|What you lookin' at?|
Let's talk a bit about breeds ...
The commercial industry has settled on a few specific breeds (mostly cross-breeds, as you'll see). They grow fast, are very feed efficient, and put on a lot of weight very quickly when fed a very specific diet under very specific conditions. All birds are handled the same so typically the variation in weight is very small. If you've ever spoken to me about commercial vs. small farm, you might hear me refer to the commercial grows as "factories"; and in this regard -- growing animals to be identical size and weight in a given time period -- this is ideal factory production. The conditions that these occur in aren't always the greatest, but that's another post for another day.
Typically, these are the breeds that are used, and you've probably seen them before:
Turkeys: Broad-breasted white
Chickens: Cornish-Rock hybrid
Ducks: Jumbo Pekins
|Broad-Breasted White Tom (male) Turkey|
|Cornish-Rock hybrid chickens|
I mentioned hybrid vigor a moment ago, and it's certainly something worth explaining if you don't know what it is. Hybrid vigor (also referred to heterosis) is, in short, combining two breeds with some similar qualities to receive an offspring that exhibits an excess of those qualities. In this case, Cornish and Plymouth Rocks are both considered heavy birds. By combining the two, the heaviness is expressed more in the offspring than in the parents. You can read the Wikipedia article for some explanation of the genetics behind it and theories on exactly how it works, but the key here is that most of these breeds of commercial birds are the result of genetic manipulation -- just not the laboratory kind that we often think of when we hear the phrase. This isn't something new, it's something that farmers have known for a long time and is used in all forms of animal husbandry. (We even use it in the rabbit we will be selling as pet food: crossing two meat breeds of rabbits generally give large offspring.) Commercial industry may have made it easier by doing it in extremely large numbers, but it is nothing new at all.
We plan on using this strategy for our sheep. Currently we are raising a breeding flock of Katahdin sheep, a breed developed in the mid-1900s. They were bred to be hair sheep, which I'm sure we've discussed on here before, parasite resistant (big deal for sheep) and good at meat production. When time to breed for meat, however, we will bring in a ram from a non-hair breed, such as a Dorper. Also known for meat production, Katahdin/Dorper crosses will grow faster and exhibit a lot of the same health qualities found in the individual bloodlines. The University of Maryland Extension office has a great article on this method of hair sheep breeding.
|Welsh Harlequin ducks|
Please do not read this as commercial breeds being something to shun. Small farmers who raise these breeds (for chickens, just "broilers") tend to provide them with better feed and conditions than they receive in the commercial industry. Our Cornish-Rock chickens, while they may grow large, receive plenty of time in the pasture and look fantastic. The turkeys may have issues walking but are otherwise in good health. The ones we have processed and cooked for ourselves were lean and tasted delicious in the end.
So, what does HighTail Farms raise?
|Birds ... birds, everywhere...|
Not long ago we purchased some regular Pekins to mix in with the flock and recently separated the flock so that we have only Welsh Harlequin, Cayuga, Swedish, and Pekin drakes mating with the mixed hens. We will begin incubating soon, an in a few months will likely do another selected breeding. Welsh Harlequins are known to have tasty meat and the Harlequins, Cayuga, and Swedes are a good size. Although we have a mixed flock we should have some purebreds come from this mixture; a good thing considering most of those breeds are considered "critical" or "threatened" under the American Livestock Breed Conservancy watchlist. While some people may emphasize raising one breed, we are hoping that the mixture of breeds may result in some mixed-breeds that benefit from hybrid vigor. In the future we may settle on a few select breeds, but for now we enjoy the variety.
We have a small group of Red- and Silver-Laced Wyandottes and Ameraucana hens. These are considered heritage breeds, and known to be good egg layers and broody hens. Originally we were looking for a source of eggs (for ourselves) and something to perhaps do some hatching and raising of ducks for us. A couple of months ago we purchased and raised a small group of Cornish-Rock crosses, and decided it was not something we would do again. Some grew so fast they could hardly walk -- you may remember Kaela's post about this not that long ago (the one that looked like a late Marlon Brando). We decided to experiment and will be keeping one rooster from the Cornish-Rock crosses to breed with the Wyandottes and Ameraucanas. The rooster we are keeping is of a good size with no physical issues (no problems walking) and seems to be good with the ladies: he crows, they come running to him!
There are a few broad-breasted white turkeys that we will be processing for sale, leftover from the original five we purchased. We will never raise these here again. They may be easy to grow, but much like the chickens it happens too fast and they can suffer from too many health issues. We have a small flock of six broad-breasted bronze turkeys, similar to the whites, that do not seem to be growing nearly as fast. It is possible, but unlikely, that we actually have standard bronze turkeys. If this is the case they should be able to breed on their own and will make an excellent addition to the farm. We are looking at some heritage breed turkeys and will certainly post about them when we get them! We will try and have some ready for Thanksgiving.
Ready ... set ...
Keep your eye on the blog, on Facebook, and Twitter: we will be posting a price list shortly and will begin taking some orders! We will have a number of commercial bred meats for sale while we make way for our own breeds and I can assure you they taste great. Pastured poultry is something you need to try for yourself -- it's hard to describe but the closest we can come is, "The chicken tastes like chicken."
- Big Onion
TL;DR - Commercial industry uses creepy meats. We got chickens, turkeys, and ducks of various breeds for sale.