Jim Adkins brought his Sustainable Poultry Network clinic to San Luis Obispo this week. About a dozen enthusiastic poultry people came to get his advice and encouragement.
This is important work, helping people who are committed to bringing heritage chickens and turkeys to the market succeed. It's no small task -- the cost of raising a Cornish/Rock cross for six weeks is much less than raising a Barred Rock or a Jersey Giant for sixteen weeks or longer. But the public is ready to pay the difference for a better bird that they are confident is humanely raised.
Jim made the point that Cornish/Rock cross birds are not humane birds. They can't walk or breathe well and are in constant pain. Allowing them out on 'pasture,' whatever that may mean, doesn't make any difference to their unhappy lives. They still grow too fast for their bones to support them and suffer from heart and circulation problems. They simply aren't birds that can live any other way besides a short life in confinement.
Another of Jim's points about Cornish Rock crosses that also applies to hybrids such as Freedom Rangers is that they are not sustainable or local. Because they are hybrids, they can't reproduce a second generation, a point I've made in this blog and in other writings. The grower is tied to a supplier who will sell them chicks each year, ship them in from some other place. There's nothing local about them.
"Our goal is to never ship another chick," he said.
I agree completely, but in the interim, I won't condemn the good in favor of the perfect. I used my own experience to assure these breeders and growers that if they feel that they need to spend a season raising Cornish Rock crosses or Freedom Rangers, they should do it. Having a couple of Cornish Rock crosses years ago, the legacy of a high school class project for one of my daughter's friends, educated me in ways hearing about them never could. I observed them sit by the food dish and eat, growing ever larger, until they simply died. I put them in the garbage.
We all learn from every experience. I know there are a lot of poultry growers who are profoundly disturbed by the work they now find themselves doing, as the farmer in the documentary Food, Inc. recounted.
Chef Steve Pope also attended. I'll write about his work tomorrow.