producing chickens all of whom are sick, propped up by antibiotics, growth hormones, and other industrial voodoo. And yet we continue to offer the same bird—raised without those contaminants and in a far more sanitary manner, to be sure—but weak and low in vitality, propped up by high management inputs. (The Cornish Cross- What’s wrong with this picture?)

The writer of this article is referring to a specific chicken called the Cornish Game Hen/ Jumbo Cornish Cross (male). The Cornish Cross bred has many fans as well as people that are against everything they represent. I won’t go as far as to say that I hate the Cornish Cross but I will say that I am not at all a fan. In my opinion the Cornish Cross represents the microwave society I so desperately want to move away from. The society that says- we must have things fast and even faster. Why isn’t the slow growing bred of chicken good enough for people anymore?

What it really comes down to is money. A Cornish Cross chicken grows considerably faster than a slow growing bred of chicken. Their fast growth rate is very appealing to the pocket book as well as to the clock.  In 6-8 weeks you can have a bird large enough to butcher. A slow growing bred, or heritage breed, is usually not big enough for slaughter until they are 16-20 weeks old. It is a very rare occurrence for a Cornish Cross breed to live past a year where as the slow growing birds live on average 8 years but as long as 20. There is just something wrong with that picture.

Though there are advantages to buying Cornish Cross birds, there is enough unanswered questions to make me wonder if consuming a bird such as this is at all harmful. I don’t necessarily mean harmful as in the bird has something in it that is harmful. What I mean is, is the nutritional value or lack there of harming us more indirectly?  Yes, we can raise these birds with organic feed and offer them free-range living but  is that enough to make the animal as healthy as it can be for our consumption.

I no longer want to look at food and say, “Well, it’s not as bad as…”. I want each item of food I eat to be the best it can be ( this a goal, not yet a reality ). I may not be able to be successful in this quest for the highest quality food possible but I can try. So, that brings me to heritage breed poultry.

What are Heritage Breeds?

According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy a heritage chicken is…

  1. APA Standard Breed. Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage Chicken must be produced and sired by an APA Standard breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.
  2. Naturally mating. Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating.  Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
  3. Long, productive outdoor lifespan. Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.
  4. Slow growth rate. Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.

You can find a partial list of heritage chickens here.

Here is a long list of chicken breeds.

Definition of a Heritage Turkey here.

One of the benefits of raising the slow growing meat bird is the better tasting, moister meat. When raising a slow growing bird you can be a witness to a more natural life cycle. Raising birds that have the potential of breaking legs and having heart attacks if the protein ration is not carefully monitored, is not natural in my opinion. The vitality of the animal matters. Can it forage? Can it run? Or is it a ticking time bomb waiting to die of a heart attack? Read more about the Cornish Cross here.

Is Raising Slow Growing Birds for Meat Economical?

The answer to this question really depends on how you look at it. Is raising meat that takes 2-3 times longer better for your pocket book? No. Is better food better for your health in the long run? Is having a healthy life more economical? I believe, yes. Many of us will justify spending more on organic vegetables and fruits for health, so why is raising a slow growing chicken so difficult to fathom? I am not trying to convince anyone to agree with me but I do wish to get you thinking.

If you are thinking at this point, “Ok, I will just buy a Freedom Ranger.” Read Wrong About Freedom Rangers. They don’t seem to be that much different than the Cornish Cross.

Heritage chickens are also often dual purpose breeds. This means, the hens are good for eggs and meat. A more economical option for someone wanting to raise a slow growing bird would be to use the hens for eggs for a year or two and then butcher for meat. History shows that this was once a common practice. When the old hen got to old to lay eggs, she became stew. If this bothers you to think about, read my post on knowing your food. Another option would be to incubate your own eggs or let a broody hen take over. The cockerels then become meat and then pullets can be raised to replace older hens to produce eggs.

Other Reasons to Consider Raising Heritage Breed Poultry

  • Preserving endangered breeds.
  • Consumer vote for slow food.
  • Protect genetic diversity.

I hope I was able to offer you some, if nothing else, interesting information. My hope is that we as consumers question what is going on around us. If you haven’t noticed already, there is something wrong with our food industry. The health state of America is going down hill and the only way we can stop it is to vote with our dollars.  If we keep spending our money on “fast food”, we will only get more and more of it.


  • Are fast growing chickens good for our health?
  • Does the vitality of the a meat animal matter?
  • Consider raising slow growing poultry, or heritage breeds.
  • Save money by raising dual purpose birds and incubating your own poultry.
  • Vote for slow growing food.

Watch this video about mass production of the Cornish Cross.

