Sunday, June 30, 2013

Alternatives to Commercial-Chicken Breeds

We live in an era of information, and much of what we need to know, is a finger-tip, or click away. We still have questions and concerns about our food, and how to interpret between the lines of psychological marketing vs. truth in advertising. I hope this post helps, to clear a few things up.

Most farmers today, are banking on the general consumer, not being a farmer or rancher. Well, that is not too far fetched because, most people are not. Psychological marketing is very powerful, and it is designed to suck the consumer in, by making them feel good, based on rumor, what they found on the Google-Bible, or current "wordy" trends.

Let's steer clear of the "he said, she said",  for just one moment, and take a look at some documented facts.

According to Wikipedia: 

Domestication and modern breeding[edit]

The traditional poultry farming view of the domestication of the chicken is stated in Encyclopædia Britannica (2007): "Humans first domesticated chickens of Indian origin for the purpose of cockfighting in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Very little formal attention was given to egg or meat production... "[4]
Before the development of modern commercial meat breeds (cows, chickens, etc.) broilers consisted mostly of young male chickens (cockerels) which were culled from farm flocks. Pedigree breeding began around 1916.[5] Magazines for the poultry industry existed at this time.[5][6] A hybrid variety of chicken was produced from a cross of a male of a naturally double-breasted Cornish strain and a female of a tall, large-boned strain of white Plymouth Rocks.[7] This first attempt at a hybrid meat breed was introduced in the 1930s and became dominant in the 1960s. The original cross was plagued by problems of low fertility, slow growth , and disease susceptibility, and modern broilers have gradually become very different from the Cornish/Rock hybrid.

*I.M.O.: According to this information, the Cornish-Cross was developed, as a hybrid, and not part of the paleolithic era. Thus making the Cornish-Cross chicken not suitable for any diet steering clear of production-breed meat, especially for those on a G.E-Free, GMO-Free and  paleo-diet. 

According to Wikipedia: 

Industry structure[edit]

The broiler production process is very much an industrial one. There are several distinct components of the broiler supply chain.[17]

Primary breeding sector[edit]

The "primary breeding sector" consists of companies that breed pedigree stock. Pedigree stock ("pure line") is kept on high level biosecure farms. Their eggs are hatched in a special pedigree hatchery and their progeny then goes on to the great grandparent (GGP) and grandparent (GP) generations. These eggs would then go to a special GP hatchery to produce Parent Stock (PS) which passes to the production sector.[17]
In 2006, out of an estimated world population of 18 billion poultry, about 3% are breeding stock.[17] The US supplied about 1/4 of world GP stock.[17]
Worldwide, the primary sector produced 417 million parent stock (PS) per year.[18]
Numerous techniques are used to assess the pedigree stock. For example, birds might be examined with ultrasound or x-rays to study the shape of muscles and bones. The blood oxygen level is measured to determine cardiovascular health. The walking ability of pedigree candidates is observed and scored.[5]
The need for high levels of R&D spending prompted consolidation within the primary breeder industry. By the late 2000s only three sizable breeding groups[18] remained:
  • Aviagen (with the Ross, Arbor Acres, Indian River and Peterson brands)
  • Cobb-Vantress (with the Cobb, Avian, Sasso and Hybro brands), and
  • Groupe Grimaud (with the Hubbard and Grimaud Frere brands).
In the UK, 2 international firms supply about 90% of the parent stock.[19]
Due to the high levels of variation in the chicken genome, the industry has not yet reached biological limits to improved performance.[18]
The full chicken genome was published in Nature, in December 2004. Today, all primary breeding groups are investing heavily in genomics research. This research mostly focuses on understanding the function and effect of genes already present in the breeding population. Research into transgenics — removing genes or artificially moving genes from one individual or species to another — has fewer prospects of gaining favor among consumers.[18]

*I.M.O.: According to the above information, farmers continuing to raise commercial, hybrid, and genetically engineered breeds of chicken (which are patented), are promoting the continuation of genetic alteration of our food supply, (and at the same time, criticizing the companies which develop G.M.O-Foods).   Confusing....

According to Wikipedia:

Broiler welfare issues[edit]

Broiler chickens may develop several health or welfare issues as a result of selective breeding. Broiler chickens are bred to be very large to produce the most meat per animal. Broilers bred for fast growth have a high incidence of leg deformities because the large breast muscles cause distortions of the developing legs and pelvis and the birds cannot support their increased body weight. Therefore, they may become lame or suffer from broken legs. The added weight also puts a strain on their hearts and lungs and ascites can develop. In the UK, up to 19 million broilers die in their sheds from heart failure each year.[41]
Another issue with selective breeding of broilers is that the larger chickens have an increased appetite. The broiler chicks that are reared for meat are not usually feed-restricted as this would lengthen the time taken to reach slaughter weight. However, the parent birds which lay the eggs of the meat-producing birds also have an increased appetite and are feed-restricted to prevent them becoming overweight; this leads to behavioral issues in chronically hungry birds.
If the litter in the pen is not properly managed, it can become highly polluted with ammonia from the feces. This can damage the chickens’ eyes and respiratory systems, and because the heavier birds spend longer times resting, can cause painful burns on their legs (called hock burns) and foot ulcerations. 

