Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicken for dinner? Part 2

We are eight weeks into the chicken experiment, and it's time to start butchering the Cornish Cross chickens. We actually should have started sooner, because one dropped dead a few days ago.  Those that are still alive do nothing but sit in front of the feeder and eat. Their exercise consists of walking to the waterer for a drink, then walking back to the feeder. The heritage chickens (pictured above) won't be big enough to butcher for another six weeks. (If you missed the original post about my little experiment, you can find it here.) We wanted something to compare the CC chicken, so Mike butchered a year-old heritage rooster.

The CC weighed 5 pounds, 11.7 ounces at only eight weeks of age. (It's the one on the right, but you probably figured that out already.)

The heritage rooster weighed 4 pounds, 2.7 ounces at a year of age.

The breast alone on the CC weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces. Normally, Jonathan eats a breast, and I eat one, but tonight I cut off about a fourth of a breast for my dinner. We cooked it using a favorite recipe -- pineapple chicken.

The verdict -- blah. When they've done blind taste tests, people usually describe the CC as tasteless and mushy. I definitely agree with the tasteless part, but I'd describe the texture more as rubbery, rather than mushy. I didn't even finish my portion. It was sadly uninspiring. If I ever want to lose weight, this would be the food to include in my diet. Normally I "mmmm" and "ooooh" during dinner, but not tonight. It was sad.

Another interesting observation -- the legs on the heritage chicken were much more reddish-purple. The legs on the CC were almost as pale as the breast meat. Jonathan even said that the thigh tasted very similar to the breast. I actually preferred the thigh -- it tasted like something, which is more than I can say for the breast meat, which was completely blah. I wonder if the lack of exercise is what causes the legs to look like breast meat? Perhaps well-developed muscles are redder?

The really disturbing part of our little experiment, however, was this --

I was looking at the things Mike pulled out of the chickens, and I saw this big pickle-looking thing. Having been diagnosed (incorrectly) with a gall bladder problem a few years ago, I knew exactly what it was. I quickly realized, however, that I had never seen a chicken's gall bladder. I asked Mike where was the gall bladder from the heritage chicken. He looked for a few seconds and finally found it. I had never noticed one before today because it is tiny. I wanted to weigh the two gall bladders, but the heritage chicken's gall bladder was too small for my scale to weigh. Visually, I'd say the CC gall bladder was about six times as large. It looked like an over-filled balloon ready to pop -- and it did rupture a little later just sitting on the plate. I wonder if a ruptured gall bladder is what caused that CC chicken to die a few days ago? The gall bladder produces bile for digesting fat, and if a chicken is eating more, it needs to digest more, which could explain why the gall bladder is so large. It's overworked.

The liver on the heritage chicken was also about half the size of the CC's liver. I have no idea why the liver would be so large, but it makes me think that even though we are raising the CC exactly the same as the heritage chickens, they are not as healthy. The heritage liver is also much more red, which usually means higher in iron. It would be fascinating to compare the nutritional value of the two different birds, but that is beyond my abilities. I just can't believe that such a pale liver has as much nutrition as the bright red liver.

Katherine is taking biology this year in college, and she needs an independent honors project. As we were talking today about the differences between these two chickens, she decided to ask her professor if she can do an experiment comparing the different chickens. She would start over with new chicks and keep track of every ounce they consume, and then dissect them, and weigh and measure the organs. It sounded like a good idea this afternoon before I had actually eaten the chicken. Now that I have had the most disappointing culinary experience since eating at a greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere, I am wondering what we will do with the four mutant chickens we have left. I am not crazy about the idea of ever raising them again, even in the name of science. After all, if we raise them, someone should eat them.


Michelle said...

All very interesting, if rather gross, to this vegetarian! (I ate some meat until about age 13, and never did like fowl.) Having a lot of family in medical professions, to me your assumption about differences in health between the two birds is spot on. What I'd like to know is how have humans engineered a bird to act like this -- like the CC?

Skippymom said...

The only thing I can say about the experiment, besides it sounds awesome, is she may be a little disappointed - I don't know what the laws are in you state, and I don't know if you read all my posts about my daughter Honors Independent Research Studies class - but she wanted to do an experiment on tadpoles [not frogs, tadpoles] and she wasn't going to kill them - but she was denied first to the care and well being of the vertabrates. Then we moved on to worms. Don't ask. And finally we were able to gain approval for mosquito larvae.

Honestly not trying to be a downer, because I find the "rulz" ridiculous especially when the projects are awesome - but I wish you good luck.

And that was fascinating about the gallbladders [nasty pic of the large one, eww-LOL] but I enjoyed the tutorial on the differences and the tastes.

Mrs Pretzel said...

Most AWESOME post ever. Thank you so much for posting this, and using PICTURES!! Totally awesome. I have already linked to your post from my blog in my chicken info links. LOVE this. Did I mention that yet? lol

Deborah Niemann said...

Michelle -- "They" claim they are a cross between a Plymouth rock and a Cornish, but I'm not buying it. Since they don't have to tell consumers when they genetically modify any food (70% of food in the store is GMO), I'm assuming they did something bizarre to create these birds.

SkippyMom -- Oh, no! I did read your blog back when you were writing about your daughter's project. I wonder if the rules will be different since these are food animals. THAT will be interesting!

