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Monster chickens

Posted by sushipup (My Page) on
Sat, Feb 15, 14 at 17:32

What's happened to chickens? In the Tyler Florence recipe, he uses 3 pound chickens. All the chickens I see now are 4# and up. Chicken breasts now serve two instead of one per person. The thighs are now as large as the breasts used to be.

I'm not talking about roasting chickens, etc, just plain ol' whole chickens and parts.

When did chickens start growing so large?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Monster chickens

Ah, yes, the "frankenchicken". They are mostly something called the Cornish Cross or Cornish Rock Cross. They are bred to have heavy thighs and breasts and grow to 6-8 pounds in 8 to 10 weeks.

They are the strangest thing I've ever experienced. They will sit at a feeder and eat until they have a heart attack and die. They grow so quickly that their unnatural weight will break their legs, which are too weak to support them and the rapid growth taxes their hearts, lungs and joints. They cannot breed normally, as the breasts are too large, and so would be extinct in a single generation if left to their own devices.

I raised a batch last year and mostly felt a bit spooked at how quickly they grew and sorry for the poor things, with breasts so big they were ungainly and it was difficult to walk. They develop sores on their hocks from sitting because it's too difficult to walk about with those huge breasts.

I did put the water on one end of their pen and food on the other so they had to walk back and forth and had food available to them only 12 hours per day, instead of round the clock. Although my birds didn't grow as fast, I avoided leg problems in all except one bird, and experienced only a couple of the "squawk and flop" incidents, which is what the farmers call a heart attack because the bird tends to squawk, then flop over dead.

Critics also claim that the meat is bland, as they are slaughtered at such a young age that there is no time for muscles to properly develop. In my opinion, it tasted better than commercially available chicken, but not like one of the roosters that we ate at about 6 months. I got a couple of "extra" chicks when I bought laying hens (a common occurrence to make up for chick mortality), and they were roosters, so we ate them. They were thinner and leggy, but tasted better than the short, fat Cornish did.

Cornish Cross make up the vast majority of meat chickens in the US today and if something happens that negatively affects the health of a breed already plagued by health issues, well, the chicken market is going to have some real problems. Not much bio-diversity there...

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

Ugh, that is so disturbing.


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RE: Monster chickens

Yes, alex, it is disturbing, as is much of the commercially available "food" produced by the agribusiness giants. (sigh)

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

So we can almost set a date at which the major commercial chicken processors (Foster Farms here) started using these? That would explain a lot, how what was available at the store all of a sudden (or so it seemed)

Jim says the chickens are more like 5 plus pounds now, I haven't been paying attention.)


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RE: Monster chickens

The type of broiler cross has been around since the 60s or 70s, but chicken has only gotten this popular in the last decade or so. Chicken surpassed pork in popularity in the late 80s and surpassed beef consumption in the 90s. So the demand for more and more chicken has required the production of bigger birds that are ready for market more quickly and feed conversion must be efficient.

That's how the Crosses became so popular, as the demand grew companies began using them more and the other birds less, because it took too long to raise the traditional breeds.

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

After reading this, I'm so thankful that I have a local, small grocer that only carries 3-4 lb. whole chickens. That is the perfect size when cooking for 1 or 2, and they will even cut the chicken in half for me for free!

Teresa


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RE: Monster chickens

I recall several years ago seeing the recipe for sticky chicken, which calls for 3 pounders. I asked here where to buy such small birds and was told Walmart, IIRC. I always buy the smallest chickens I can find, they're usually labeled fryers rather than roasters, but I think they still push 4 pounds. I'll pay more attention next time. My preference for fryers is because they seem to stand a better chance of not being pre-brined. Not totally sure on that one as I'm unclear on exactly what "retained water" means.

Look in the rotisserie and you'll see that obviously these little guys are around. But they're in the rotisserie, not on in the poultry case.

I can buy farm fresh poultry locally, at a price. I've never bought chicken from them but should probably give it a try. I buy duck from them at a premium for a special meal, but I have a hard time driving further and paying more for chicken. I guess I'm half afraid I'll find out it's worth it!


