I received an e-mail from a list serve I am on entitled “Our Greatest Challenge: Breeding a Productive Chicken!” and I have thought about this e-mail all week now. I believe our ideas of “production” have been terribly skewed by industrial agriculture. Should a cow give more than two gallons a milking; a goat more than half a gallon; should a chicken be ready to process for meat at 12 weeks old or lay 300 eggs a year? Going back to heritage breeds as this farm has done makes things difficult because no, grass-fed cows do not always give two gallons a milking (at least not consistently); ducks do not lay every day of the week all year round; rabbits are not ready to be processed at 12 weeks old.
Those animals raised in confinement facilities that do all of these things have been selectively bred to do all of these things plus they are pumped full of corn, soy, drugs, antibiotics, etc. to make sure they remain productive. That’s why you can buy a four pound chicken for $2 or less per pound, why eggs are available in grocery stores all year round, etc. That is not how we chose to do things.
The e-mail says that the birds are not producing like they used to … well, I sort of disagree there. The author of the posts mentions that Delaware and New Hampshire Red chickens were once ready for production at 12 to 14 weeks, but that’s in an industrial model, not raised on small farms on pasture. No heritage-breed animal grows that fast on pasture; hybrids like the Cornish Cross can, but you still really need to pack the feed to them. There was a time when a chicken dinner was a rare occurrence and was an extra rooster (likely an “older” [older by commercial standards] bird) or a spent laying hen.
I agree that it is not economically viable to have animals that grow so slow, but, is it right to try to breed them to a point where they produce along the lines of hybrid animals? I can see selecting for animals that do grow out at a good rate, but to try to compete with animals raised in an industrial manner? You cannot.
This video made an appearance on Facebook this morning. It is depressingly realistic. There is a Chipolte Mexican Grill opening in Hickory and we will have to try it. But, I wonder how much of their food is truly grown sustainably and humanely. I do not think many restaurants, especially a national chain, can afford to source their supplies from farmers truly growing sustainably and humanely. It would make their prices way too expensive. Still, I commend them for their commercials pointing out the horrors of factory farming.
Until later …