I have been agonizing over meat chickens. Let me explain.
The type of chicken that we as consumers purchase in the grocery store here in the US is a breed of chicken called the Cornish Cross. It is what is called an "industrial breed" in agriculture. It was developed specifically to produce a ton of breast meat (what we consumers want to buy) and to produce it quickly. A bird that grows quickly means that it needs less feed and care through its life because it will reach eating age faster. So it's more profitable to "produce."
The issue with the Cornish Cross is that it has been bred for these characteristics to the detriment of the overall health of the birds. Their breasts grow so fast that their bones and muscles struggle to keep up and by the time they reach market weight, they can barely stand. Some have broken bones in their legs because their legs literally cannot support the weight of their breasts. The birds that escape these issues simply end up spending their time laying near the feeder once they grow out. This is just one of the many issues with these industrial breeds. (If you are interested in learning more about what happens with this type of breeding, I highly recommend you pick up one of Temple Grandin's books.)
Philosophically, I obviously have a huge issue with this. The Cornish Cross breed is the result of irresponsible, small-minded breeding designed to make a buck and damn the consequences. It is also the meat that consumers expect to purchase when they buy chicken. It is ALSO the cheapest bird to produce as a meat chicken.
While I have made it no secret that my goal is to transition to heritage breed livestock in the future, financially we can't swing it just yet. The previous owners of the property were big proponents of the breed in their own meat bird program, purchasing them through a pastured poultry-specific hatchery that I can only imagine produced healthier specimens than most. I initially agreed to continue purchasing those chicks, as they and their customers had been very happy with them, and I was assured that the extra time to grow a different breed would be a waste of feed and labor. But I felt terrible. I felt like a hypocrite. I put off ordering. I searched for a different option that would make financial sense and not lose money. I was stuck.
Finally, after speaking with a new lady farmer friend about options the other day, the answer finally came. Freedom Rangers. These are chickens that have been bred to grow swiftly in a healthy way. They don't grow as fast as Cornish Crosses and are excellent free-ranging. They also mature to market weight just a couple weeks after the industrial hybrid. Hooray!
I've heard of Freedom Rangers before, but I was not aware that the name had been trademarked. In fact, the only place to get these birds is from the Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania, as I learned from my local farmer friend.
I'm thrilled to say, Moxie Ridge's first Freedom Ranger chicks will be on their way this week! Even if they do cost more to raise and take a bit longer, I'm happy to pay the price. Who said you can't buy peace of mind?
Hopefully my customers will feel the same way.