There are environmental and animal rights groups constantly talking about the horrors of conventionally farmed chicken. After years of being a blind consumer, I opened my eyes and realized that there was a problem. I have approached the problem in a way that is pretty unique among my peers.
The vegans want me to give up meat. Unfortunately, I would starve. I am allergic to just about every plant based protein you can name. I also become violently ill when I eat seafood and conventionally raised meats. What is the answer? Raising my own or eating very expensive organic purchased in the shops. I chose to raise my own.
Of course, say the chicken enthusiasts, if you are going to raise your own, you need to use the Cobb or similar chicken. These creatures grow 2 -3 kg in 8 weeks. To do that, they pretty much sit at the feeder and eat. Any wandering around, exercise or time spent out enjoying the sun slows their progress. Neither the farmer for profit or the ravenously hungry chicken want that. And from an environmental perspective, it's a disaster. So, I raise my own but I use the traditional heritage breed chickens.
There are advantages and disadvantages to my approach. First, the chickens take much longer to grow to a good food size. The studies say that my heritage breeds are not as efficient at converting the food they eat into body weight. I cannot argue this point. I have raised both but I did not measure the food intake of the chickens from birth to processing. From distant observation, it seemed that the hybrid meat birds ate more because they were never full. All they did was eat and sit. But I didn't have them that long so maybe, in the end, they were more efficient.
The advantage of heritage breeds are:
1. The hens of heritage breeds are highly sought but no one has ever figured out how to hatch only the hens so the roosters are surplus and something has to be done with them. In New Zealand, and, I am sure in the US, irresponsible breeders drop these poor birds off all over the highways and in every park where they compete with the native wildlife for food causing a bigger environmental impact than responsible farming. On huge factory type hatching farms, the male birds are disposed of at birth. Still not an acceptable means of getting rid of unwanted male birds.
2. The roosters can be used for soil building and improving the environment if handled correctly. I have mine in mobile coops. They scratch, poop, and eat just like the hens in the other mobile coops. The hybrids would be offended at having to move away from their feeder and in most farms that raise meat birds. The clean up after the birds have moved out is a high energy activity and the resulting waste is sold as compost. My birds compost as they go and there is no energy output required.
I don't particularly like breast meat. The marketing world went crazy when the first Cobb meat bird hit the stores. The chicken was huge and most of the hugeness was in the breast. People were leery of these strange looking birds. Then, along comes the low fat dieting craze. The breast is the whitest, driest, least fat portion of the bird. You MUST eat boneless, skinless chicken breast if you want a long, healthy life. Some people like that. I never did. While my birds weigh the same as the commercial birds, they have smallish breasts and largish legs. My favourite part.
But, they also have bigger, heavier bones so there is less of them to love. If you are following a whole foods diet and believe in the health benefits of bone broth like I do, you are in luck with a heritage breed chicken. Because they are older and more developed, there is more mineralizing in their bones. The bone broth is rich and delicious.
Over all, I believe that heritage breed chicken is a more flavourful chicken with a more appealing texture. To each his own I suppose but I'm not alone.