The chickens you see in the header are not my chickens, if only they were. No, these chickens belong to the Fortress of Louisbourg, and from what I can tell, they are a Mille Fleur variant of some breed of heritage chicken. Aren’t they beautiful? I snapped their picture three summers ago, little suspecting that my life’s path would lead into the country.
Let’s see if I can condense months of research and prayerful rumination into short concise points:
- The chicken meat we purchase at the supermarket are all Cornish Crosses which, if they’re actually able to mate can’t reproduce Cornish Cross chicks. The only people that can reproduce Cornish Cross chicks are those who work at Tyson Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, and other large corporations depending on the country. That means anytime a farmer needs more Cornish Crosses, they can’t breed their own but must purchase them, a wholly unsustainable practice, and makes lots of money for those large corporations who carry out so many morally questionable practices.
- The Cornish Cross were bred for fast growth, and can be processed in 37 days compared to the normal processing time of 126+ days depending on the breed. The Cornish Cross grows more rapidly than its heart, lungs, and other vital organs can handle, thus they frequently die of respiratory and cardiac failure. They also grow too fast and too big (particularly the breast muscle, which is where the money’s at) for their pelvis and short legs and often can’t even walk but waddle or just sit, or their legs are simply broken from its weight.
- Chicken farms that supply meat for major corporations and thus the supermarkets house the Cornish Crosses at a density of about 25,000 chickens per warehouse. Usually one worker would look after about three of these warehouses. Because of this overcrowding and unnatural environment, the top beak of the chicks are either grounded or melted shorter than the bottom beak, which research has shown to cause acute pain for the chicks, so that the chickens won’t peck each other to death. The overcrowding and poor immune system of the chickens also require vaccinations and medicated feed in order to prevent the spread of diseases.
- A chicken that lives and dies in 37 painful and distressed days while eating highly processed and medicated feed, which by the way contains genetically modified corn and soy that has numerous known and unknown deleterious effects on the environment and human health, can’t possibly be good for the people who eat it.
- Even at the local farmer’s market, the only chicken we can buy are Cornish Crosses. They may have lived in better environments out of doors and on green pasture, but they still grow way too fast and can’t walk and breathe right.
- Eggs we buy at the store come from hens packed into battery cages, each one living on less space than an 8.5×11 piece of paper for 2-2.5 years before their egg production drops and are slaughtered. Due to overcrowding, these hens are required to undergo the same treatments as the meat chickens. All male chicks from the commercial egg production strain are killed en mass as they don’t lay eggs and are not good enough to be meat chickens.
- If the egg carton advertises its eggs as “organic”, it means the hens were fed non-medicated and non-GM but still highly processed feed, and still kept in battery cages. “Free run” eggs mean they’re not kept in cages but on the warehouse floor, and “free-range” eggs mean the warehouse must have some sort of access to an outside area of a specific size, neither has anything to do with the feed they get. Even if each hen gets more space than in a battery cage, it is still much too overcrowded in my opinion.
It’s not just the poultry industry, the entire food industry and agri-business is off kilter because it is founded on all the wrong motives. Basically, we want things cheap, easy, and fast, regardless of the sanctity of animal life, our all-important role as stewards of the resources we’ve been given, and that healthcare is costing us more every year.
But hey, I’m no purist. I still succumb to the temptations of McDonald’s once in awhile, and right now we still buy meat from the supermarket. I loathe to do these things but I realize that change does take time, so we just do our best one step at a time.
Steps we can take:
- If you’re permitted to own a few chickens in your backyard for meat or just for eggs, go for it. If you’re not allowed, find like-minded people in your area and speak to local government representatives to change the existing bylaws.
- Try to buy your meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit from local farmer’s markets. Get to know the farmer, find out how their animals are raised and how their fruits and veggies are grown. Ask lots of questions and support the local farmer.
- Ask farmers at the local market if they sell heritage chickens instead of Cornish Cross. It’ll likely be very hard to find, but if enough people ask for it, things just might change! Vote with your dollar!
- Grow your own vegetables in your backyard, or even your front yard, in bins and flower pots, bags and glass jars.
- Try to buy organic where you can. To be certified organic in Canada, fruits and vegetables must not be genetically modified and must not have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and livestock must be fed organically grown, non-genetically modified and non-medicated feed, as well as no hormones allowed.
- Try to decrease the number of times you eat out, and find restaurants that support local farmers.
Rather than thinking of yourself as someone who is against all the things that are wrong with our food industry, think of yourself as someone who is for food that is healthy and wholesome because it has been raised and grown by loving stewards whose desire is the health and wellbeing of his livestock, his customers, and the earth.
So which chicken breeds am I dreaming about? That will be the subject of another post!