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RE: Monster chickens

I was about to say the same thing. The three pounders and below are all on the rotisserie in my grocery store. It really infuriates me that I am forced to buy a larger chicken than I need, We used to have roast chicken every Sunday but not anymore.


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RE: Monster chickens

We have raised these and they are very sad to watch. The layers are running around, laying eggs and being chickens and these cornish crosses are just eating machines.

We put their food out far from the chicken house so they will be forced to walk and have only lost a few before the 8 weeks we would have them. Ours only got to be 3/4# and only a few seemed to have leg problems - those we would have to take food to. We raise our own because we know what they eat - only reason. They are certainly cheaper to buy.


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RE: Monster chickens

Point proven to me today when I cooked my really big BS chicken breast. I grilled them before preparing them for a casserole; I tasted a piece--wow--no taste what so ever!


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RE: Monster chickens

Smaller chickens, aren't they Cornish hens? 3 times the price.

dcarch


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RE: Monster chickens

I've never been a huge fan of chicken. In my dieting days it became a standby because of leanness, but I really doctored it up with spices/herbs. I've embraced a different way of eating and am not so concerned with lean vs fat. I want flavor.

I had the BEST chicken, in my entire 40ish years, at Victoria and Albert's in Disney World. It was Poulet Rouge Fermier from Joyce farms. I realized, with my first bite, why people started eating chicken in the first place. A transcendent experience from start to finish. I want chicken like that every day! Now to win the lottery and hire a chef of that caliber :)


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RE: Monster chickens

in the 80's , a friend of mine used to buy capons from a farmer, they were around 6 to 8 pounds, and they were delicious. Could those big chickens be capons ?


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RE: Monster chickens

You can buy in a Chinese store (NY):

1. Regular supermarket chickens.
2. True free range chickens with heads.
3. Old chickens.
4. Silkies.
5. Quails.
6. Squabs.
7. Partridges.
8. Different kinds of ducks.

dcarch


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RE: Monster chickens

  • Posted by arley 7b/8a SC (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 17, 14 at 9:29

Mitch, those big chickens you see nowadays aren't capons. (Unless, of course, they are labeled as such.) Caponization is a technique where young cockerels are neutered. (Analogous to making a young male bullock into a steer). The process allows the neutered rooster (now called a capon) to grow big and fat, with tender flesh, while having the developed flavor that only an older chicken has. As far as I know, it's only done in one factory in the US, and some countries (UK, I believe) have outlawed the practice. Compared to an ordinary chicken, the capon has to be fed far longer to reach market weight, so you'll notice that the price per pound of a capon is about three times as much as regular chicken. I'll often roast a capon instead of a turkey for a holiday feast, especially if it's a small gathering. The taste is better, the meat tender, juicy and succulent.

You might want to try finding a capon; all the ones I've seen are frozen, I've never found a fresh one. Expect to pay a premium for it, but it's worth it, just like rib roast costs more than eye of round.

A century ago, caponization was a common practice on a self-sufficient farm. Roughly half the chicks born were male, so they were converted into something edible rather than having a plethora of roosters on the place. (Or, you could let the boys grow up a bit and make them in to coq au vin. Try as I may, I haven't found a rooster to cook, so I have not made true coq au vin--although I've heard that the legs of a free range turkey are an acceptable substitute) Nowadays, one of the more specialized positions on a chicken farm is the chicken sexer; this person takes a glance at the undersides of young chicks and determines their fate. A female chick gets to live for several weeks until it is large enough to harvest; a male chick is tossed into a grinder.

This post was edited by arley on Mon, Feb 17, 14 at 9:47


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RE: Monster chickens

My great grandmother tried her hand at capons for income. She got the hang of it, eventually, but lost a lot of birds at first.

Funny story about her when she first got married. She had tried to make bread and it didn't rise. She didn't want her new husband to know that she had wasted anything in her failure, so scattered bits of dough in the garden to hide it. He comes home in the afternoon, runs into the house wild-eyed. "Veronica! You've got to see what's growing in the garden!" He had no idea what the big, white, puffy things were. Poor woman had to fess up!

That Joyce Farms place I mentioned sells capons. $50 a bird!


