Fight Cruelty

Hear from the Farmers

Some farmers have witnessed how fast-growing chickens suffer, even when raised on pasture with space and sunlight. These farmers have made the decision to raise slower-growing chickens who are healthier, can move and express natural behaviors more easily, and have overall higher welfare.

“Genetics have played a large part in the industrialization of food animal production. Confinement animal production has empowered people to genetically alter livestock, especially chickens, into creatures that are only vaguely similar to the birds that were raised 70 years ago. We have successfully bred most of the chicken out of the chicken. A chicken in 1940, raised for 14 weeks to maturity, could fly. A chicken in 2010, raised for 6 weeks to maturity, struggles to walk. In natural conditions, and eating natural foodstuffs, herd and flock health is better. This dramatically lowers the need to use antibiotics. I am convinced that animals that are raised in high production factory farms would not survive to live a natural life expectancy, if they were spared from slaughter. I believe that most people’s life spans are shortened by sedentary life styles and obesity. I cannot understand why we think that human health is improved by eating animals that are subject to these same adverse circumstances.”

-Will Harris, White Oak Pastures, Georgia

Photo courtesy of White Oak Pastures, Bluffington, GA

“My findings with Jumbo Cornish Crosses [fast growing chicken] mirror those of people who are paying attention to their animals around the world. Having raised slower growing breeds, I can unequivocally state that the Cornish Crosses ‘just ain't right.’ From brooding through week 3, they have very little pasture instinct and are content to sit for most of the day, but will occasionally exhibit typical foraging behaviors. At week 3, this changes and they react to dense food sources in a different way. They literally sit until food comes to them. Really disturbing for someone who spends any time around ‘normal’ chickens. We've settled on a slower growing breed that take a little longer and don't quite produce the ‘breast implant’ proportioned breasts that many are expecting from the foam packs at the grocery store... but it's the right choice for us.”

-Bengt-Erik Norum, Three Birch Farm, Washington 

chickens in a shed
Photo courtesy of David Pitman, Mary’s Chickens

“Cornish Cross are the industry standard for meat birds in the United States. I recently mentioned I had switched to Freedom Ranger chickens and had several people ask why. Cornish Cross birds are a lazy bird by nature with an insatiable appetite. They basically sit, eat, and get bigger. These are admirable traits if the only goal is to produce a bird that grows very rapidly and produces a lot of breast meat. However, if you sit back and observe this bird for very long you realize these cleverly select traits come with a price. Research shows that these birds can gain weight at a rate faster than their skeletal system can bear. This shows up as lameness and even broken legs. Another trait of these birds is they suffer heart failure. You go to tend the birds, and find one stone dead for no apparent reason. More than likely it suffered heart failure. Because they are so selectively bred for certain traits it can lead to a compromised immune system. They are a fragile bird that was designed for huge agri-business to stuff in a confinement barn and feed sub therapeutic antibiotics to keep them healthy. The hatchery told me to limit-feed them so as to slow the growth rate down and help curb these health issues. I did limit their intake of feed, and to a large degree it worked. But I came to the conclusion you were basically starving them to slow them down! They are genetically designed to have an insatiable appetite. I raise Tamworth pigs on pasture and these birds make them look polite when it comes to feeding if they have run out of feed for any length of time…even on grass. I chose Freedom Rangers because after examining the facts I felt they were better suited to my model of farming and welfare standards.”

-David Fogle, Spring Hill Farm, Ohio

Photo courtesy of White Oak Pastures, Bluffington, GA

“After eight years of raising heritage chickens, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of heritage [slow-growing] chickens with fast-growing chickens. The first thing I learned is that you do have to restrict feed intake of the fast-growing meat birds. One of them died at a week of age. They already weighed 50% more than the heritage chickens at that point. Although the feed store gave us no information on raising them, I knew that many of the hatcheries advise you to provide feed for only 12 out of every 24 hours. They’re genetically predisposed to eat constantly and develop hypertension and heart disease. Of course, the industry didn’t want to develop a sick bird. They wanted to create one that gained weight really fast, so they could make money faster. The disease is a side effect of growth that outstrips anything nature ever intended. And that just begs the question, what happens to your body if you are eating an animal that is genetically predisposed to over-eating, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease?

-Deborah Niemann, Antiquity Oaks Farm, Illinois 

Photo courtesy of David Pitman, Mary’s Chickens

From an animal welfare standpoint a slower growing bird is a more humane bird. Raising slower growing breeds requires more labor and time and you don’t have the same breast meat yield but you also don’t have the lethargy and heart attacks you get with commercial breed birds. The commercial birds break down by the end of their lives, and it’s sad to put all that work into raising an animal and then watch them have difficulty walking and suddenly die of a heart attack. Slower growing breeds are just much more active and happier, healthier birds.”

-David Pitman, Mary’s Chickens, California