We’ve had our broilers for 5 days and we’re already noticing some differences between the broilers and the heritage birds. I took some pictures to compare.
This shows the Jumbo Cornish Cross (JCC) on the left and the Red Broiler (RB) on the right. At this point, I don’t see a huge difference between the two broiler breeds. If you remember from a previous post, the JCC is an extremely fast-growing, agriculture marvel. They reach market weight at 8 weeks of age (RB can take 9-10 weeks), however, as with anything in nature, this remarkable growth comes at a cost. In the case of the JCC, it can suffer health problems and many people think the taste and texture of the meat has declined as the growth rate has increased. I had mixed feelings when I read in a poultry catalog how you can literally “watch them grow bigger.” Am I the only one that finds that creepy? And while I haven’t found the time in my schedule to sit down and watch them slowly expand like a balloon, I can easily see they are bigger than the heritage chicks. When you pick up a JCC, those little yellow fuzz balls are dense!
Now compare the JCC to one of the Dominique chicks. The JCC is on the left (top picture), the Dominique (said to be the USA’s oldest chicken breed) on the right.
The Dominique is actually two days older than the JCC. We have also noticed how the heritage breed chicks resemble wild birds in form and appearance more closely than the broilers. I also decided to compare a JCC with another heritage chick, a Welsummer. The Welsummer appears to be about the same height as the JCC, but I think the JCC isn’t standing up to its full height. However, you can see how much rounder the JCC is.
Here is a picture comparing a Black Jersey Giant (left), JCC (middle) and Bourbon Red turkey (right). Interestingly enough, the Black Jersey Giant will be the largest chicken at maturity, weighing in at 10-13 pounds, but as chicks, they are smallest of all! The JCC will never get much bigger than 6 pounds, but the turkey will grow to be 20-25 pounds. At this point, the two appear similar in size, but the JCC is heavier.
Another interesting difference between the broilers and heritage breeds is their propensity for foraging bugs. I have read of this but now I have seen it firsthand. Ever since bringing our chicks home, I have delightfully thrown any box elder bug found trespassing in my home into the lair of hungry heritage chicks. They snap those bugs up in a flash! The kids enjoy gathering around while I narrate the event like a sportscaster. (“A Dominique grabs the bug! She’s off and OH! She jumps over the feeder. A Welsummer is closing in, AND SHE’S GOT IT! She dodges under some chicks and WHOA! She’s trapped between the waterer and the opposition! Here comes a Buckeye…”)
As soon as I lower a bug on some tissue, it’s a flurry of fluffy down while the first chick bobs and weaves through the mob of opponents attempting to relieve it of its treasure. This continues to go on, with the bug changing beaks several times, until finally one chick eats it. Once in a while, two chicks will play tug-of-war with a box elder bug, which either ends with one chick winning the match, or the boxie being split into two pieces, which each lucky chick promptly gobbles down. Ah, it warms the heart to behold. 🙂
But not so with the broilers! I have dropped a boxie into the broiler brooder on multiple occasions. They do show some interest (curiosity?).
It seems something deep within them remembers they are supposed to care about small, crawling insects. All they do is watch it for a few seconds, then walk away. I have seen the broilers take a few pecks at a bug once in a while. But they have never played keep-away from the others or consumed one. If the bug is actively crawling towards a group of broilers, they will move away from it. They’re all like, “Eww, a bug! Run!” I always end up scooping the bug out of that box and tossing it to the wolf-chicks next door to be devoured.
I am going to continue to enjoy noting the differences in behavior, size and health between our heritage breed birds and broilers. This is all very interesting to me as we decide which breeds of poultry we want to continue to keep, raise and feed to our family. Maybe we’ll decide the JCC truly is a fantastic accomplishment of modern agriculture and we’ll enjoy them on our farm and table. I mean, they are just chickens… right? Just freakishly-fast-growing, mutant chickens. How bad can they be? And although they will never win a beauty pageant as adults (well, if you can even call them adults at 8 weeks…) they were extremely cute chicks in our brooders these first few days! Warmly,