Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meat birds

Meat birds. The name says it all.

These unfortunate critters were bred for one--and only one-- purpose. We thought it'd be easier to make the transition to raising and eating our own meat if we started with birds like this. No names. No distinguishing characteristics. They grow quick and big and "The Meat Chickens" is about all we ever call them.

That said, we were warned by farmers far more experienced than we that meat birds were "Gross" critters.

Oh, sure, we thought, gross. Maybe that'll make the whole process a little easier on the psyche....

I'm not sure that's been the case. Our"Cornish Rocks" are gross; they waddle a few feet and flop down, exhausted from the effort. They lie in their food and eat 'til it's gone. They poop lying down! Not a pretty sight, I'll tell ya. And their feet... at 7 weeks, their feet are looking a little worse for wear. Tough job supporting a big ol' hunk o' bird. What's worse, "meat birds" appear to have little in the way of a social life. They sleep, lie down, and eat (Often all in the same place). They lack that indescribable poultry charisma that we so love and appreciate.

There's no helping them, either. I endeavored to open the door and let them wander the barnyard but realized pretty quickly that, however gentle the incline, the poor things couldn't climb the ramp back into their coop!

Now, I understand the basic tenets of farming, chief among these being the selection of desired traits through careful breeding. But there is something kind of ugly about a result like this. Yes, they gain weight like nobody's business and waste no energy on frivolous endeavors such as um, anything. But what sort of life is that?

When these chickens reach full size and are slaughtered, will I be able to say that I provided them with "a good life"? I'm not sure it's even possible! And, as one of the reasons we are raising our own meat this year is to assure ourselves that we are humane in our omnivorousness, these behemoths don't quite fit the program. A breed that so cleaves to its purpose that it has no other qualities... well, that's an ugly thing. Not humane at all.

It makes me wonder about the role our own genes play in, well, everything, because for sure we are all bound to some degree by our genetics, perhaps not as obviously as a bunch of meat birds lying face down in their food dishes, but bound nonetheless. How can you tell a critter like this to "Rise above it, Bud. Get your act together and live a little"? Well, you simply can't. That said, we are a great deal more self aware than a Cornish Rock (Perhaps not quite as self aware as we believe we are...)

Okay. I'm ranging (free ranging?) a little far from chickens here, so, back to the birds:

We have a few "Dark Cornish" chicks as well. Dark Cornish are "meat birds", but not exclusively or obviously so. They are lively and healthy and chicken-like. And although they grow much more slowly and never reach the crazy, leg deforming weight of these "meat birds", they seem a possible alternative. Next year, perhaps we'll stick with dark cornish.

Or, if we have sufficiently developed our farming calluses (Not farming callousness...) we'll go with "dual purpose" breeds, birds meant to lay eggs AND produce meat. Many heritage breeds are dual purpose, and we have quite a few hens that would qualify.

But I'm not so sure about starting dual purpose chicks for the freezer. After all, we've named all our dual purpose hens and chicks along with the layers. This year's batch are "Gabe, Alyssa, Amidge, Amelia, Melissa, Spotty, Lulu, Blackie, Golda, etc.
Here they are, happy chicks doing happy chick things:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. I too, find the genetically programmed meat birds unfit for my farming philosophy. Have you had a chance to try any other breeds....any suggestions?

P said...

Hi Jen,

We tried cornish last year. Our cornish rooster, Otto Longlegs, produced many crosses with our home flock, but we didn't end up eating them. And honestly, our cornish don't seem much more "meaty" than our egg-layers.

What we ended up doing for meat was raising a few extra turkeys and freezing them for later in the year when we had a hankering for poultry.. and eating lots more lamb and pork.