Tag: Frank Reese


Heritage Chicken Tour Takes Flight!

GSTR_ColumbianWyndotte

Heritage Foods USA is proud to announce our historic effort to revive 24 rare, heritage chicken lines and create an alternative market for non-industrially bred chicken.  We are partnering with Frank Reese, the country’s preeminent poultry farmer, to show our customers what real chicken tastes like.

Heritage Foods USA will offer a rotation of 24 heritage chicken varieties every 3 months starting immediately.  Numerous heritage breeds of chicken are on the brink of extinction and we must create a market for them by eating them. Heritage Foods USA is the only place you can taste these special heritage birds today.

Heritage chickens are breeds that have been around since before the industrial era.  Their genetic lineage has been preserved from genetic modification.  Heritage birds grow at a healthy rate, while industry chickens are genetically manipulated to grow at an unnaturally fast rate that is harmful to the skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the bird.  Industrial chickens are bred as dead end animals that cannot reproduce or survive on their own. 

chickens

Mr. Reese explains, “It is not the antibiotics. It is not the hormones. It is not the feed. It is the genetically engineered animal” that makes the difference in the poultry industry.  If we focus on animal welfare while ignoring the genetics of these birds, we are not changing a thing. 

Mr. Reese’s poultry not only look and taste different from commodity poultry; his birds have double the protein and half the fat.  He told us, “The skinnier the bird, the longer the leg, the darker the meat, the higher the nutrition. The bigger and fatter and plumper it is, the more worthless the meat is.”

Our inaugural breed is the Wyandotte of the Columbian variety.  This very old American breed of chicken was first exhibited in 1890 at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago.  There are fewer than four breeders in America who raise the Columbian Wyandotte to the true old standards, and most have fewer than 25 hens. We hope you will support our commitment to revive heritage chickens and establish an alternative poultry market.

The Chicken of Tomorrow needs to be the Chicken of Yesterday

GSTR_Chicks  GSTR_ManyChixBreeds

By Janani Lee

“The better the breeding, the better the eating,” Frank Perdue declares in an old commercial from Perdue chicken. He walks us through the breeds of chicken the Perdue company has raised throughout its history, listing the relative merits and drawbacks of the Barred Plymouth Rock through the Rhode Island Red, None of them, he claims, are up to his standards of “tender meat, plump breasts, [and] well turned legs.” So he had to develop his own. It is telling that a generation later, the breeds of these chickens are not nearly recognizable enough to be used in a television advertisement. In fact, the general pubic does not distinguish one breed of chicken from the next because they rarely encounter chicken that is not ready to cook or eat. The broiler industry came to rely on uniformity in size, growth rate, and behavior of its chickens in order to maintain a consistent supply for the consumer, and a bird was needed that could meet those specifications.

            Beginning in the late 1940’s, A&P Groceries sponsored the “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest for the “development of superior meat-type chickens.” The growing chicken industry sought ways to maintain and expand upon this boom by developing a chicken that would appeal to the consumer’s demands. The purpose of the contest was to find a “broader breasted bird with bigger drumsticks, plumper thighs, and layers of white meat,” which grew quickly with a high feed-to-weight conversion – a contrast to the slower growing, leaner hens that had been used mostly as laying hens in years past.

The chicken to come out of the contest victorious was a Cornish and White Rock cross-breed, which has been further refined by the broiler industry over the past few decades for “rapid growth, efficient feed conversion, broad- breastedness, limited feathering (for ease of plucking) and other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement.” Most commercial and pasture raised chickens today are Cornish crosses, with breeding companies (many of them vertically integrated into meat producers) cross breeding to produce specific traits in male and female lines whose offspring is an ideal meat chicken. This crossbreeding also means that the offspring of the resulting chicks will not be true to either parent, protecting the breeding companies’ genetic research. While these crosses serve the meat industry well, they are far from the optimal breed of chicken.

chickens           Food Inc (2009)

Commercial chickens reach market weight of five pounds live in four to seven weeks; compared to the sixteen weeks it took in the 1950s. The physiological changes include the distribution of muscle mass (most of their weight is now located in their breasts) and the digestive and nervous system shift to give the birds “an insatiable appetite.” This bulky, hungry bird is highly susceptible to stress, cardiovascular failure, skeletal problems, and poor reproductive capabilities. One study showed that a modern chicken’s heart muscle was less developed than a heritage breed chicken of the same age and hypothesized that the “modern selection has diverted resources originally destined to maintain balanced heart growth into increased breast muscle mass.” The same study goes on to link the early development of the chickens’ livers and the increased length of their intestines to their need to metabolize feed quickly.Because these chickens are slaughtered at an early age, most of these health issues pose only a limited problem, but when other farmers raise the birds on pasture, the weak hearts and legs become more apparent since it takes longer to bring them to market weight. These farmers are showing a renewed interest in purchasing heritage breed chicks that are more suited to be raised on pasture.

