Meet the mutants. Our cute little yellow chicks have become these hideous creatures. The last time we raised meat chickens, we used Buff Orpingtons, which are a beautiful, heritage breed. These guys, though, are Cornish Crosses, the breed that's raised in commercial chicken houses and accounts for 99% of the chicken consumed in the U.S. The Cornish Cross has been selectively bred to mature quickly and grow giant breasts. Because they're ready for slaughter by about 7 weeks, these have been much cheaper to raise. (As commercial farmers would say, "they have a great feed conversion rate.") But . . .
1. They're dumb. Ours are sheltered, so this isn't a problem for us, but one farmer that I read raised Cornish Crosses free-range alongside heritage breeds and walked the field after a rain only to find the Cornish Crosses had drowned in the rain. In fact, their resilience has been bred out of them nearly altogether. They don't fare well outside and much prefer the temperature-controlled chicken house.
2. They're single-minded. All they want to do is eat. You have to ration their feed, or they will eat themselves to death. We lost one last week on a day when there was really no other explanation.
3. They get so fat so fast that they have all kinds of health problems, including heart failure and hypertension. In fact, if not slaughtered soon, their legs will not be able to support the weight of their enormous breasts. As of now, they basically stand up only to move from feeder to waterer and back again.
When I walked up to take pictures, they stood up because they thought I was bringing them more food. When they have no food, they're likely to peck John as he attempts to remove or put in their feeders. And, in the absence of food, some of them seem to have become carnivorous, pecking on their neighbors until they bleed and develop weird holes in their flesh. Disgusting, huh?
Because one of them had an injured foot, we went ahead and slaughtered one early. She had quite a bit more meat than the Buffs we'd slaughtered previously. The rest of the gang is scheduled to meet their ultimate fate on Friday.
Despite how much cheaper these birds are to raise, I'm undecided about them. I guess I'll reserve final judgment until after we've slaughtered and eaten a few. Check back in for that later on. ;)