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RE: Monster chickens

Don't forget the fertilized eggs with the embryo growing inside! I don't know how long they let the embryo grow before it is ready to eat - I think before it has feathers. Anyone here know what these are called ---- and has anyone eaten one? burp.


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RE: Monster chickens

Balut.

A Philippine delicacy.

dcarch


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RE: Monster chickens

My understanding is balut is duck. There was an article on CNN just a few days ago.

Here is a link that might be useful: CNN article


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RE: Monster chickens

Also chicken.

dcarch


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RE: Monster chickens

Yes, maybe the chicken eggs are called something different but they do definitely eat fertilized chicken eggs in certain countries. burp.


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RE: Monster chickens

thanks for the capon info, I'll have a look for them.


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RE: Monster chickens

Yup, looks like it can be chicken, too, although a vast majority of google hits seem to reference duck.

Anyway, Capon is something I've eyed many times but never tried. Arley (or anyone) would you say the taste significantly different from your typical supermarket chicken?


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RE: Monster chickens

FOAS, I've only roasted them plain with butter, salt & pepper, etc., but every time I serve it to a guest they do notice a difference.

By the way, our discussion of the Herter cookbook made me look for my copy; I haven't yet found it, and I may have to buy another copy!


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RE: Monster chickens

Breast is my least favorite meat on the chicken, so bigger chickens that are proportionately more breast meat is unwelcome to me.


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RE: Monster chickens

I've said before, I wish our CIA would quit overthrowing governments and do something truly useful--like stealing some prime breeding stock of those French blue footed chickens from which they grow ' poulardes de Bresse'. Unfortunately, the French know what a prize they have in those chickens, and guard them more diligently than masterpieces in the Musee d'Orsay. No exports allowed. In the article at the link, a heritage chicken grower notes “The French are nutty about them,” Bradshaw says. “They will give nuclear secrets to Iran, but god forbid you export a live Bresse chicken.”

There are some chickens available that are the opposite of Cornish Cross; they develop more slowly so the chicken has a more normal development, and they take longer to come to market weight. I'd pay a premium to a farmer that raised them, but the economics of the situation would make it hard to compete against Tyson and Perdue.

Here is a link that might be useful: rare breeds


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RE: Monster chickens

" one of the more specialized positions on a chicken farm is the chicken sexer; this person takes a glance at the undersides of young chicks and determines their fate."

I used to work on a chicken farm and hatchery. When the chicks were hatched we'd sex them by spreading their wing tips. If the feathers were alternate lengths they were one sex, if they were equal length they were the other.


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RE: Monster chickens

This is off-topic but I saw a picture on Facebook last week of a duck being force-fed to be raised for foie gras.
I couldn't get that image out of my mind for days and woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the poor ducks.
To be tortured all in the name of the all mighty dollar.


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RE: Monster chickens

Jasdip, if I heard Mike Rowe correctly on Dirty Jobs, in some breeds you can sex the chicks by looking at feathers, but that apparently doesn't work well in all breeds.

Here's the inimitable Mike Rowe, onetime opera singer turned TV host, learning how to sex chickens:

Here is a link that might be useful: Mike Rowe, chicken sexer


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RE: Monster chickens

Isn't it true that roosters have an extra "toe" just above their feet?

dcarch


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RE: Monster chickens

A couple weeks ago I was reading about Ayam Cemani chickens which led me to wonder what happens to male chickens, which in turn led me to read about sexing chickens. I found an interesting article which I can't find right now, but as I recall many chickens are bread to have visible differences in the feathers right from the start. There are other fairly reliable ways to tell, if trained, like squeezing poop out of them and looking for some sort of bump in their "vent." Some breeds are harder to sex, including the Ayam Cemani. That's about as far as a few minutes of surfing got me. But clearly there was more to it than looking for an extra toe, at least at a young age.

edit - I didn't notice Arley's linke before posting. Nice job!