Deborah Niemann said...

Rachel -- thanks! It's been interesting, to say the least!

IsobelleGoLightly said...

My lady found this very interesting indeed. What a difference. Thank you for posting this.

Melissa said...

My husband and I raise these chickens, too. We're getting close to butchering time for our second "batch". We've found that if we only feed them grain for a short time in the morning, then take it away for the rest of the day (when they start foraging in the grass) we don't have any obvious health problems. All the birds appear to be healthy, they walk and even "run" for long distances. And we have yet to see them have to sit down regularly from fatigue.
We noticed the same thing you've been talking about last year, when we gave them as much food as they wanted. But this year we wanted to get them to eat mostly grass. So far so good.
Not that I'm endorsing them, just wanted to share our experience. :)

shelly said...

the cc chicken liver is big and pale because it's filled with fat.When this happens to ducks and geese we call it foi gras. When it happens to people it is called non alcoholic steatohepatitis or fatty liver disease. In people it is related to obesity and diabetes. Makes ya think a bit.shelly

Deborah Niemann said...

Shelly -- makes perfect sense! Thanks!

Kathy said...

Wow- what a great post..and pictures too. I'm curious to how the 1 year old Heritage chicken tasted? I've had problems with my roosters over 18 weeks old being tough.

Deborah Niemann said...

Kathy -- We're having the heritage chicken tomorrow. We're cooking him overnight in the crockpot. He doesn't really need to cook that long, but I don't like heating up the house in the summer. The key to cooking an older chicken is simply to cook it in water for a few hours. The older it is, the longer it needs to cook. A four-year-old hen, for example, needs to cook overnight.

We've been eating nothing but heritage chickens since we moved out here eight years ago, and they are delicious! Older chickens are fabulous for slow cooking and then using in casseroles and salads. The broth is great for using in other soups (like lentil).

Christy said...

This is so very interesting! We have just begun to raise chickens and have a heritage breed. Glad we didnt start with the CC!

Lindsay said...

This is fascinating! How does one find more heritage breed farmers?

(p.s. I'm tweeting this).

Deborah Niemann said...

Thanks for the tweet, Lindsay. and are two options for finding local farmers. Market Maker is currently only in the midwest, but they're working on spreading to other parts of the country. They started in Illinois. Sadly, most farmers won't grow heritage chicken because there is zero consumer demand. Joel Salatin said he tried for two years, and people didn't buy them, so he grows the CC.

Unknown said...

This is so interesting. Who would have thought they were so different, even on the inside? You're fotunate to get to raise your own chickens and eat the ones that make you ooh and aah.
I'd love it if you stop by for a visit. :) Chanelle

Blakery said...

@ Shelly
The difference between foie gras and the engorged liver of a chicken, or a human for that matter, is that it's perfectly normal for water fowl (ducks and geese primarily). It is, for them, a way of storing fat for winter. They will naturally eat themselves to this state in the fall. The only reason foie gras is made as it is is for a year round, consistent product. The chicken on the other hand, is originally a jungle fowl, and there is nothing natural about that liver.

Unknown said...

I know I'm chiming in on an older post, but I just found you via Quinn's On Just A Couple of Acres. This is such an interesting post - I've really not wanted to raise CC and have opted to give Freedom Rangers a try, but I suspect in the end, I'll go with Heritage birds for the long term. The gall bladder thing is amazing and I'd agree that it would have something to do with their early demise. However, the thought occurred to me that as kids, it was always a big deal about who got the white meat as opposed to the dark.I can hardly remember having a chicken in the last few years where there was a significant difference. Did your daughter do the project?

Deborah Niemann said...

Amy, luckily for me, my daughter decided not to raise the chickens for biology. Yes, it is interesting how little difference there is between the dark and white meat of modern chickens. I wonder how they did that.

David said...

Diet, Diet, Diet!

I've been raising these chickens during our summer run with the chicken tractor to help rennovate our pastures (see my blog entry:

If you just use commercial feed rations, like I did my first year, these chickens WILL have problems and definitely need to be slaughtered earlier.

If you use a ration of commercial feed as a supplement to free ranging forage (I let these birds out to roam the pasture during the day and back in the chicken tractor at night) you will see controlled growth, better health, and a much more active bird. I can slaughter later,(my birds are currently 14 weeks old).

Now, there are some drawbacks too. If you do indeed let them live longer (as in longer than 10-12 weeks), there is more of a chance they will have deep pectoral injuries that will typically affect the tenderloin portion of the breast. (too active for their size = bursting blood vessels = dead meat you cannot use = looks green when you butcher them)

On the taste front, a diet of commercial ration gives you bland tasting and icky textured meat. A diet of free range foraging and this same bird is wonderful tasting.

Overall, we've had success with this strange mutant cross.

Jerry Pank said...

Hi Deborah

An interesting article. We keep chickens too, but only for eggs.

I run a cookery wiki and would love to use your chicken liver photo to illustrate the gallbladder.

Would that be ok? I will apply the correct attribution.

Kind regards, Jerry

Deborah Niemann said...

Hi Jerry and welcome to my blog! Yes, you may use the liver photo. Please link back to my blog. Thanks!

Jerry Pank said...

Thank you kindly!


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