|Three-and-a-half month old Barred Rock rooster|
If you missed the posts about my chicken experiment, where I raised barred Plymouth Rock and modern Cornish cross chickens side-by-side, you might want to read Part I and Part II before continuing.
I learned a lot during my little experiment, and it wasn't all about the chickens. I haven't eaten a commercial chicken since 1989, so I truly did not know what people were talking about when they said that heritage chickens taste better. It was in the 1980s when modern agriculture decided to start changing and rearranging chickens to make them reach slaughter weight 2.5 times faster than nature intended, as well as to give them bigger breasts, since that's what Americans like best. In little more than a decade, the commercial meat chicken changed from a bird that could fly and mate naturally to one that could not. It changed from being a bird with long legs and wings to one with short legs and wings. Its breast no longer looked like a bird with a breastbone, but instead like a fowl version of Marilyn Monroe.
|This is what a chicken looked like in 1986. |
Legs were starting to get shorter,
but it was still a long-bodied bird.
While you could still see the breast bone,
the amount of breast meat was increasing.
As I said only a month into our experiment, I won't be growing the Cornish cross again. Even though the taste is sad, there are several other reasons I won't raise them. There is just something creepy about eating an animal that will literally eat itself to death. Given unlimited access to food, they will give themselves a fatty liver, gall bladder disease, heart disease, and hypertension. They're sick. I'm growing my own food because I want healthy food. And yes, I know that if you restrict their food, they can reach slaughter weight without succumbing to a heart attack first.
However, I can't bring myself to put babies on a diet. Others have laughed as they told me how much the CC like to eat and how they act like crazed vultures when you feed them. When we restricted the feed for the chickens -- after one died at a week of age -- I found it sad how desperate they seemed when you brought them feed after 12 hours. The other thing I noticed was that when they didn't have food, they spent their time in front of the waterer drinking. If I had not been raising the heritage side-by-side with the CC, I would not have noticed the increased water consumption.
When we moved out here eight years ago, we wanted to raise heritage animals because they've been largely unchanged for centuries. They've been ignored by modern agriculture, but they're still alive because they're naturally healthy and possess good instincts. I didn't want to raise animals that required coddling, scheduling, and dieting. We wanted to create a sustainable system where we could raise our meat for generations. With the Cornish cross, you have to buy babies from the hatcheries every year -- or artificially inseminate the hens. And I find it just a little bit scary that one of the hatcheries tells customers on their website that if they try to raise replacement meat birds, the next generation won't gain weight as fast as the parents.
Sustainability and self-sufficiency is at the heart of what we're doing out here. I have enough diversity within my goat herd that I would never have to buy another goat ever, and we could have our milk and dairy needs met for the rest of our lives. We can do the same thing with our green beans -- save the seeds and plant more next year. And we can do that with our heritage chickens.