Many people who are new to the poultry world scratch their heads as they try to navigate the site. What are broilers? bantams? layers? Here’s a quick rundown of the very basic chicken defining terms:
Broilers refer to chickens that are grown for the purpose of butchering and eating. Generally broilers are fast growing chickens with deeper muscle tissue (which means more meat). Commercial operations want their chickens to reach their butcher weight as fast as possible that way they don’t have to feed them as much food. And, obviously, you can raise the chickens in a shorter time. The common commercial broiler, the Jumbo Cornish Cross, are usually butchered between 6 – 8 weeks of age before they become sexually mature. The Cornish is the fastest growing chicken around. However, with that speedy growth comes other problems.
Cornish Crosses tend to be lazy and not very active. If all you want is maximum weight gain, that’s fine. This means they don’t burn energy running all over the place. They just sit there and eat which means they gain weight faster. The problem is that with the quick growth weight comes health challenges. The meat is softer (some call it mushy) and the bone structure of the chicken isn’t capable of handling the weight of the chicken. This gives you a lazy chicken that isn’t good at foraging and struggles with a lot of heart issues.
The Freedom Rangers and the Back 40 Broiler grow slightly slower and are more active.
This means the meat will be more flavorful since they will eat more bugs and seeds (if allowed to free range). The meat won’t be as mushy either since it’s more muscular from the increased exercise that comes with active foraging. Some people don’t like the leaner meat since they are used to grocery store meat – which is generally a Cornish Cross from a commercial farm. Others love the firmer, more flavorful meat of an active broiler. Also, these broilers tend to do better at higher elevations than the Cornish Cross.
Broiler females will lay eggs but will be harvested long before they reach egg laying maturity. They love eating and if you keep a broiler alive long enough to produce eggs, it will eat a lot of food in comparison to the amount of eggs it will lay. That means they are not efficient egg layers and so they are never raised for that purpose. In other words, they produce expensive eggs because they eat a lot and lay little. Broiler chickens are best raised for meat.
Layers are a type of chickens that lay a lot of eggs. A top performing egg layer will be a small female that eats little but produces large quantities of bigger eggs. This means that the chicken is producing a lot of eggs compared to the amount of feed they eat. This keeps the cost of the egg down because the chicken isn’t expensive to maintain. These layer chickens, however, are not good to eat because they are so small. Also, if a chicken is allowed to go through sexual maturity, they produce hormones that make meat tough. Since layers are usually two years old or so when they are done laying well so they are tougher than broilers, which are butchered at a very young age and before they are sexually mature.
Dual purpose chickens are good layers and yet grow big enough to produce a good amount of meat. They can be used for either or both purposes. You can eat any chicken and all chickens will lay eggs. But some chickens are better at laying eggs while others are more efficient at producing more meat with less feed. Dual purpose chickens fall somewhere in between. They are bigger bodied and produce good breast meat while still producing a good amount of eggs. Chicken such as Delawares, New Hampshires, & Rhode Island Reds are great dual purpose chickens.
Bantams are small chickens. Just like Standard Poodles have Mini Poodles (yet come from the same breed) so chickens also can have a miniature version of the breed called a “Bantam.” Some breeds are only available in bantam sizes. Silkies, for example, are generally considered Bantams. They make excellent pets and are prized ornamental chickens. Bantam chickens, since they are smaller, generally take less space and so they do well in backyards.