Why would anyone pay $18.00 for a skinny chicken when you can get one in the grocery store for $5.00? Well, it depends a lot on what is important to you, I suppose. Here are a few of the reasons I am raising them.
Sustainability. Grocery store chickens are a breed called Cornish Cross. They grow insanely fast. They are made from a four-way cross where two breeds are crossed, another two breeds are crossed, and then the offspring of those two crosses are crossed together, or so I am told. Only a few places in the WORLD create these crosses, and the thousands (millions?) of eggs they produce are sold to hatcheries that then hatch them out and sell them to the growers. You can’t grow more chickens like them. You have to buy the chicks every time.
Healthy birds. I raised approximately 150 Delaware (heritage breed) chicks this year and only lost one on the first day, apparently being trampled in the waterer. The Cornish cross last year were a different story. Out of 50 chicks, I lost five in the brooder. Then when they were about seven weeks old, I started losing two a day for the next two weeks. They mostly died of heart attacks, and even the ones that lived to the processing date had ascites and were wheezing. They only wanted to sit by the food and eat. I’m not going to say more about the Cornish Cross. I’m just going to stick with the heritage dual-purpose chicken from now on.
Healthy food. My Delawares live outdoors on grassy pasture. They eat plants and bugs in addition to the food I give them. The food is specially made for me and is non-GMO and low or no spray. It is the best food that I can obtain. Grocery store chickens are raised inside buildings with no more space than a piece of notebook paper (even the ones called ”free range”). There are thousands of birds in a building. They are fed the cheapest food the grower can get away with – how else could they sell for 99 cents a pound? And they only have to be fed for about six weeks, since they grow so fast that they would start dying beyond that age. Some chicken growers have stopped feeding arsenic to their chickens, but others have not. The arsenic is fed to them to reduce parasites and help the chickens grow even faster. Does the arsenic get into the chicken meat you eat? Yes it does.
Age. I have already mentioned the age of a Cornish cross chicken at processing time. Heritage birds take a lot longer. Instead of six weeks, it is five months. Therefore it is much more costly to get them to your table. But there are benefits to that age. Many people feel they have more flavor. Certainly they have had more time to develop flavor. I just cooked one of my Delawares tonight. It was tender and tasty. I wondered if I could really tell the difference by flavor, and to be honest, at first I didn’t notice much difference. Then I had a piece of skin from the leg of the chicken. It was divine! Yes, that kind of flavor is definitely better.
Dual purpose. Do you know how many little newly hatched chicks get killed every day? When an egg laying breed of chicks hatch, most people only want the females. Since the hatch is approx. 50/50 male/female, one baby chick is killed for every one that gets sold! It is a waste of life. And with the meat chickens, many growers only want the males, since they get bigger than the females. So they go the other way, and the females get killed, although some growers take the straight run. So the Delawares I raise are a dual purpose chicken. The males are good to eat, and the females are excellent layers of large eggs. How can it get any better than that?
So if you really like large breasted chickens that are tender if a bit lacking in flavor you probably will be happier with a grocery store chicken. You will save money. If some of these other issues resonate with you, then try a pasture raised heritage chicken. You’ll feel good about it.