We raise two different breeds of chickens for meat, a heritage breed called 'Delaware' and a hybrid breed called 'Red Ranger'. The main differences between them are the rate at which they grow and therefore how they cook. We raise these slower growing birds to provide an alternative to the conventional rapidly growing chicken and to let chickens behave like the animals they are.
About our Heritage Breed Chickens
- Adapted from an essay by Jim Adkins, Founder of The Sustainable Poultry Network
First, the bad news: In the late 1940s, poultry geneticists engineered a fast growing chicken known throughout the world as a Cornish Cross. Since then, this is served in almost every restaurant, even the fancy ones, and even the Certified Organic ones.
Too-Fast Growth: This bird grows at an unnatural, abnormally fast rate: six pounds in six weeks. Today the average processing age of the Cornish Cross chicken is just thirty-seven days. For those of you who have never raised a baby chick, that is way too fast. If we humans grew at this same rate, we would weigh 260 pounds by the time we were two years old. That is not normal.
Genetically Controlled: This fast growing meat chicken was never meant to live for very long. The genetics of Cornish Cross birds are “owned” by the largest commercial poultry producers in the world. If you’ve grown vegetables at home, it’s similar to “hybrid” seeds – you cannot save seed from hybrids and get the same offspring. By creating a bird that farmers cannot reproduce, the corporations require farmers to continuously buy more chicks from them.
Physical Complications: Because of the rapid growth of these birds, they have constant physical complications; their bones and organs cannot keep up with the fast rate of their growth. Their legs cannot handle the weight and they usually end up crippled within weeks after hatching. They often die of heart failure because their hearts can’t pump blood fast enough to support their massive bodies. When poultry grow at a normal, slow rate, the result is strong skeletal structure, normal organ development, strong immune systems, and more muscle, nutrients, and texture to the meat (which means more flavor).
NOW THE GOOD NEWS!
The old heirloom or “heritage” breeds of poultry are on their way back thanks to dedicated farmers. These breeds are the ones that our grandparents loved; the breeds that fed American families for hundreds of years before the Cornish Cross came along. With Heritage birds, a farmer can develop her own breeding flock. When a farmer is able to breed, grow and market her own fowl, she is no longer dependent upon an industrialized corporation to provide baby chicks. When you find and local farmer near you to buy meat and eggs, you are supporting a local farm.
AT ROOT DOWN FARM, we grow old heritage breeds, and have settled on Delawares.
Outside on pasture: Heritage breeds are meant to be on pasture; they run around, eat bugs, grubs & grass. It is natural for them to be outside, and their strong legs are able to run and enjoy it!
They taste so much better: If a chicken is alive longer, it will taste better. Heritage breeds have to be cooked differently than the Cornish Cross chickens that we are all used to.
The general rule for cooking heritage breed chickens is “slow and low”
Cooking tips: A slow growing bird needs to be cooked longer at a lower temperature to bring out the full flavor and to tenderize the meat. Click here for more recipes