The chicken meat that most of us eat is very different from what our grandparents ate. Chicken was served on special occasions due to chicken being raised primarily on family farms. The flocks were small because they fed themselves through free foraging with some supplementation of grain and scraps. In 1922, the discovery of Vitamin-D made it possible to keep chickens in confinement year-round. In 1950, large farms and packing plants could grow birds by the tens of thousands. By using selective breeding the poultry industry developed a chicken that would take 6 to 7 weeks to grow known as the Cornish Cross. Poultry lost its status as luxury foods and chicken became a common meat product in the United States.
The Cornish Cross breed of chickens weigh up to 8.5lbs at 8 weeks!! These frankenchickens, as they are nicknamed, have been developed over the past few decades to put on astounding weights in a short period of time. This growth rate causes many a chicken to suffer from broken or deformed legs, heart attacks and heart failure. I have many friends that raise these types of chickens and from what I have seen they have been successful in raising them for 8 weeks with little problems. They did ration the food so the chickens didn’t overeat. Our problem with these chickens is that they have been genetically developed to be the only chickens the large scale producers use. Think about this…there are only a handful of bovine breeds used for milk, a handful of goat breeds used for meat, a few chicken breeds used for eggs…see the big picture? What about the hundreds of other breeds that are being lost due to lack of genetic diversity in farming.
When we decided to move from laying hens to meat birds we did lots of research on what breeds we could choose from while still holding on our beliefs of raising heritage breed animals. We went with both the Delaware and Jersey Giant breeds.
Although Delawares are not a particularly large birth, they do mature more quickly than heavier breeds. In fact, they were one of the most popular broiler breeds in the U.S. before the Cornish Cross emerged. They then became critically endangered because they no longer had a commercial use. Today they are on the “Threatened” list by the ALBC.
The Jersey Giants are the largest breed of chickens. During their first months they build up their bones and then the begin to fill out. They were nicknamed “the poor man’s turkey.” However, due to their slower growth, they were replaced and are now on “watch” list with the ALBC.
Now for the gross part…did you know that the chicken you buy at the grocery store may be up to 30% saline? The amount of water pumped into these chickens is so high that they have started to add sugar and other “broths” to recover some flavor that is lost. This is known as “plumping.” It makes the chicken tender but it also makes it bland. Oh…and if they are plumped up with 30% saline and other liquids…what are you paying for?
There are other chicken raising practices that I don’t agree with but that is a whole other blog. We will continue to raise happy and healthy chickens for both meat and eggs. I am hoping in the near future we will be able to sell fodder raised chickens to our community. In the mean time, please read the labels on your food and research company practices before you buy.