Rhode Island Reds are one of the most common chicken breeds, sold as dual-purpose birds.
As a heritage breed, they were bred to be used for eggs until they grew old and were then used for meat.
Do Rhode Island Reds make good meat birds by today’s standards?
Rhode Island Reds are a dual-purpose breed of chicken, capable of being used as sufficient meat birds and excellent egg layers. While these birds are more well known for their egg-laying capabilities, they also grow large enough to be good meat birds.
Keep on reading below to better understand the Rhode Island Red breed, what they excel at, and where other birds do better.
Rhode Island Reds Meat Vs. Egg Production
A Rhode Island Red hen can lay well over 200 eggs annually, with top-producing birds laying up to 300 eggs in a single year, or 5-6 eggs per week.
They will begin laying eggs between 18-20 weeks, which is a couple of weeks faster than the average hen.
Further Reading: Rhode Island Red Chicken Egg Guide
Raising your Reds as broilers will take about 14 weeks from chicks until they’re butchering size.
This is faster than average, with some breeds taking 20+ weeks to mature.
But it’s slower than dedicated meat breeds like a Cornish Cross, which takes only 8 weeks to mature.
Most people also will notice a difference in the meat of a Rhode Island being a bit tougher than other breeds, but also delicious meat.
If you’re able to find a Heritage Rhode Island Red Breeder, these birds will be better meat birds than a Production Rhode Island Red.
But both will still be decent meat birds.
Most of the differences between production and heritage varieties come from the darker coloration on the heritage side and the prolific egg-laying from the production of Rhode Island Reds.
Heritage birds are also broodier, retaining more of their natural poultry instincts.
The Rhode Island Red is great for people looking for an all-purpose bird who will do everything, or great if you want active layers.
A different breed would probably serve you better if meat is your only priority.
Origin Of The Rhode Island Red Breed
As the name suggests, Rhode Island Reds come from Rhode Island and were developed all around New England and later the rest of the U.S.
These birds were first bred in the 1850s as a cross between 5 lineages.
Rhode Islands are a cross between the Cochin, Malay, Java, and Brown Leghorn.
They take the best characteristics from them and gain the distinct red coloration of the Malay.
These birds were bred as dual-purpose birds to survive the rough summer heat and colder climates.
As a result, Rhode Islands are some of the most cold-hardy heat-tolerant birds around.
Rhode Islands are one of the most highly recommended choices for all climates.
And its incredibly hardy nature will make them productive in all environments.
Part of what makes these birds so cold tolerant is their small combs, leaving fewer extremities at risk of getting frostbitten.
Rose comb varieties will do better in freezing temperatures than single comb birds, but both will still perform well.
Free-ranging your birds will keep them happy and healthy.
They are active birds who constantly scavenge and hunt down insects.
They are also curious birds who will enjoy the space to explore.
This heritage breed has spent the past 100 years being bred into production reds, the most likely variety you’ll find for sale.
True heritage lines are uncommon now, with only a handful of dedicated breeders providing true heritage reds.
These chickens’ eggs are typically light brown, but some people commonly find a white or off-white egg with brown flakes in the mix.
Getting The Most Meat From Your Rhode Island Reds
If you’re raising your flock as meat chickens, when it comes time to harvest them you’ll want to make sure you maximize the food you get from them.
Below we will cover the different tips and conditions to keep your birds in.
Starting with day-old chicks is common for most people starting a backyard flock or getting started on a homestead.
Starting from chicks is also fun to watch the birds grow up, but if you don’t want to wait, purchasing older birds is another great option.
However, to maximize the product if you’re raising chickens for food, starting with chicks will let you control their feed intake from day one.
Choosing the right feed is important, and starting with a 20% protein feed for the first three weeks will give them the best growth in those first vital weeks.
After 3-4 weeks, bump the protein down to an 18% grower blend.
Make sure to choose a high-quality feed source to raise healthy birds, as poor food will result in poor growth.
Chicks will need their enclosure cleaned every few days and a secure heat lamp since they cannot regulate their body temperature this young.
Once the birds have become fully feathered, they no longer need a heat lamp.
Once they are ready to move outside, you’ll need to keep a clean coop and perform daily care, including checking waters and refilling feeders.
Usually, Rhode Island Reds are ready to move outside at 6 weeks, and 8 weeks after then, they are ready for butchering.
Make sure you have a large enough coop for all the birds you plan to raise, giving them about 1′ square foot of space each, along with as much outside space as possible.
The more space outside also means the birds can exercise more, giving you better quality meat.
You’re able to keep the birds enclosed while raising them to keep them secure from predators, but you’ll want to pump up the space to 3′ square feet per bird to keep them from being too crowded.
Overcrowding will lead to health issues and poor development and reduce the productivity of the birds.
Thankfully Rhode Island Reds are tough birds who won’t easily get sick and can survive some tough conditions.
By giving them enough space and keeping a steady supply of good food and fresh water, you’ll have plenty of meat in 14 weeks for you and your family.