A slow-growth chicken favored by industry

To cut antibiotics use in poultry production, large-scale producers are turning to slower-growing heritage chicken breeds, reports Maryn McKenna, in FERN’s latest story with EatingWell magazine. It marks a reversal of the recent production model, which emphasized fast-growing birds.

“Americans eat more chicken than any other meat—an average of 93 pounds per person annually—and our outsized appetite for wings, nuggets and boneless, skinless breasts pushed the poultry industry to develop chickens that mature as quickly as possible, through decades of cross-breeding. That rapid growth rate can lead to an array of problems, like leg deformities, with animal-welfare implications,” the story says.

That growth also meant more antibiotics — more than 4.87 million pounds were given to the almost 9 billion chickens raised in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available), McKenna says. “But now, concern has grown over the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, germs that regular antibiotics can’t kill anymore, threatening animal and human health.”

Enter breeds like the like the red-feathered Freedom Ranger Color Yield, which take eight weeks to mature instead of the current five for modern breeds. “These chickens … must be raised on pasture or let out of the barn regularly to roam freely and feed on grass,” the story says. They also have stronger immune systems, which means they don’t require antibiotics. Plus, they “they taste intensely chicken-y.”