       Heritage chickens are defined by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as recognized Standard breeds of chicken that are “naturally mating, long lived, and slow growing.” Standard breeds are not crossbred and the offspring breeds are true to the parents, allowing farmers to maintain the genetic lines of their own flocks. Breeds like the Jersey Giant or Columbian Wyandotte can reach market weight in sixteen weeks, while some slower growing birds can take up to 24 weeks. Most of these breeds are also adequate egg producers and will live for up to seven years. They have healthier immune systems and are adapted to life on pasture, including the ability to forage for insects. While they are not as efficient at converting feed to muscle, their hearts grow at a proportional rate to their bodies and their skeletal structures are strong enough to support them.

            It is necessary to preserve heritage chickens that are not being farmed by the poultry industry for the same reasons that advocates work to preserve heirloom seeds: biodiversity. Industrial broiler chickens have been bred to grow quickly and efficiently and not do much else. They do not breed, lay, brood, care for their offspring, forage, or grow like chickens have since they were domesticated 8000 years ago. They lack the genetic diversity that would allow them to adapt to a change in their environment. Unlike plants, however, the genes that dictate these traits cannot be preserved inertly in a seed bank. They survive only in living birds and the only way to ensure their continued existence is for farmers raising them. These heritage breeds require increased feed and a longer growing period, meaning that farmers either need government incentives or increased market demand to ensure that they remain economically viable. There is a niche market for heritage chickens and they can sell for a higher price, but that market needs to be expanded. Increasing market demand also brings up a culinary aspect of chicken – as the biodiversity of chicken breeds narrows, we loose variations in chicken flavors. While this loss is unquantifiable, cultural history gets lost when flavors are no longer valued and when chemical additives in fast food replace natural variations in flavor. The philosophical question also needs to be considered: what we view the chicken itself as – an easy source of animal protein for humans or an animal in its own right. Though humans have been subtly altering chicken’s genetics for centuries through domestication and hybridization, it is only in the past few decades that this has resulted in the vast dominance of birds that are not healthy past eight weeks old.

Columbian Wyandotte

ColumbianWyandotteHen

We are about to begin our Heritage Rare Breed Chicken Tour here at Heritage Foods USA and could not be more excited about working with preeminent poultry farmer Frank Reese to revive these breeds. In the coming weeks we will post more info, recipes, stories, and videos about the project, but we wanted to start with an introduction to our inaugural breed: the Columbian Wyandotte.

This very old American breed of chicken was first exhibited in 1890 at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago. Wyandottes are hearty birds that can stand up to cold temperatures and are know for their good disposition in flocks. The Columbian Wyandotte is a medium sized bird with a white feather body and contrasting black and silver neck and tail plumage. There are currently fewer than four breeders in America who raise the Columbian Wyandotte to the true old standards, and most have less than 25 hens.

Columbian Wyandottes are good for frying and are sought after for their fine texture, taste, and healthy lipid fine yellow fat. Like all heritage poultry that are pasture raised, they have well developed legs and wings that respond best to slow cooking at a low temperature.

Stay tuned for more info and recipes!

Heritage Chickens: A Year-Round Treat

Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch is widely regarded as the premium provider of heritage turkeys, and Heritage Foods USA relies on the genetic integrity of Frank Reese’s birds each and every holiday season. But did you know that the Reeses also produce genetically pure, delicious chickens year-round? These heritage breed Jersey Giant and Barred Rock chickens come from a long lineage, akin to those your grandparents may have eaten growing up prior to the industrial era.

The Jersey Giant chicken was developed between 1870 and 1890 by John and Thomas Black near the town of Jobstown, New Jersey. These typically mellow chickens are impressive in size, reaching 10-13lbs at maturity, making them the largest purebred chicken breed in existence. The commercial standard developed for poultry includes a rugged gigantic frame, with an angular shape, single comb and black shanks. Reese chose to raise Jersey Giants to illustrate the diversity of heritage chicken breeds. The Jersey Giant is a slow growing bird: it takes 24-28 weeks to reach market weight, as compared to the Plymouth’s 16-18 weeks. With such a long growth period, these chickens often fall short in the eyes of the commercial industry to more rapidly growing birds. Currently, there are fewer than 5,000 Jersey Giants in the U.S.; however, with its large size and silky, rich meat, this is the perfect chicken for roasting. Dress it simply to taste its natural flavors.

Cooked Jersey Giant
A Jersey Giant Chicken, cooked low and slow

The Barred Rock, a variety of the Plymouth Rock (or simply “Rock”), originated in the United States and was admitted to the APA Standard in 1874.  They possess a long, broad back, a moderately deep, full breast, and yellow skin. Developed in New England in the middle of the 19th century, the Barred Rock was first exhibited as a breed in 1869. This breed is considered a dual-purpose fowl, meaning that it is valued both for its meat and for the hens’ egg-laying ability. The breed gained popularity very rapidly due to its hardiness, docility, broodiness, and excellent production of both eggs and meat. In fact, until World War II, the Barred Rock was the most extensively kept and bred breed in the United States.

As with all heritage products, Heritage chickens are humanely raised on open pastures, providing them with a healthy lifestyle and lots of exercise. This method of raising livestock yields a larger muscle-mass, and for this reason, heritage fowl require a cooking low and slow cooking technique.

 

 

Page 2 of 212