This post was edited by foodonastump on Mon, Feb 17, 14 at 18:47


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RE: Monster chickens

Well, FOAS, there is something called a "sex link", which means that a female is always one color, the male another. I've no experience with those, I tend to rely on the old heritage breeds rather than the newer hybrids, other than my foray into the world of the Franken Chicken, so I do not know if the chicks are different colored or if they are all yellow and fluffy.

Arley, I took a look at your rare breeds link. I currently have a Sussex, two Brahmas, two Wyandotts and two Orpingtons. They're nice birds, cold tolerant and friendly. However, they are not "breeding stock", they are just laying hens, so they don't cost the hundreds of dollars the elite examples do. Still, they cost me $6 for a day old chick and chick mortality is high, and I could get a plain old white Leghorn or Isa Brown for less than a buck.

The rooster we ate was a Brahma, a ice bird but at that point we had two roosters. Wouldn't you know, the other one promptly died!

I've never noticed a rooster having an extra toe, although as they get older they do develop a "spur" on the back of the leg. I've not been able to see it on a day old chick, though.

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

Fascinating discussion. I cannot contribute, but certainly do enjoy the information and experience you folks can share!


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RE: Monster chickens

We saw those huge chicken breasts at Sav-a-lot a few months ago. People were buying them like hot cakes. Not us. I was scared of them.


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RE: Monster chickens

If you are going to raise the big hybrid* chickens, you have to treat them like the commercial raisers do. They will be market size in under three months, they must have controlled food intake, and if you don't slaughter them soon enough they may die of heart attacks (because when a chicken is slated for market at three months, it's life span is not critical). You woin 't get long-lived "pet" chickens from this strain.

* Note: not "GMO" ... just some very selective breeding taking advantage of "hybrid vigor".


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RE: Monster chickens

I started raising my own chickens for meat last year after doing a lot of reading. I did it because I wanted to try my hand at raising meat, but I wanted to approach it the way I do gardening where I choose varieties for flavor as much as for anything. And I like knowing that not only do I know what the chickens eat, but that they have had a good life before. That is important to me not only from the standpoint of animal welfare, but also in regards to how it impacts my health when eating the meat. Your average grocery store chicken has a stressful life in sub-optimum conditions and eats sub-optiumum food. This makes a bird that lives its life marinating in its own stress-hormones and making lots of bad cholesterol, etc. Free-range birds with constant access to sunlight, green plants, insects, and a wide variety of seeds (not just corn and soy), etc tend to not experience stress and make much more "good cholesterol" and contain more healthy things like vitamin d and a than do their indoor cousins. It's like the difference between the unhappy person in a crowded area who eats only fast-food and the happy yuppie that plays tennis and eats for optimum health. I know which one I would want my body trying to convert into a healthy me!

But my purpose in sharing this was to share my experience in cooking the birds I raised rather than my philosophy in raising them, sorry. Long story short: I raised a breed called Marans because they are one of several noted for good flavor. I ended up with 3 roosters and 8 hens. The roosters were harvested at about 4 months (2 months older already than your average grocery chicken), one batch of hens at 5 months, and the final group at 6 months. The flavor in the chicken ranged from good to excellent and without fail the older the bird the better the flavor. Not only that, but when eating them they seem more satisfying than other meat. I mean, me and the few people we've shared the chickens with agree that it seems like you feel more full eating less meat.

So the end result- I no longer find monster-meat enjoyable to eat. It is beyond flavorless and the texture is too soft and strange to me now. It's going to be 6 months before I get to have any of my own to eat. A few people locally do have free-range meat for sale, but they are raising the cornish-cross also. A free-range monster is tastier than the grocery-store average but still not like a "real" chicken. *sigh*

PS although the dish is called coq au vin, I think it was more often made with an old hen who had outlived her prime laying days (you tend to have more of them around). The long, slow, low-heat cooking was neccessary to render all the tough connective tissue into gelatin, but the flavor and texture were supposed to be phenominal. That will be something to explore when this year's breeders time comes.


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RE: Monster chickens

sunnibel, good for you for making that effort. Sounds like you are following many of the precepts of France's Label Rouge program. The chickens have a healthy environment, and in return produce better food. Joyce Farms in NC does that, and someday I'll splurge on some of their stuff.

