Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Joel Salatin and Cornish Rock Crosses

Congratulations to Joel Salatin on being honored with a Heinz Award,! It is well deserved. This pictures of me and Joel was taken last year at the Society of Environmentalists tour of his Polyface Farm,

One change that I see in the future for Joel’s operation is to raise traditional dual purpose breeds rather than the industrial Cornish/Rock crosses he now raises for meat. Although they convert feed to meat far faster than traditional breeds, they do not contribute to a sustainable, humane farm.

Audrey E. Kali, Ph.D., who teaches in the Communication Arts Department at Framingham State College in Massachusetts, is making a documentary on the subject, exploring whether the Cornish/Rock cross is innately inhumane.

Joseph Marquette of Yellow House Farm in New Hampshire,, says “We are a heritage poultry farm, which would therefore be the polar opposite of the Cornish X. I should say, to orient you to my point of view, that I have little or nothing positive to say about Cornish X. Of course, from a rather compartmentalized point of view, I can recognize the scientific achievement represented in the breeding. However, as a food source, they go against everything I feel should be the nature of good farming.

“Indeed, in our classes on poultry homesteading, they are what I offer as the clearest example of industrial poultry cruelty, in conjunction, of course, with broad-brested white turkeys and factory layers.”

Harvey Ussery has written on alternatives to Cornish Rock crosses,,

The central issue is that Cornish/Rock crosses can barely walk, because of the rapid muscle development and poor bone growth, they are unable to forage for themselves, and their immune status is unclear but unlikely to be very vigorous. They are pathetic living creatures, suited really only to sit by the food dish and eat until they die.
"The Cornish Cross is often an unhappy bird indeed," reads the caption on this photo, taken by Pamela Marshall, posted on "This one shows the fast-growing, hefty body conformation for which this hybrid was bred. But it also reveals the too-common crippling leg problems, lethargy, and filth on the undercarriage that results from sitting on its belly by the feed trough most of the day."

I didn't have any experience with them until my daughter was in high school. We'd always had traditional breed chickens, but the school had done some kind of experiment with chicks and when it was done allowed the students to take the chicks home. One of my daughter's friends wanted to keep some, but she lived in an apartment and didn't have a place for them. So we invited her to keep them at our house, in with our chickens.

I was astonished to watch them. They literally hobbled over to the food dish, ate all day, got very large and died within months. I'd never seen a chicken do that.

[It occurs to me that the problems we humans face, of being sedentary and eating to excess parallel the animals we raise for food.]

Traditional breeds take longer to reach table size -- four to six months -- but are able to forage, are sprightly and active, take an interest in their environment and generally are more well-rounded as livestock animals. Many chefs and consumers prefer them for their flavor and the texture of the meat.

Three Cheers for Joel! Now, about those chickens…


Homegrown Evolution said...

Hey Christine,

Excellent post! Cornish Rock crosses are just another symptom of a broken agriculture system. As much as I respect Salatin, you ar right to call him out on this issue.


TXsharon said...

You got to meet Joel? Lucky you! Lucky him too! ;-)