The poultry industry, and in particular organic poultry, has exploded in popularity over the years, with more Americans now consuming the lean white meat over beef.
Growing awareness regarding clean, healthier foods has sparked a new interest in overall health and fitness. This switch in mentality has contributed to the skyrocketing of organic food sales. Organic chicken is now the most widely available organic meat, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.
One thing that many consumers aren’t aware of is that even organic chicken comes from commercialized hatcheries, forcing farmers to get chickens from a just handful of companies that control the breeding process. Traditional breeding has become a thing of the past, replaced by hybrid breeding.
Beginning in the 1970s, the poultry industry started the complicated process of crossbreeding, or breeding genetically dissimilar birds, in order to produce particular traits that are conducive to generating profits.
Hybridization creates bloodlines consisting of specific gene mutations that enable fast growth, increased egg laying and obesity, according to Farm Forward, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the adverse health and environmental effects of factory farming.
Factory farms kill male chickens after birth
Hybridizing heritage lines created two types of chickens, “broilers,” meat birds that develop muscle quickly, and “layers,” which are bred for maximum egg production. Since only female birds can lay eggs, male layers are often killed immediately after hatching.
While traditional breeding involved choosing the healthiest male and female and allowing them to mate, hybridizing crosses at least two pure breeds chosen for their specific genes. Hybrid birds often have decreased overall health, including skeletal development, heart and lung function and obesity, preventing them from living a comfortable life.
Because just a few hatcheries sell chickens, finding heritage breeds, or traditionally bred chickens, is difficult. Hybrid birds either cannot reproduce on their own or they create offspring that don’t have the same set of desired genetic traits as their parents, according to Farm Forward.
Farmers must return to the hatcheries when they need to restock their flock; however, one organic farmer is seeking to change that.
Organic farm raises money to breed their own chickens
Eatwell Farm sits on 105 acres just outside of Dixon, Calif. The family farm grows hundreds of varieties of organic fruits and vegetables and is home to a healthy flock of organic, free-ranging happy chickens.
Nigel Walker began the farm in 1992 after completing his practicum at an organic farm in Kent, England, and studying drip irrigation in Israel, an intensive, water-conserving practice.
For over three decades, Eatwell Farm has strived to build a farm that’s good for people, animals, the soil and the environment. Nigel’s been on the leading edge of sustainable poultry and farming, and is now trying to take it one step further.
Instead of purchasing chickens from hatcheries, which Nigel believes inadvertently contributes to the killing of hundreds of male chicks each year, he wants to return to the original farm model of breeding his own birds and incubating and hatching them on his farm.
With the help of Barnraiser, a fundraising platform for the sustainable food movement, Eatwell Farm is looking to raise $20K to help purchase new hatchery equipment including nesting boxes, which will automatically trap, weigh and record eggs from each breeding hen to track their reproductive success.
Using the data, Nigel hopes to develop an app that would help farmers venture into breeding their own chickens. The money will also be used to purchase the initial breeding flock, netting, fencing, wood, incubators and new chicken houses.
At the time of this writing, $18,450 had been raised toward the $20K goal, but just a few days remain, and they still need your help! Remember, every dollar counts!
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