I get a tray of chicken breasts at Sams and they're huge; not much flavor, and i have to use a ton of spices to make them interesting.

Here is a link that might be useful: label rouge


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RE: Monster chickens

Arley- thanks! I know not everyone can do what we are doing, or even get their hands on chicken like that but it was a real eye-opener for me. Funny thing, though I live in a very rual area, not many do chickens for meat. If I lived just 2 hours north I would be in the middle of well-established organic meat farms all over the place. I did read about label rogue before starting our adventure.

Our final group of birds was so tasty with just a few thin slices of lemon under the skin and a little salt on the outside. Oh, I don't know if it helps anyone, but sometimes, if you come across birds that aren't cornish-cross they can be much more expensive simply because they have had to be raised for twice as long (or more) than the cornish-x. That's more feed and more labor to get them to size.


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RE: Monster chickens

sunnibel, I absolutely agree. If I had to eat commercial beef I'd give it up altogether, I don't like the greasy mouth feel from the overly fat beef and the conditions those poor animals live in offends me. My animals get 40 acres of pasture to roam about on, they're born on the place and I have a man come here for slaughter. They are never kept in holding pens, trailered, chased or hurt. They follow a bucket of treats everywhere and every bite of food they eat is raised on the farm, other than an occasional Hershey's kiss, which they love, and sometimes part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, shared by the Grandkids. No hormones, no antibiotics, no chemicals at all. They're healthy and happy just being cattle. Of course, I only have five of them, so it's easier.

I'm in a very rural area and no one around me seems to raise meat chickens either, other than me. It's too expensive, the grocery store birds can be purchased for less than it costs me to raise them, and many people are happy with a lesser quality product at a lesser price.

I know my Blue Slate turkeys costs me $34.00 each to raise, and that didn't include any labor. A Butterball would have been much cheaper, but not nearly as delicious, IMO.

I like Marans, BTW, and when I replace this batch of laying hens with young ones, I plan to get a couple of Marans, only because they lay those dark chocolate brown eggs which make a nice contrast in the egg carton. Yeah, I know, but the kids get such a charge out of getting blue and green eggs from the Aracaunas, dark chocolate eggs from the Marans, reddish eggs from the Welsummers, so I choose heritage breeds based on their cold hardiness, their docile nature and the color of eggs they lay.

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

Annie- Good to meet another meat person! Yes, the "cheaper in the store" thing comes up a lot, also when you talk of raising various vegetables. The thing is, I think, that most people think they are satisfied with the lower-flavor things in the store because they have never had different. That's part of why I try to get more of our fresh vegetables to our restaurant. People can't care about something they haven't experienced! I haven't figured out exactly what my chickens cost me, though a rough estimate was made and I remember being slightly over the cost of buying organic poultry from Wegmans. That was including all the start-up costs I amassed, so not too bad. But the real monetary value in them is that they are a big part of having my land classified as farmland and so they save me more in taxes than I think I can ever spend on them.

This year the breed is Dorking. They are nice birds, not as regular with the egg production, but that is good for us. We used to get overwhelmed with eggs quickly when we had the an-egg-every-day kinds. Calm, superior foragers, and with a nifty extra toe. I liked the marans, and those eggs are very pretty. They always seemed to have an extra gloss to them that made them look very smooth.


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RE: Monster chickens

When I lived with Bernard in San Francisco in 1982, he bought a live chicken in Chinatown, kept her as a pet and named her Debby. They would slaughter and pluck the chickens for you if that's what you wanted (and most people did), and that way you also got the feet. Markets in Mexico City sell chickens with the feet on.

I would also rather buy smaller chickens - I think I need to be more careful in my selection because the last one had almost no flavor, but I made tamales with it, and so it did not need much flavor. I may have left it in the crock pot too long, or maybe the crock pot was too hot. I eat more turkey than chicken, and I prefer dark meat because it has more flavor. Next time I cook something in the crock pot, I will use turkey thighs - that should make some good stock.

Lars


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RE: Monster chickens

When we would have our chickens processed for selling we would always bring the feet home to make the most wonderful rich broth you can imagine! Don't know why the feet are wasted.