9 Responses to “Consider Raising Heritage Breed Poultry for Meat and Eggs”

  • I’ve looked in to raising Freedom Rangers, but they have to be shipped so far! If I could get people to go in with me and order 100 chicks, the shipping isn’t as bad. Then I started thinking about dual breeds for meat. With the cost of organic feed, it certainly would make the chickens expensive per pound. I could free range them some, but not enough to eliminate feed altogether. It can be discouraging, but I’m right there with you – I do NOT get excited about Cornish Cross! If you have any ideas to reduce costs, let me know!

  • Ginger:

    What a timely post Mona…thanks for all the info! This has actually been on my mind lately & I’ve been strongly leaning towards getting dual purpose vs. the cornish cross as we grow our chicken flock from laying only to also incorporate meat birds. One of those that has made my list is the naked neck/turken, among others. I would think if you reached a point where you were actually breeding the dual purpose rather than buying chicks then it would help to improve the cost ratio as well. Irregardless I know that it has to be cheaper than buying organic, free range chicken meat and then there is the value of knowing exactly how they were raised, butchered, etc.

  • Ginger, I’ve done a lot of research and number crunching and unless you can do a LOT of free ranging, it is actually more expensive to raise them on your own. I believe this is due in part to large scale organic/free range farmers buying feed in bulk and thereby getting a reduced price on feed. HOWEVER, that is not going to stop me from trying and hope to prove myself wrong! And, I’ll know what has gone into that bird from the egg to the dinner table.

  • Mona:

    Amy @ Homestead Revival,

    Hi ladies!
    I understand the cost can be high. This is what deter me from buying slowing growing birds initially. I decided to look into ways to cut costs. One way I have found is to mix feed. I give my chickens a mix of layer pellets and whole oats or whole barley (or both). It’s usually a 2 part oats/barley to 1 part pellets. This has cut my cost a lot. My chickens do get free ranged every other day. I over plant swiss chard and other greens to supplement and give them kitchen scraps as well. I also plan to raise meal worms for protein. I have found other ways to cut costs by feeding my layer hens differently than my meat birds. I think most people are feeding their layers too much. I am going to write another post about cutting costs soon. 🙂

  • Nichole:

    Hi there.

    I am just starting to think about homesteading and prepping and have been reading your blog, as well as Amy’s above. Great stuff. So many things I need to do. I live in the city and therefore in a neighborhood and researching a lot on raising chickens. I’m a total city girl, so this is all new to me. Would you consider doing a few intro posts to getting started in raising chickens. And if you have any resources on how to do so in the city, even better.


    You all are a great inspiration.

  • Mona:


    Hi Nicole!
    I am so excited for you and your new journey. I will have come up with a series of posts for beginners, thanks for the suggestion. Until then, Amy happens to have a lot of information on raising chickens. I would also recommend Backyard Farming. They offer a lot of great info on chickens on small homesteads.
    Thanks for stopping by to comment. Happy homesteading!

  • […] important to me that the animals I raise for consumption are the vibrant and healthy. I believe the vitality of the animal is connected to the health of the animal. So, raising the Freedom Rangers is a bit of an experiment. Freedom Ranger […]

  • Paul:

    I’m buying a farm in Illinois and I’d like to raise the purest healthiest
    Poultry and animals possible. Is The heritage chicken the best way to go
    How many per sq ft if I’m free ranging ? Can they eat redworms? Or deworms?
    Thanks Paul

  • Mona:

    Hi Paul! The farm sounds exciting! There are many breeds of chickens that would work for you farm. It’s really a matter of your goals. I try to raise heritage breeds because the have decades of proven hardiness and/or egg production. The common meat bird of today is the Cornish Cross which is every thing but hardy. But it does grow really fast if a quick return is what you need. The fast growing Cornish Cross is only bred for meat and is not able to reproduce. If you are looking to have a sustainable ranch where you don’t have to buy chicken for eggs or meat after your initial chicken investment then I would go with a heritage dual purpose breed. There are plenty of them out there but I do like the Dark Cornish, Cuckoo Maran and the Plymouth Rocks. I have also heard the Turkens are really great meat birds and they are decent egg layer.
    I haven’t met a chicken that won’t eat a worm but I have heard that they don’t like red worms. Not sure if that’s true. I know they love earth worms and grubs from the garden.
    I don’t know the bird per square foot ration but I have 2 1/2 acres that my chicken free range on. I do feed them layer pellets and grains once a day but the rest of the time they are free ranging. I have had up to 80 birds on my property. During the summer months when it’s really dry and there are less greens and bugs, I have to feed them more grains or supplement from the garden.
    Consider getting milking goats. They can potentially provide milk for you and your family, and a supplement feed a hog and/or chickens. My chickens drink goat milk on a regular basis as well as my dogs and cats. Good luck with your farm!

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