Why We Decided To Raise Bresse Chickens

All you need to know about raising the heritage Bresse chicken breed and how to best replicate the special French diet. In France, the 500-year-old Bresse is renowned for its superior taste which has the ability to marble (similarly to how beef does) due to the bird’s unique metabolism. But the Bresse excels as a dual-purpose meat bird and egg layer, making it a perfect breed for the homestead or small flock backyard chicken keeper.

a bresse rooster and hen up in a pine tree staring at the camera
The American Bresse rooster and hen — they decided to spend some time in the trees on our property.

There is an air of mystery and secrecy that surrounds the French Bresse chicken breed. This rare heritage breed has been raised in its homeland of France for over 500 years. Not only is the Bresse a dual-purpose meat and egg layer, but it also has purportedly the best tasting chicken meat in the world.

This is due largely to the special, secretive way that the Bresse is traditionally reared in France but the Bresse also has a unique metabolism that differs from other chicken breeds.

This unique characteristic allows the meat of the Bresse to marble much in the way that beef does.

I was fascinated by the Bresse when I first learned about its existence and uniqueness. I knew one day I would have to have them when I moved to my own little homestead someday — a thing which happened much quicker than anticipated!

Alongside my beautiful English Orpingtons, I also incubated and hatched Bresse chicks.

I’m passionate about food and cooking. Ingredients and quality are very important to me. Long before we bought our farm, I set out to learn everything possible about the Bresse and chicken-keeping in general so that I would be ready. This article is the result of that research.

But first — here are the top reasons to consider this breed if you’re still in your own research stages. I understand how overwhelming it can be to decide which direction to take and the rarer hatching eggs and chicks can be an expensive upfront investment.

Top Reasons To Choose The Bresse For Your Homestead

  • Dual-purpose. As mentioned the Bresse is an excellent meat bird, but it is also an excellent layer, producing anywhere from 200-250 eggs annually. If you have a smaller homestead (like us) it is a more efficient use of your space to invest in breeds that serve multiple functions.
  • Bresse lay medium to large eggs and will lay throughout the winter in the right conditions.
  • Allegedly it is also the BEST tasting chicken meat in the world. The unique metabolism of the bird allows for a marbling effect on the meat.
  • Excellent forager. The Bresse is very adept at foraging for its supper. In France, they are encouraged to forage as part of the rearing process and feed is restricted so that the chickens will eat grasses and hunt for bugs, snails, and insects.
  • Very cold-hardy. The Bresse does well in the cold temperatures which means you don’t have to worry about this breed’s ability to survive in a harsh Canadian winter without pampering.
  • It is a heritage breed.
  • Very expensive to buy. If you live in Europe where you can buy Bresse meat, it is incredibly expensive. A whole bird of typical broiler weight can fetch around 50 Euros or more.
  • Illegal and impossible to buy. In Canada, it is impossible and illegal to buy chicken meat at the store that doesn’t come from 1 of 2 permitted meat breeds. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying organic or from a small butcher. It’s all the same bland bird. (This is a topic/rant best left to a different article.)
  • Breeding. Are you are looking to get into breeding chickens for profit? A heritage variety like the Bresse will fetch a much higher price for day-old-chicks and fertile hatching eggs than your standard barnyard mixes or Barred Rocks.
Bresse Chicken

First Of All, You Can’t Call Them ‘Bresse’ Outside of France

The Bresse is a protected species and name.

You can call them Canadian Bresse, American Bresse, North American Bresse, or my favourite – Canadian Gauloise.

Poulet de Bresse may only be produced from the white variety (Bresse de Bény) and must be raised within a strict legally defined area of the historic region and former province of Bresse which is in eastern France. This legally defined area is only about 100 km by 40 km.

In History

The story of the poulet de Bresse, with its steel blue feet and bright white plumage, begins in 1591 when the bird was first mentioned in the town registers of Bourg-en-Bresse. Henry IV, having stopped off at Bresse following an accident with his carriage, tasted the bird’s meat and demanded its inclusion on his courtly menu.

Modern Production in France

Around 1.2 million poulet de Bresse chickens are produced each year in France which is only roughly 0.1% of the total annual production of chicken meat in the country, and about 10% are exported to other markets in Europe.

The chickens are raised under very strict controls and there are only about 200 breeders; each must have a minimum of 0.5 ha of pasture in the area of production, and allow a minimum of 10 m2 per bird. Each bird must pass inspection by the Centre de Sélection de la Volaille de Bresse, which is the only breeding centre for the Bresse chicken.

The birds are kept free-range on pasture for at least the first four months. From about 35 days they are fed cereals and dairy products; the diet is intentionally kept low in protein to force the Bresse to forage for insects and wild plants.

Also Read: Raising Chickens on Pasture (4 Methods) and Feeding Pastured Chickens During Winter.

