Raising Chickens

A Disturbing Detail about Raising Chickens for Meat

Three of our meat birds are a standard variety known as Cornish Rocks.  This is your typical chicken:
Well we only had the chicks about a week before we noticed something different with these birds.  They were growing really, really, fast.  I mean that one morning my husband and I went downstairs and looked in and both said “whoa” at the same time because their growth was noticeable just overnight!  Since then I’ve watched with a bit of interest, but mostly concern over this insane growth pattern.  Now they are probably the size of a softball and solid little things.  They are heavy!  What is disturbing, though, is their sloth-like personalities.  They literally lay around all day.  I mean legs tucked up under them just sitting, usually next to the feeder. And they eat non-stop.   One evening I watched as one scooted (scooted, not walked) along to get a drink of water. The only time they show any energy is when you put your hand in with some food cupped in your palm.  Then they will jump right into your hand to eat greedily. They can stand up, but they seem to prefer not to.  They have fairly sturdy legs, but I can’t help but wonder if they are growing faster than their legs can hold them.  This is VERY bothersome as I know as well as you that these birds did not evolve to grow at such a rate.  They were bred this way.  Here I am, stupid enough to think that the $1.99 chick at Tractor Supply was going to be, in any way, similar to that of a “natural” chicken.  This is the equivalent to buying seeds from Burpee (“bred to be disease resistant”).  I was living this happy illusion that I was raising chickens in a natural environment, far more humane than a factory farm.  Well now I just feel like some gross commercial farmer who uses these birds as nothing more than an investment and the faster they grow, the faster I can butcher.  I admit, I am one to internalize things and so you might not be surprised to hear that this has ruined my chicken-raising-fun.  Every time I go down to look at them I am disturbed by their rapid growth.

So I google searched this breed only to validate my own assumptions:
Sometimes customers have leg problems with Cornish Cross; we suggest that you feed them once a day enough that the feed is gone within four or 5 hours. If you give them as much food as they want their bones may not keep up with their body weight.”  www.purelypoultry.com

In addition, the website says they will gain a pound a week and should be ready for butcher by 6 weeks!  That’s insane and so, so, so, unnatural.  This line alone may be the end of me: Cornish Rock Cross chickens are the same type of chicken that commercial poultry industry uses to produce the chicken meat for sale at the grocery store.”

So, we’ll get through these birds and then my plan for the future is to research and find a good heirloom variety.  It may mean raising them longer until they are ready for butcher (fine).  It may mean a bird with a smaller breast (fine). It may mean meat that is slightly less tender (fine).  It WILL mean the restoration of my faith in the whole enterprise.

To add further insult to injury:
Almost all of the chicken you have ever seen in a supermarket is of one general type, derived from the Cornish Cross hybrid.  The Cornish Cross is a large broiler/roaster designed for commercial production, but amazingly adaptable f or pastured, no-drug rearing.  The controversy over this bird arises from the fact that it owes its existence to the industry’s desire to create a creature that could survive the abuses of confinement rearing, grow at an abnormal rate and be ready for butcher in 6-8 weeks.  It is not a breed; it will not reproduce true to type.  It the end point of selective hybridization, and the industry will create more next year from the same hybridization methods.  It is a food source whose genetics are owned by corporations.  It has been developed to withstand the cruelty and abuses of the commercial poultry industry.  If it disappeared tomorrow, those abusive management practices would have to change.  All of that has led me to be concerned about raising these hybrids, as has the fact that raising them is disapproved of by people whose opinion I respect, like the folks from the Animal Welfare Institute, and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  It concerns me even though pasture rearing that bird is an improvement over buying one in the store, for you and the bird.  On balance, I have decided against doing so.  In part that is because I have raised them on pasture and concluded that while they thrived and foraged in a pastured, no-drug environment, their failure to run around like other chickens suggested that they were not comfortable trying to support their immense bodies on what are after all, little chicken legs.  http://www.whistleberryfarm.com/Heirloom%20Chickens.php


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