Chicken Choices

Introducing a new breed - more choices for you

Posted on Oct 17, 2018 by Jack McCann

New Chicken

For the first time, TC Farm is offering a cornish cross chicken option. I felt compelled to share a bit more of a story about these new chickens... I hope you'll read the full story below:

Short version:

  1. We now offer two kinds of chicken. The new less expensive Cornish Cross and our premium Red Rangers
  2. The Cornish Cross breasts will be $10 per pound vs $16 for our Red Rangers
  3. Taste and Health: our regular Red Rangers are notably better
  4. Environment: Our Cornish Cross wins by a beak
  5. We had to work extra hard to ensure the Cornish Cross birds would meet our high welfare standards -- their genetics make this difficult.

Check out boxes #345, #346, #347 available now for November ordering and look for some Cornish Cross chicken deli meat in 2019.

Key Differences

We knew this was a big experiment and that we would probably make adjustments next year based on the feedback we received. Overall, I am super happy with how it turned out.

Respect

I was pleased with how well our plan worked and solved the health and welfare issues with Cornish Cross chickens (which was the original driver for us to start TC Farm).

Check out the video below to see how healthy and active the birds are. Trust me, this isn't normal for Cornish Cross chickens.

Environment

The Cornish Cross birds are raised exactly the same as our Red Rangers - they just have a feed restriction to keep them healthy. So the day to day environmental impact is very good for both breeds.

However, the Cornish Cross birds eat less grain and provide more food vs. bones for that grain. This means fewer emissions for the grain harvest, handling and processing. It also means more food can be raised per acre.

So if the environment is your primary concern, consider ordering the Cornish Cross birds from us - they are the most environmentally friendly bird out there!


Taste

There simply isn't any comparison on flavor. Our Cornish Cross birds are much older (and thus flavorful) than the 6 week grocery store birds. Our Cornish Cross birds are 10 or 11 weeks and our Red Rangers are 13+ weeks.

Hands down, the Red's slower grown provides tastier food... it is rather dramatic.

You might prefer the texture of the Cornish Cross birds, but for my taste, the Red Rangers' firmer texture is better.

Health

Our Cornish Cross birds are healthier than any others I have seen. They just look great. Even though these birds were active and foraged well, they still do not forage like the Red Rangers. It seems clear that the Red Rangers are going to be more nutrient dense than the Cornish Cross.

So if health is your number one priority, stick with the Red Ranger packages.

In the beginning

One of the reasons I got into farming was because I wasn't happy with the options I had at the farmers' market. Sure, everything sounded great and I imagined how perfect everything must be after reading several Micheal Pollen books... but when I went to tour the farms and volunteer for the day, the reality wasn't what I had hoped it was.

Don't get me wrong, everything was better than the 'factory' farms.... but beyond the beauty of the pasture and neat little rows of chicken tractors, I was heartbroken seeing how the animals actually lived.

You see, the main problem wasn't external to their chickens, it WAS the chickens. Their Cornish Cross chickens were the same genetics used in those sad chicken factories and they just weren't able to take care of themselves outside... it wasn't in their nature.

On that farm the chickens had grown so fast that they were missing feathers and hardly could walk. The result was anything but a respectful life... they were genetically inhumane.

That experience is what drove us to build our hobby farm so we could raise a better breed of chicken to feed our family.

We were blown away by the health of our slower growth birds and the flavor of the resulting food... We never looked back or considered raising those cheaper birds.


Until Now

I am really proud of what TC Farm has become.

We, a group of purposeful consumers, have shown that 'no shortcuts' is sustainable from an environmental and financial perspective. We are growing and building something great.

However, I have struggled with the reality that our only chicken offering was significantly more expensive than every other product out there. In reality that means we are not serving everyone we could in our community.

It may not be obvious from the outside, but TC Farm is significantly more efficient than the regular grocery store food. It is the only reason our food is remotely competitively priced. Click here to learn more

Our distribution/retail costs are dramatically lower and most of your payment goes directly to raising higher quality food compared to just a small fraction that goes into farming costs for a retail store.

I realized we could use our efficiencies to offer a new chicken option that would be better than nearly every other chicken available, but would cost about the same as the 'factory' organic chicken you'll find at the grocery store.

We just had to figure out how we could avoid the pitfalls I had seen at the farms I toured a decade prior.

Genetics Matter

Cheap

The reason you can buy a conventional chicken for practically nothing is really a long complicated story. But the farming side boils down to two genetic advantages the 'factory' birds have:

  1. Cornish Cross birds convert almost all of their feed into meat - they eat almost half the amount of food as our Red Rangers
  2. Cornish Cross birds are double breasted and have very small bones - they have 50% more breast and 30% less bone.

The combination of these dramatically lowers the price of the meat. In our case, this represents a 60% savings for the breast meat.

Seriously: The genetic difference was that much of our chicken cost. That's why almost nobody else bothers to raise the higher quality birds using organic feed.

Problems

Cornish Cross birds are efficient, but they are genetically designed to just sit in front of the feeders and eat as much food as possible to make them grow super fast and cheap.

As you might imagine, this creates all kinds of health and welfare issues. In order to do better, we had to slow their growth down in a way that worked for them.

The grocery chickens are only 6 weeks old at processing because they grow SO fast -- this is way too young to have really any flavor at all. Not good eats for sure....

It is actually pretty hard to find factory organic chicken in the grocery - even most co-ops don't carry it.

The plan

We did a fair amount of research - it turns out the Cornish Cross birds don't HAVE to eat all that food... they just... well... they just do.

If they eat a better diet, their growth is more balanced. They are healthier and happier.

The females are also often 'discarded' by industry because they grow slower.

We decided to save those females and restrict their feed a bit so they enjoyed a healthier and more respectful life.

One set of birds were provided free choice feed, but really far away from their main shelter. This caused them to get a lot of good pasture access running back and forth and also slowed down their eating schedule quite a bit.

The other set were fed twice a day instead of continually. They were closer to their feed source, but that food ran out in the middle of the day.

Video

Here are a few clips of the Cornish birds running around and a bit of the Red Rangers. See if you can find just when they catch some bugs for a snack! Their full feathers and active personalities are completely different than what I observed when I toured farms raising Cornish Cross birds 10 years ago.


Comments (1)

  1. Paul:
    Oct 30, 2018 at 02:24 PM

    Jack - what an excellent, well thought out post describing a complex issue. We’re so grateful that we have deep thinkers taking a hard look at our food system.

    Also, congrats on managing to get CX to act like anything other than food-hoovering zombies.


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