They say that “blood runs thicker than water”; well, in the case of poultry, it also runs deeper than feed or environment. While most feel secure in the animal welfare standards of organic and pasture-raised poultry, they don’t realize that the single most important thing one should consider when buying chicken or turkey is the bloodlines these animals come from. Should you buy hybrids or heritage? If you want to make the world’s best chicken soup, there’s only one way to go.
Heritage chickens are those to have maintained their original bloodlines from before the 1940s, when scientists started using a revolutionary new breeding technique called hybridization for the creation of single trait (meat or egg) poultry. While a heritage chicken grows to an average weight of 3 lbs in 16 weeks, the modern meat hybrid, aka the Cornish cross, will reach an average of 4 lbs in only 5½ weeks. This radical new form of breeding allows for incredibly efficient growth and egg production rates in commercial chickens but greatly sacrifices animal welfare and flavor in order to make this possible.
Hybrids are riddled with health problems and chronic pain. Five percent or more will regularly experience a slow and painful death from heart or organ failure because they cannot cope with their body’s pace of growth and many will go lame. The hybridized breeding stock, a topic I will discuss more fully in the future, must continue to grow to sexual maturity in order to hatch new chicks. Since they are meant to be slaughtered months before this the breeders grow to a tremendous size and experience the most horrendous and disturbing suffering of all. Also since meat hybrids are bred for fast growth with little attention to flavor and because they must be butchered at such a young age, they have little taste and a strange and spongy texture.
Cornish crosses were bred to live in closely controlled air conditioned environment with a constant cocktail of medication and antibiotics. With the growth of pasture raised poultry many have started to put hybrids on pasture, despite their being ill equipped to deal with outdoor life. When raised outdoors Cornish Crosses regularly struggle to breath and get around in even mild heat and will regularly die in mass during heat waves. Meanwhile well-meaning consumers are flocking to pasture raised poultry not knowing the truly nasty places their birds are coming from.*
When searching for heritage don't be fooled by organic certification or claims of pasture raising. Unless the chicken or turkey you're buying is certified as heritage you can assume it comes from hybrids. You can find some national and local purveyors of heritage meat by using the resources section of my blog. But when it comes to kosher, heritage is entirely unavailable. Kosher readers of my blog will have to try to find a local shochet (kosher butcher) to help shecht, process, and kasher some locally sourced heritage birds if they would like to recreate this recipe.
Chicken used to be an expensive, special, and somewhat gourmet food. Modern breeding methods have changed it to an everyday, bland one. Unless we are ready to recalibrate how we purchase and cook poultry, these problems will persist. What consumers fail to recognize is that the animal welfare issues of today go much deeper than choosing free range or organic. With the ability to control evolution and genetics, our power over animals is almost godlike. We must consider every piece of an animal’s existence including the breeding, raising, transport and slaughter; or in other words from cradle to grave. Only when we take all this into account will we be able to make the world’s best chicken soup, the recipe for which you can look forward too next week!
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.