Over the past few years I have been very thoughtful about what breeds of poultry I purchase for eggs and meat. My goal as a healthy homesteader is to provide the best food for my family, so choosing a bird for meat and eggs requires research and thought on my part. When choosing an animal for the purpose of food, I think their health is very important. In my opinion healthy animal will offer better tasting more nutritious food. The health of the animal also involves their genetics. If the genetics of an animal has major flaws it affects their vitality, thus affecting the quality of the meat. I recently found an article published on The Modern Homesteader website that puts it best.
I may be accused of waxing “mystical” here: But I believe that when we eat another living thing, plant or animal, we are eating not only its physical nutrients but its vitality as well. We have quite rightly condemned the broiler industry for producing chickens all of whom are sick, propped up by antibiotics, growth hormones, and other industrial voodoo. And yet we continue to offer the same bird—raised without those contaminants and in a far more sanitary manner, to be sure—but weak and low in vitality, propped up by high management inputs. (The Cornish Cross- What’s wrong with this picture?)
The writer of this article is referring to a specific chicken called the Cornish Game Hen/ Jumbo Cornish Cross (male). The Cornish Cross bred has many fans as well as people that are against everything they represent. I won’t go as far as to say that I hate the Cornish Cross but I will say that I am not at all a fan. In my opinion the Cornish Cross represents the microwave society I so desperately want to move away from. The society that says- we must have things fast and even faster. Why isn’t the slow growing bred of chicken good enough for people anymore?
What it really comes down to is money. A Cornish Cross chicken grows considerably faster than a slow growing bred of chicken. Their fast growth rate is very appealing to the pocket book as well as to the clock. In 6-8 weeks you can have a bird large enough to butcher. A slow growing bred, or heritage breed, is usually not big enough for slaughter until they are 16-20 weeks old. It is a very rare occurrence for a Cornish Cross breed to live past a year where as the slow growing birds live on average 8 years but as long as 20. There is just something wrong with that picture.
Though there are advantages to buying Cornish Cross birds, there is enough unanswered questions to make me wonder if consuming a bird such as this is at all harmful. I don’t necessarily mean harmful as in the bird has something in it that is harmful. What I mean is, is the nutritional value or lack there of harming us more indirectly? Yes, we can raise these birds with organic feed and offer them free-range living but is that enough to make the animal as healthy as it can be for our consumption.
I no longer want to look at food and say, “Well, it’s not as bad as…”. I want each item of food I eat to be the best it can be ( this a goal, not yet a reality ). I may not be able to be successful in this quest for the highest quality food possible but I can try. So, that brings me to heritage breed poultry.
What are Heritage Breeds?
According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy a heritage chicken is…
- APA Standard Breed. Heritage Chicken must be from parent and grandparent stock of breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) prior to the mid-20th century; whose genetic line can be traced back multiple generations; and with traits that meet the APA Standard of Perfection guidelines for the breed. Heritage Chicken must be produced and sired by an APA Standard breed. Heritage eggs must be laid by an APA Standard breed.
- Naturally mating. Heritage Chicken must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. Chickens marketed as Heritage must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
- Long, productive outdoor lifespan. Heritage Chicken must have the genetic ability to live a long, vigorous life and thrive in the rigors of pasture-based, outdoor production systems. Breeding hens should be productive for 5-7 years and roosters for 3-5 years.
- Slow growth rate. Heritage Chicken must have a moderate to slow rate of growth, reaching appropriate market weight for the breed in no less than 16 weeks. This gives the chicken time to develop strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass.
One of the benefits of raising the slow growing meat bird is the better tasting, moister meat. When raising a slow growing bird you can be a witness to a more natural life cycle. Raising birds that have the potential of breaking legs and having heart attacks if the protein ration is not carefully monitored, is not natural in my opinion. The vitality of the animal matters. Can it forage? Can it run? Or is it a ticking time bomb waiting to die of a heart attack? Read more about the Cornish Cross here.
Is Raising Slow Growing Birds for Meat Economical?
The answer to this question really depends on how you look at it. Is raising meat that takes 2-3 times longer better for your pocket book? No. Is better food better for your health in the long run? Is having a healthy life more economical? I believe, yes. Many of us will justify spending more on organic vegetables and fruits for health, so why is raising a slow growing chicken so difficult to fathom? I am not trying to convince anyone to agree with me but I do wish to get you thinking.
If you are thinking at this point, “Ok, I will just buy a Freedom Ranger.” Read Wrong About Freedom Rangers. They don’t seem to be that much different than the Cornish Cross.
Heritage chickens are also often dual purpose breeds. This means, the hens are good for eggs and meat. A more economical option for someone wanting to raise a slow growing bird would be to use the hens for eggs for a year or two and then butcher for meat. History shows that this was once a common practice. When the old hen got to old to lay eggs, she became stew. If this bothers you to think about, read my post on knowing your food. Another option would be to incubate your own eggs or let a broody hen take over. The cockerels then become meat and then pullets can be raised to replace older hens to produce eggs.
Other Reasons to Consider Raising Heritage Breed Poultry
- Preserving endangered breeds.
- Consumer vote for slow food.
- Protect genetic diversity.
I hope I was able to offer you some, if nothing else, interesting information. My hope is that we as consumers question what is going on around us. If you haven’t noticed already, there is something wrong with our food industry. The health state of America is going down hill and the only way we can stop it is to vote with our dollars. If we keep spending our money on “fast food”, we will only get more and more of it.
- Are fast growing chickens good for our health?
- Does the vitality of the a meat animal matter?
- Consider raising slow growing poultry, or heritage breeds.
- Save money by raising dual purpose birds and incubating your own poultry.
- Vote for slow growing food.
Watch this video about mass production of the Cornish Cross.