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RE: Monster chickens

I work with special needs kids as a teaching assistant. Last year, student I was with was taking a class called Agri-Science. Class watched a documentary... I THINK the title was "Food, Inc.). An eye-opening look at HOW our food (beef, poultry, pork, etc.) gets to our supermarkets. Chickens (pretty much ALL come from P or T) are fed all kinds of stuff to make them so BIG, many can't even stand. Turkeys have to be artifically inseminated... they can't "do it" on their own cuz of size. Cows are few corn... cuz it's CHEAP and it puts weight on them quickly... but cows can't digest it very well.

Not a pretty picture.


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RE: Monster chickens

So sad. But many trying to feed a large family only look at price per pound.
In a small community with few choices you might just ask your grocery manager to source a better selection. Or search for a local farm that sells by pick-up. Could be a fun afternoon to visit a farm, especially with kids. Take a cooler and stock up on farm fresh meats.

All the chicken parts are used in some way. All my local groceries sell the paws. I always have a package in the freezer for stock or for dog treats. All ofal is easily found as well. If it does not sell, no demand for it, it will be sent to places that want it. (or ground up for something strange that needs meat mush)

DH recently made a mistake purchase. I had a few pkgs of ofal on the list. The 59cent a lb type. He reached behind on the shelf, not paying attention, and bought boneless, skinless thighs. Not just any happy chicken organic free range. Judging by the price, these babies were on holiday, single room occupancy, water views, room service. Yow they were pricy. Most of that price was probably deboning and skin removal. I usually do that myself.
I changed dinner plans and cooked them immediately. A braise and roasting. Far superior than most chicken available in a grocery. I looked up the farm on-line and it all made sense. Definitely on my list to visit this spring.


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RE: Monster chickens

Sleevendog
This is off-topic, but our local Krogers "butcher" told me that they cannot do anything (sell or donate) the trimmings from the meats they sell. All (bones, fat, skin, meat slivers) are thrown away! He said it is a public health or some such requirement. (Krogers does not deal with whole carcasses, just with standard cuts. But still. . . .)

I cannot imagine throwing away this good protein instead of making it available for pennies a pound for pet food or stock. He said they cannot sell it or donate it to local farmers or anyone at all.


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RE: Monster chickens

I watched the "Food Inc." documentary that klseiverd mentioned, plus another film about how chickens were jammed in tight cage, no sunlight & doused in antibiotics ... so unnatural and inhuman.

Thus for the past decade, I only buy Organic chicken & Cage-free eggs. This week I tried Phil's Cage-free eggs with highest amount of Omega-3, 660 mg per egg ... they are fed with flax seeds. THE TASTE WAS AWESOME ... better than my Mom's free-range eggs in her 5-acre land in Michigan. Normally I can only handle 1 boiled egg, but Phil's high-omega-3 egg was so good I could eat 2 per sitting.

I notice that the organic & free-range chicken has much less fat, so it was worth the extra money.

Here is a link that might be useful: Phil's free-range eggs in Illinois


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RE: Monster chickens

Strawberry, I'm going to caution you on the "cage free" eggs, if the conditions the birds are kept in are of any concern to you. Cage free only means that they aren't kept in cages, they can still have 10,000 birds crammed into a building with no access to the outdoors and no room to move about.

It's better than cages, but not the environment most people think of when they think "cage free".

I do supplement my chickens with a flax seed based feed to increase the Omega 3s in the eggs as well as the Vitamin E. I've not found a store egg from any company that tastes like the farm eggs from my chickens. I can tell the difference between mine and the Amish farm up the road. Theirs roam around like mine and get feed that they've raised themselves, but no scraps or extras, so it's got to be the supplements and the things like the outside leaves of cabbage and Brussels sprouts and apple peels.

Annie


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RE: Monster chickens

Yes, it is sad that even when you try to shop conscientiously you still cannot be assured that what you are getting is what you are looking for with terms like "cage free". The best is if you can find a local farmers market and find a real person you can talk to selling meat. Then you can ask questions about how they are raised, what breed they are, and anything else. Most are happy to tell you about what they do because they are proud of their product.


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