[Scroll to bottom for SALE details if you don’t want to “Meet your meat birds”.]
“Did these chickens lay those eggs?” A passerby points to a 3 week-old meat bird which a small child is playing with at our booth. It’s Saturday morning at the farmers’ market, and I welcome the question with a smile. It wasn’t too many years ago that I wouldn’t have known the difference, either! We field a regular stream of such questions, but I’m delighted to talk about my birds to anyone who wants to understand where their food comes from. I then proceed in my explanation that the modern chicken industry has meat birds and layer birds, and ne’er the twain shall meet.
As far as grocery stores are concerned, there is only one kind of chicken: the Cornish Cross, but such was not always the case.
Traditionally, dual-purpose breeds such as the Rhode Island Red were highly valued. The females (pullets) were kept for laying eggs, and the males (cockerels) were fattened up for meat. Eggs were served year-round, and chicken meat was a seasonal treat.
Fast-forward to the 1950’s. Selected strains of Cornish chickens were cross-bred with selected White Rocks. The result was the cheap, modern chicken that we have all come to love for its economic qualities, but despise for its lack of flavor. It’s a terminal cross breed (can’t reproduce), grows crazy fast, touts superb feed-to-weight conversion, and looks and acts nothing like a chicken. Chicken meat could suddenly be raised in less than half the time on half the feed as previously. Entrepreneurs soon discovered that they could cram thousands of birds in long barns like sardines, give them unlimited access to food and water, and send them for processing at only 7-8 weeks old. This, unfortunately, is the only kind of chicken that most Americans have ever eaten in their lives.
So let’s review our chicken grades. We’ll look at Conventional, Pastured, and Fence-Free Heritage.
Cornish Cross birds are packed in long barns like sardines. They stuff themselves full of grain under artificial lights, and can barely walk by the time they are butchered. Each bird is allowed 96 in2, the size of a piece of standard paper. And those “organic” birds you may have seen at the store? Yeah, they’re raised the same way, just with organic feed. Bland meat, but dirt cheap (Americans value cheap, convenient food).
These are typically Cornish Cross as well, though you will occasionally find someone raising Freedom Rangers. The Freedom Rangers forage a little better than the Cornish Crosses, but not a whole lot. Birds are moved regularly, so that they are always on fresh grass; they eat some plants and bugs, and live outside. Most operations raise them in tight, 12×10, 2-ft high cages, or something similar. We prefer to put electric netting around them instead, as it gives them more space. They take a bit longer to reach butcher weight (8-9 weeks) due to burning calories from exercise and coping with the elements. Taste, texture, and nutrition are far superior to conventional.
Remember those dual-purpose breeds we talked about? Very few producers raise them for meat, but we raise small batches for ourselves and for anyone else who values them as we do. They are fence-free all day and closed up in the barn coop at night for protection. These are true chickens. Losses from predators are much higher. They take 17 weeks to reach butcher weight (instead of 8), and consume at least double the feed to do it. Why raise them then? Truth be told, most Americans living today don’t know what a real chicken tastes like. Roasted slow and low, the flavor is unparalleled – these are the kind of chickens your great-grandmother made. The birds live naturally healthier, happier lives. Most importantly, these birds are true foragers, spending the majority of their day hunting for bugs and plants. You also benefit from the higher vitamin content this naturally produces. Ask us if you’d like to taste a delicious piece of history!
Questions to ask your Farmer…
- Do you rotate your birds on fresh grass?
- Is your feed non-GMO?
- Is your feed soy-free? (Yes, soy DOES come through in meat and eggs.)
We only raise Pastured and Fence-Free birds. While we do raise Cornish Cross, I would prefer to only raise heritage birds, and that is something which we may gradually transition towards. Help us celebrate healthy chicken meat, and stock up for the summer with this sale!
(Cornish Cross Chicken Standard Price – $5/lb, Average 4-5 lb Weight)
Stock up your freezer!
- 5 Chickens – $4.50/lb
- 10 Chickens – $4.50/lb + free heritage bird ($27 value)
- See our poultry page for additional options like organ meats and feet.
You can pick up at the farm by appointment, or consider coming to our free Farm Tour and Chicken Butchering Demonstration on July 11 (see separate email or message us for details.)
* Offer good through 7/11/21