Afterwards, they are “finished” in an épinette, a cage in a darkened fattening shed, where they are intensively fed on maize and milk. Pullets (immature hens that have not started laying yet) are fattened this way for two weeks and then slaughtered at a minimum age of four months. Older and larger hens are fattened for four weeks and slaughtered at five months when they weigh at least 1.8 kg; Capons (castrated roosters) are also fattened for four weeks and are then slaughtered at eight months or even more, at a minimum weight of 3 kg.

Poulet de Bresse commands very premium prices. The highest in Europe. In 2002 producers of poulet de Bresse received an average of €4.00 per kg (whole chicken, ready to cook); comparable prices received by producers of organic and standard chickens were €2.70 and €1.60 respectively.

Retail prices are much higher; a price of £19.50 per kg was reported from London in 2011.

a young bresse pullet next to two young orpington pullets on a wooden fence outside
A very young Bresse pullet hanging out with some Orpingtons on our homestead.

Where To Find Chicks & Hatching Eggs in North America

If you want to raise Bresse for yourself, you will have to find chicks or fertile eggs to hatch yourself.

I highly recommend you source smaller high-quality hatcheries and avoid commercial ones. You can also seek out smaller breeders and hobbyists that are passionate about the breed.

Brooding Your New Chicks At Home

The most important part of brooding your new chicks will be heat and temperature control, fresh clean water, feed, and bedding.

I have a complete guide you can read on this topic: Chick Care: Raising Baby Chickens The Right Way and When Can My Chicks Finally Go Outside?

What you place them in can be anything from an old playpen (did it, don’t recommend it), an XL dog crate (did it, highly recommend it), a box of some kind, to a plastic kiddie pool with a wire mesh cover on top to keep them in.

One thing I really recommend is that you get heat plates and not heat lamps. Most sources of farm fires are started by heat lamps whereas heat plates are completely safe.

Brinsea Safety Brooder Heating Plate

Titan Chick Heating Plate (What I use)

As for bedding, start with paper towels for the first 24 hours before switching them to something else. From my research and personal experience, a dust-free chopped straw is the best choice of bedding for your chicks for the duration of their lives.

I use The Straw Boss Fine Chopped and dust-extracted straw and I love it. It’s very economical — especially when combined with something like the Deep Litter Method which we are currently testing out to great success.

Incubating & Hatching Eggs Is Easy

And fun! I have a complete guide on that too and it covers both dry and wet incubation methods: How to Incubate & Hatch Chicken Eggs

Anyone can easily incubate eggs at home. We have the HovaBator incubator and have done several successful hatches with it. Many homesteaders use and recommend this incubator which you can basically set and forget as it turns the eggs for you.

The other incubator which is always recommended in homesteading groups is the Brinsea.

Whatever brand you choose, I recommend you get one with an automatic egg turner, a fan, humidity and temperature readings. A lot of those cheap Amazon brands seem tempting, but you get what you pay for and I have learned that the hard way.

bresse rooster flapping wings on green grass
A North American Bresse rooster on our homestead.

How We’re Replicating The Very Unique French Bresse Diet Ourselves

You are what you eat, and this holds very true for the Bresse. Their metabolism, unique to chickens as far I have been able to discern, allows them to metabolize their food in a way where their flesh will marble similar to how beef does.

We allowed ours to forage on pasture freely before confining them into a smaller space and fattening them up on roasted root vegetables, organic corn, and whole oats soaked and fermented in raw whey, soured milk, and kefir.

We would always mix the dairy with fresh water. The birds enjoyed their vacation from hunting for their own food.

Is The North American Bresse As Good As The French?

I suspect not. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential.

Why? Because there is a limited genetic pool in America and Canada of Bresse and I doubt anyone maintains a flock with pure genetics. Since importing amazing Bresse stock from France or Europe is difficult if not impossible, this is a challenge for breeding these chickens here.

Does The Taste Live Up To The Hype?

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

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The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers This is my favourite. The most comprehensive guide to date on raising all-natural poultry for the small-scale farmer, homesteader, and professional grower. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock offers a practical and integrative model for working with chickens and other domestic fowl, based entirely on natural systems.

Gardening with Chickens: Plans and Plants for You and Your Hens. This unique book is a must for the gardener and chicken keeper, especially if you want to combine the two in harmony. Start by planning your garden and learning strategies and tips for keeping your plants safe while they grow. Plant with purpose, choosing from a dozen plans for theme gardens such as Orange Egg Yolks or Nesting Box Herbs.

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  1. Find Lot of info on free range diet and fattening in final stage, but what special diet, if any, is first 5 wks pls? Thank you

    1. We had them in their special segregated shed with a small run so that they could still go outdoors without ranging. They were then finished on corn and roasted root vegetables soaked in whey and raw milk. In France they finish them on corn, sometimes wheat, and almost exclusively in whey with small amounts of milk.

    1. It’s the leftovers I have from my milk after making cheese. I also use the buttermilk from butter-making too.

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