Heritage breeds are becoming very rare, and endangered. This can further damage and stress the ecological system, and eventually we will not have nature’s varieties that are so important to maintaining natural balance.
Factory farms have become enormous, and today 99% of all chickens produced for food are a genetic mutation that barely reflects old fashioned chicken breeds. The genetic alteration of chickens through excessive breeding, and removing and adding specific genes, has developed a chicken that produces a mass of white meat, a chicken that grows 1.0/lb. for every 2.0/lbs. of feed consumed and ready to process in about 3-5 weeks from date of hatch. The fact that any chicken can weigh 4-6/lbs. in 5-6 weeks from date of hatch is a true testament to science, and technology, and should be considered very impressive. Ref1>Details
As a poultry breeder, I know from years of experience that most chickens do not even begin to fully feather in 5 weeks, so to actually be ready for processing, is incredible.
Factory chickens come by many names such as, Broilers, Hubbard, Ross, Cornish Cross, Black Broilers, Indian River, White Broilers, Arbor Acres, Red Broilers, Freedom Rangers etc. There are a few companies that specialize in poultry genetics, and I have had the pleasure of communicating with some of them. Ref2> Aviagen is well known for their extreme poultry genetics, and make no secret about their advanced capabilities to genetically manipulate specific cells, and genes to produce a chicken that fits perfectly into the factory farming system, with great success.
These types of birds are man-made, and not a natural chicken. They are designed by avian geneticists, to be fed a formulation of corn, soy, wheat, barley and other types of genetically modified, and cheap grains that we have come to learn are harmful not only to the environment to grow, but can also be the focus point of many allergic reactions and health issues.
Factory chickens are not sustainable! They do not reproduce, they are very poor egg-layers, and often have a compromised immune system requiring a medicated starter ration, vaccines, antibiotics and must be butchered or culled before 12 weeks otherwise their immune-deficient organs and weak bone structure can cause them to suffer broken legs, heart attacks, upper respiratory infections etc. but, they grow really fast on cheap grains, and can get as big as 10-12/lbs. and that translates into a whopping profit. Ref3> Details (ASPCA)
Whether these types of chickens are grown by small family farmers, large factory farms or as U.S. Commodity chickens, it does not change the facts. Factory farm chickens are NOT designed for the free-range; they are designed for factory and confinement growing conditions. They DO NOT forage, and certainly do not perform well on ANY pasture or outdoor-based system. In fact to force them to grow outside, on a pasture based system could be considered cruel and inhumane.
NOTE: I use the words "Pasture based" when referring to poultry only because it has become a term that the majority recognize. There is no such thing as "pastured chicken", and I do not like making that reference, especially since real chickens are opportunistic foragers.
Heritage birds are old fashioned or newer breeds, which follow a standard. They may breed true, be natural breeders, and some hens of heritage breeds make good mothers, others are good egg layers, many will set eggs, raise their young and forage well. The roosters are strong protectors over their flocks and heritage birds will range all day. They can fly and often protect themselves, and their young against some flying predators. They are sustainable and do not require artificial insemination to produce eggs or offspring. They roost high at night, because their poor night vision makes them a terrific meal for larger animals. Factory farm chickens can barely walk, let alone attempt to fly up onto a high roost for safe roosting. Ref4> Details (by Dr. Kevin Veterinarian)
If it is a question of size, know that some heritage breeds can reach very heavy weights, it just takes longer.
Some people may argue that factory chicken breeds are no more than just cross breeds, thus should be considered a heritage breed. Not only is that insulting to the companies that have spent millions upon millions of dollars on poultry genetics, but it is completely incorrect. You cannot cross a pure-breed English White Cornish with a White Plymouth Rock and develop a commercial Cornish Cross, which breeds true, or grows 1.0/lb. for every 2.0/lbs. of feed consumed. If it were true, all small family farmers would be doing this, and so would the factory farms. No, these genetics and gene alterations have been going on for many years, and eventually we will have a big broiler chicken that is ready for processing in about 2 weeks from date of hatch. That is not cross-breeding.
Heritage-breeds grown on free-range will thrive, especially when offered healthy forage and freedom to hunt, as their natural instincts demand. Heritage chickens are direct descendants of Jungle Fowl, and they originated in the jungles. They are not a pasture based animal, never were and never will be. It is simply not scientifically true, and it's unethical to insinuate that a chicken can thrive on pasture. It does not have a rumen, it is not a horse, cow, sheep, or goat thus NOT a pasture based animal.
FACT: Chickens are omnivores just like their ancestors. Ref5> Details
Jungle fowl are basically the original "Neolithic" chicken.
Malaysian and Indian Jungle fowl take 2-3 years of slow growth to fully mature, they stand 2.5-3’ tall at maturity. Domesticated chickens derived from Jungle fowl, and are their direct descendants. Heritage chickens take a slow 5.5-6 months to fully mature, and depending on breed, elevation, living conditions, food and water quality, terrain and environment the hens may begin to lay eggs as early as 4 months old, from date of hatch, that’s a slow 20 weeks. Ref6> Details
I am a Jungle Fowl breeder, and I can say they are very slow, to the tune of 2.5-3 years to mature. I grow a wide variety of heritage old fashioned chickens, as well as a heritage crosses. The olive-egger is not an old fashioned heritage breed, but I know breeders that are working to develop an olive-egger that will breed true. An Olive Egger is a cross breed that is produced by crossing almost any dark brown egg-laying breed (Barnevelder, Marans,or Welsummers) with a blue, green, pink egg-laying breed (Ameraucanas, Araucanas). The hens of these parents will produce an egg which resembles a green olive. But it is not a mutant bird, nor a petri-dish bird. It still behaves as a chicken with all its natural instincts intact. This is how many specialty or signature breeds are developed, and sometimes improved. Ref7> Details
Production layers where designed to produce eggs as early as 10-12 weeks from date of hatch, and production meat-breeds were designed to grow fast, and big with cheap grains, in controlled housing enclosures. Production breeds are just that, a breed designed for increased production (eggs or meat, but not both).
Most commercial broiler type chickens are lazy by default through genetic wiring; the laziness helps to prevent them from burning calories, and thus not waste food on burning calories.
Heritage chickens are independent, and free. They actually thrive on insects, worms, bugs and grubs. They love to groom one another, molt, dig holes and take dirt baths, they fly, roost high, mate naturally, lay delicious eggs, fight, establish a pecking order, brood their eggs and hatch their baby chicks, and most of the breeds make excellent mothers. In addition, heritage chickens make a wholesome, delicious and most importantly, nutritious meal for the family dinner. They are naturally slow-grown, which makes them loaded with high proteins, healthy fats, strong bones for broth and stock, and if offered a species-specific fodder, appropriate range, and proper forage, they are LOADED in Ref8> Ω-3 Fatty Acids! But grow very slowly, as nature intended, and NOT very profitable in comparison. ref9> Details
Petri-dish chickens, commodity chickens, Franken-chickens, mutant chickens & genetically improved production breed broilers all have their place in factory farming and within commercial and subsidized agricultural systems.
Money is very hard to come by, and it does not grow on trees. Every penny earned which is applied to food, should be used to source wholesom