There are meat breeds, layer breeds and dual purpose (as well as ornamental breeds and many other types). If you are considering meat for family use, you would want to figure out how many chickens you will want in one year. If you have lots of freezer space, you could raise the number you want to their optimum size, butcher and freeze. For this you would want a good meat breed that will grow fast and be ready for butchering with a minimal amount of feed expense and time. These breeds are designed to put on muscle mass quickly and can be ready for butchering in as little as 6 weeks. You will need to be well prepared in advance to process a large number of chickens at one time. Meat breeds are prone to multiple health problems if allowed to live past their prime butchering age.
If your family prefers fresh chicken meat rather than frozen, you might want to consider a Heritage breed. They are usually dual purpose, slower to mature, generally of good size. You can raise roosters and butcher when needed, once they reach a good size. You might want to choose bloodlines with hens that are good mothers. This would be a more "old fashioned" way of farming chickens, with a breed that is sustainable for many years, producing eggs and chicks for future meat and eggs. You would want to bring in a new rooster of different blood lines every year or two to prevent inbreeding problems. Older roosters make good "burger", soup and stew as well as hens that have slowed or stopped producing eggs, as long as they are healthy. The Heritage breeds generally live longer healthier lives when well cared for.
When raising young chickens you would feed them differently than your laying hens, so separate yards would be needed. There are breeder feeds, grower feeds, conditioning feeds, layer feeds and more. A chicken yard should allow at least 10 sq. ft. per bird. I'm not sure how much area you have to offer chickens, but he healthiest chickens for eggs and meat are raised free range, meaning they are regularly given access to pasture-like areas where they can eat a natural diet of fresh vegetation, bugs, worms, and seeds, as well as their regular feed. Yards are good for keeping them safe, a coop that locks up well at night, blocks wind and allows about 4 sq. ft. per chicken is important.
We have some excellent articles on our site to help you get started and choose the breed or breeds you think would be best for your purposes as well as how to get set up and care for chickens.
For more information on raising chickens go to http://www.raising-chickens.org
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