Oftentimes we’ve been asked the question “Which chickens are for meat and which are for eggs?”
The short answer is that currently there are laying-type, meat-type, and dual purpose-type or utility chickens. Just like dog breeds exist because they were originally kept for specific purposes in specific places in the world, the same goes with chickens. Only there’s three uses for chickens- laying eggs, fighting and ceremony, and meat. While all chickens can be eaten for meat, for millennia the chicken’s primary role globally has been fighting and egg laying. Typically male birds were separated from the hens and fattened for the table. Today, chickens are raised primarily for meat and eggs in large indoor operations in flocks numbering in the thousands.
For the long answer:
It is important to understand that chickens and other poultry are the most efficient converters of grain calories to ‘food.’ In the past, chickens did not generate wealth like livestock (literally living wealth) did and were looked down upon in the past as peasant food. After all the chicken is still a staple and necessity for subsistence farmers and peasants around the world.
So how did we get to chicken being the most widely eaten meat in the US?While the processes of agricultural intensification, selective breeding, and industrial agriculture began on 18th century English agricultural estates and primarily focused on cattle, sheep, and to some extent pigs, chicken farming did not begin its transformation until the early 20th century on the East coast of the United States. The meat chicken of today is a very recent innovation created by poultry companies for ever-increasing profit. For an in-depth look check out this this article in The Guardian explaining much of the recent history of the industrialization of meat chicken farming in the United States.
A very important piece missing in the article is the role of women in chicken raising in the United States. Until the industrialization of chicken farming, almost all chicken farmers in the US were women, and in the South there were many successful Black women engaged in small flock raising. The industrialization of chicken farming can be seen as a gendered and racialized takeover of women’s economic agency in agriculture.
Since mid-August, we have been raising 180 medium growing hybrid broiler chickens from Moyer’s Hatchery in Pennsylvania (see link here). This variety of chicken offers a compromise between the fast-growing Cornish Rock hybrid created by poultry companies and the traditional chicken of rural and peasant communities around the world.
The person accustomed to the Cornish Rock Cross would find a ‘traditional’ chicken somewhat of a disappointment because they have much less meat (the muscle- remember organ meat is delicious, extremely nutritious, and most respectful to the life taken!). A person accustomed to ‘traditional’ chickens would find the Cornish Rock Cross packed with meat, but devoid of flavor, mushy (overly tender), and make a lackluster chicken stock. We chose a broiler hybrid that falls in the middle- slower growing means more flavor for soups and broths, and faster growing means a meatier bird. Because they don’t develop metabolic and joint issues and are less sensitive to weather conditions these chickens can be raised much longer, do better on pasture-based systems, and experience a quality of life similar to a ‘traditional’ chicken.
We raise our chickens in mobile pens on a half-acre section of white clover. White clover is both relished by the chickens and is quite nutritious. Since the chickens are moved every day, we distribute their manure across the entire half acre section, leaving it fertilized and replenished for future crops. We have both pullets and cockerels, with the cockerels being on average about a pound larger than the pullets.
Our birds will be 4 to 6 lbs at $7 per pound. This means a bird could be anywhere from $28 to $42. Because they take longer to grow to size we have to feed and take care of them about three weeks longer than conventional broilers. This explains the higher cost. They will be available chilled (not frozen) for pick up at the farm on Thursday October 29th between 3 – 6pm, and available frozen thereafter. We recommend you age the chicken in the fridge for at least 24 hours before eating, this ensures it becomes tender. We are also letting twenty live longer for a processing workshop at the farm on Sunday November 22nd. We expect these to weigh between 6 – 9 lbs.
Cornish game hens
Cornish game hens are the same conventional broiler chicken raised throughout the global food supply. The only difference is that are typically processed at week 4 or 5 instead of the typical 8 weeks! In fact, for every two pounds of feed given to these birds, you get one pound of meat. Bred over the years by poultry companies for a larger breast size and more white meat, these birds unfortunately develop health problems later on in life if you let them reach maturity. But with hatcheries running out of stock, we secured these birds quickly, and as we are processing them early on, they won’t experience any health problems. In fact, out of the 200 day-old chicks we’ve ordered, we currently have 201 of them!
They are happy and tame and friendly! We’ve been throwing them bugs at night, and when one latches onto one, the hen immediately tumbles down the pen, dodging other chicks that are quick to take advantage of the situation. That is, until the running chick is blocked by a team of four or five, loses control of the bug, and it’s snatched up by another – who then runs with the bug the opposite way, and the game is on!
Our first batch will be available FRESH for pick up at the farm on Friday, August 7, between 5 – 8pm. We expect these hens to be between 1.5 – 2.0 lbs. Our second bacth will be available FRESH for pick up at the farm on Monday August 17 between 5 and 8pm. After that, our hens will be available FROZEN, and can be picked up at the farm or delivered with your CSA.
Out on pasture in our mobile pens they are filling up their bellies with white clover we planted for them in early April. This (and the critters such as grasshoppers and moths) supplements their diet of certified organic chicken feed, consisting of primarily corn, soybean, wheat and minerals. Every morning (and eventually every afternoon too) we carefully move their pen onto a set of fresh clover, ensuring a clean and hygienic environment as well as a whole new clover salad bar.
Our Mixed Flock of Layers
- Rhode Island Reds
- Midnight Majesty Marans
- Sapphire Olive Egger