In 2014 we are offering around a dozen varieties of heritage breed broiler chickens. The industry standard breed–comprising a full 90% of the chicken market–is the Cornish-Rock Cross (CRX), a genetically obese hybrid created for the sole purpose of growing quickly and cheaply. Our heritage breeds, however, are slow-maturing, vivacious, healthy birds, and with a long and varied history to boot. What follows is a partial list of breeds we have raised.
Dominique – Developed as early as the mid-1700’s, and largely considered America’s oldest chicken, the Dominique is a beautiful black-and-white barred bird with a rose comb. Though they are a bit smaller and less feed efficient than some of the other breeds, the Dominiques have their own plusses. In his book Talking Chicken, Kelly Klober states that the Dominique is reported to have a flavor reminiscent of pheasant.
White Plymouth Rock – Originating in the United States in the 1800’s, the White Plymouth Rock is a large, common barnyard breed developed from the Barred Plymouth Rock. Its white feathers and relatively quick growth led it to be used in the development of the Cornish-Rock Cross (but we won’t hold that against it). Typically considered a good converter of feed to muscle mass. For us, the White Rock is the benchmark against which the other heritage broilers are measured.
Naked Neck – Of Eastern European origin, the Naked Neck is quite easily the oddest of our assortment. Also known (unfortunately, in our opinion) as “Turkens,” the Naked Necks get their name from the fact that they, indeed, have no feathers on their neck. Not only do they lack neck feathers, they have up to 60% fewer total feathers compared to other breeds. Since feathers are composed largely of protein, and protein is the highest cost component of a feed ration, the Naked Neck is therefore an economical converter of feed to meat.
Silver-Laced Wyandotte – A popular dual-purpose breed originating in New York State, the Wyandotte was named after the Indian tribe of the same name. They have a unique body shape that more closely resembles the large breast of the Cornish-Rock Cross than most other heritage breeds. Docile, easy keeping birds.
Speckled Sussex – Believed to have first been bred in Britain around the time of the Roman invasion of AD 43, the Sussex is an ancient breed indeed. They are known for having perhaps the finest quality meat of any chicken (and our blind taste tests confirm that they are, indeed, delicious). These are beautiful birds, and we are really excited about the possibilities with this breed.
New Hampshire Red – A dual-purpose breed traditionally used primarily for meat rather than egg production, the New Hampshire Red was developed entirely from Rhode Island Red stock in the early 1900’s. By selecting Rhode Island Reds for quick feathering, growth rate, and early maturity, the New Hampshire eventually emerged as a distinct breed. We expect these to compete with the White Rocks for most efficient meat chicken.
Buff Orpington – Another bird of English provenance, first bred in the late 1800’s, the Orpington is raised more commonly as a laying breed, but as a common barnyard fowl we felt that it deserved to at least be considered for meat production. These are incredibly docile, pleasant birds, and can almost be raised as pets.
Delaware – The newcomer to the heritage chicken world, the Delaware was developed in 1940 by George Ellis. At the time Delaware was a hub of poultry production and its namesake chicken was heavily used as a market broiler for a few years before the advent of the industrially-raised Cornish-Rock Cross.