After my last post, I want to be clear, I was not bashing the chicken industry. These large scale operations are a product of the world we live in. Families can’t grow and raise their own food in a normal city setting. Big cities don’t offer the room needed and most suburban settings have strict rules about animals. I will alway believe small locally and ethically raised food is better for the environment and the individual. But unless the majority of people change how they shop and eat, the industry will remain how it is.
Like I mentioned last time, unless the packaging says, “pasture-raised,” they are most likely housed in huge flocks of thousands in huge warehouses. While I do not agree with this model, I understand it. Large flocks of production breed chickens are highly susceptible to disease. Any large gathers of creatures spread germs quickly, just think about pre-schoolers and their constant runny noses. On top of that production breeds of chickens are bred in such a way that they tend to have weaker immune systems. All it takes is one sick wild bird to infect and potentially kill off thousand of production chickens. That being said, I want to discuss the different types of chickens.
There are three main types of chickens: egg producers, meat producers, and dual-purpose.
Egg producers are bred to produce large quantities of eggs, while not wasting feed on building muscle. Meat producers are bred to grow big, quickly. They will be in your freezer long before they ever start laying eggs. There is nothing inherently wrong with either of these types of chickens, they are bred to do a specific job with little waste.
Here are the “downsides” to these breeds. Egg producers tend to produce a lot of eggs quickly and only produce for about 18 months. Since older hens and roosters have no use to humans, they often end up in animal feed. Meat producers grow so fast so quickly, that if they are not butchered at the right time their legs break under their own weight and they suffer heart attacks.
Most breeds of chickens, however, are dual-purpose. They are decent layers and produce a decent sized bird for dinner. These are perfect for small farms since older hens, roosters, and extra hens can be used for dinner. The downside to these birds is it takes longer, and more feed, to get them big enough to eat.
Then there are Heritage Chickens!
The Livestock Conservancy defines a Heritage chicken as “A Heritage Egg can only be produced by an American Poultry Association Standard breed. A Heritage Chicken is hatched from a Heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, naturally mated with a long productive outdoor life.”
When I first got chickens, I went with Heritage breeds for two reason: they tend to have better temperaments and I wanted to help keep the breeds alive. Many of the breeds still go broody and will hatch and raise chicks, which is a trait that has been bred out of many breeds. They forage well and still have those natural instincts. And many of the breeds are beautiful!
I’m going to say this, so I don’t sound like a Heritage chicken snob. While I love and want to save Heritage breeds of chickens, I also love my non-Heritage breeds and would get more of them. They are still dual-purpose, they still forage as well as the others, they have decent temperaments, and they lay well. So far I really haven’t met a breed of chicken I didn’t like.