Last week for my job as a FACS teacher I had to purchase 18 roasting chickens from BJ's for our annual Renaissance festival. As I placed these inexpensive chickens, two at a time, into a roasting pan I was struck by the dramatic difference from our pasture raised birds. I am not an iPhone person so I did not snap a picture of their yellow tinged skin and short legs. I observed another dramatic difference in the neck and liver in the little plastic package stuffed inside. The chicken's neck was about the circumference of my thumb and the liver a mushy, burnt orange.
We have raised pasture based chickens for five years. We started with dual purpose birds that we raised for most of the summer. These chicks were cheap as they are often discarded by hatcheries selling pullets but their carcasses were not the breasty birds we are accustomed to. We then tried the carefully breed Cornish Crosses one finds in the supermarket. I know the ones I purchased at the supermarket last week lived about 50 days. We were disgusted by the Cornish Crosses as they stayed belly up to the feeder not foraging and rarely waddling to another spot.
We then discovered Freedom Rangers. These red broilers are slow growing and well suited for a grass based system. The Freedom Rangers appreciate our efforts to provide them with fresh grass. We move them outside as soon as they have feathers into portable pens. We move the pens twice a day if the chickens are closed in the pen. When the chickens are about 6 weeks we open the pens and release them into a polynet enclosure. For the first couple of weeks of the pens being open we close them in each night. It is great fun to watch them run when the pen is opened each morning. They race in a big circle around the pen flapping their wings.
We have the birds slaughtered on the farm at about 12 weeks of age. The legs are long and strong, the neck thick and the liver and gizzard a deep burgundy color. Beyond the health of the chicken and it quality of life it had is the flavor, it tastes like chicken and does not need to be hidden under BBQ sauce or marinated for hours to have flavor. It is real food.