Some broiler strains develop joint disorders, are very inactive, poor foragers, prone to predation, and are generally not suited to small free-range flocks. 
However, commercial free-range broiler flocks are now commonplace in Europe.
Broiler mortality in the U.S. in 2011 is estimated as 3.8%. However the 1925 figure was 18%.[14]

*I.M.O.: According to the above information, chickens are foragers, however the commercial broiler strains are POOR FORAGERS, and perform poorly on the free-range. Another point the the above makes, is that they are predisposed with health issues. Well, it stands to reason that a chicken predisposed to health issues, does not make a healthy bird, which in turn will not make a healthy, wholesome dinner. 

According to ATTRA (The National Sustainable Agriculture Service)
Most pastured poultry producers in North America raise the same Cornish-and-White-Rock-cross broilers used in conventional poultry production. These are the standard meat birds of the industry, and essentially all broilers produced commercially in North America are Cornish crosses. 
This has been true since meat became a primary focus for chicken genetics in the 1940sand confinement-rearing became the dominant form of production for the U.S. poultry industry. A 1950s contest, sponsored by the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, called “The Chicken of Tomorrow” encouraged the development of meatier birds. Cornish crosses became the birds of choice at that time. Since then the conventional poultry industry has genetically refined them for rapid growth, efficient feed conversion, broad-breastedness, limited feathering (for ease of plucking), and other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement. Because of their rapid growth, they reach a market weight of five pounds (live weight) in six to seven weeks.

However, most pastured poultry producers  today use the Cornish crosses because they are readily available, not because they are ideally suited to rearing on pasture. Many of the characteristics that make the Cornish cross broiler strains good for industrial con-confinement production are not well-suited for alternative production systems. Many pastured poultry producers see the Cornish crosses as having weak legs, excessive rates of heart attacks, a high incidence of congestive heart failure (ascites), poor foraging ability, poor heat tolerance, and other liabilities when raised on pasture. While most producers value their rapid growth, others find it unnaturally fast. In most pasture-based production systems, Cornish crosses usually produce a five-pound bird in eight weeks. Keeping the birds longer than eight weeks and allowing them to get larger can contribute to even greater leg problems. While most pastured poultry producers in North America raise the same fast-growing Cornish-and White-Rock-cross broilers used in conventional confined production, many producers are interested in alternative genetic types that may be more suitable for outdoor production or for niche markets. 
If you believe there was misinformation printed from the articles posted above, please contact the writers, researchers, patent-owners, breeders, geneticists, and Wikipedia, to make those corrections.  
#1. Cornish Cross are Genetically Altered and Genetically Engineered
#2. Designed for rapid growth
#3. Not suitable for pasture, free-range or forage rearing
#4. Not suited for alternative production (organic, pastured, free-range, foraging etc.)
#5. Weak legs - excessive rates of heart attacks, high incidence of congestive heart failure, 
#6. Poor Foraging!!
#7. Poor heat tolerance
#8. And other liabilities, when raised on pasture.
#9. The original cross was plagued by problems of low fertility, slow growth , and disease susceptibility,
#10. The full chicken genome was published in Nature, in December 2004. Today, all primary breeding groups are investing heavily in genomics research. This research mostly focuses on understanding the function and effect of genes already present in the breeding population. Research into transgenics — removing genes or artificially moving genes from one individual or species to another — has fewer prospects of gaining favor among consumers.[18]

In Your Opinion? 
Is it  animal cruelty to grow these birds outside of their intended element?
Is it an ethical source of meat? 
Should it be considered a healthy bird to be selling as organic, or similar?
Is it a Paleo-diet chicken?
Is it something we should be feeding to our families, and paying top-dollar, because it is grown by a small family farmer vs. a Commercial farmer?

Here are some wonderful, old fashioned heritage breeds of chicken, that are multi-purpose, and dual purpose breeds, perfect for any farm or family choosing to grow free-range, foraged poultry, with access to pasture. These are some of the white feathered breeds that we slow-grow at Rainbow Ranch Farms. We grow many heritage breeds, and feather do not effect the quality of the meat LOL-LOL! 
Remember, these breeds will take longer to grow because they are REAL chickens! Just click on the photo for clear details. 


  1. Great info thank you!

  2. Why are white feathers desired for meat breeds? Is it for ease of dressing? Flavor? Appearance?

    Great post, thank you.

    1. White feathers are more desirable for appearance. Most people are not accustomed to seeing red, brown, red etc. pin feathers, and may be turned off by that. Heritage breeds take a little bit more work to remove feathers vs. the commercial meat-breeds, but it's worth it. I hope this answered your question.