Raising a Different Chicken
Monday, December 12, 2016
The demand for pastured poultry continues to surprise us, and we are very thankful for our customers who have supported us over the past few years! That being said, we are making some major changes to our poultry program for 2017.
Up to now, we’ve been growing the industrialized “Cornish Cross” white broiler meat birds on pasture. These birds grow very rapidly and are ready for slaughter in as little as 6 weeks! This is the same type of bird that is now raised by every major poultry producer and is responsible for more than 99% of grocery store chicken!
Earlier this year (2016) we decided to take things in a different direction and started our own flock of true heritage standard-bred poultry. It became important for us to make this switch for a number of reasons:
We want to produce our own chicks! The Cornish Cross chicken is extremely hybridized and unable to naturally mate. If you want some of these chicks, you must buy them from one of the three companies in the world that owns the genetics. Maintaining our own flock of standard-bred birds gives us the ability to hatch and raise our own chicks right here.
We want our birds to have a long, productive lifespan and a normal rate of growth. The modern industrial broiler puts on weight so quickly that it’s bone structure and internal organs can’t keep up.
Our heritage poultry breeds are in critical danger of being lost forever. It is vitally important that we preserve this genetic diversity for future generations. The only way these genetics will survive is if we put these birds back into production.
The reason “everything tastes like chicken” is because our chicken doesn’t taste like anything. Today’s chickens are bred for rapid growth, not flavor.
The New Hampshire Chicken
We have adopted the New Hampshire as our breed of choice. In the 1940s and 50s, the New Hampshire was one of the most commonly seen chickens on farms all across New England, but they then entered a period of steep decline and near extinction as hybrids began taking over the broiler and egg industries.
We were unsatisfied with the quality of birds we found at the large hatcheries, but in July we were thrilled to find some great birds from a small breeder dedicated to preserving these genetics. A few months later, we expanded with some more birds from another breeder, and we now believe we have enough genetic diversity and quality stock to maintain our own closed flock through proper breeding. We are excited to be a part of preserving and improving this special breed!
The New Hampshire is an American dual-purpose breed, making it useful for both meat and eggs. Meat production was the primary focus of early breeders, and that is our goal as well. As a result, New Hampshire hens lay fewer eggs than the specialized laying breeds, but they have a much longer productive lifespan. They are also great winter layers, even without supplemental lighting.
In their hay day, New Hampshire males were ready for the table in 12 to 14 weeks. We consider them a work in progress, and expect our birds to be ready at around 16 weeks of age. This is more than twice the age of an industrialized meat bird. The New Hampshire carcass has a higher percentage of dark meat, larger legs and thighs, and less breast meat. The are listed in the Slow Food: Ark of Taste directory as a delicious, distinctive, endangered food.
2017 Chicken Orders
We plan to raise a limited number of these to sell locally in 2017. We are still working out our pricing, but we will need to increase it somewhat to account for the longer growing period.
Enjoying an oven-roasted heritage chicken is a dining experience that few people today have ever had, and we are thrilled to be making this available again!