Update: We've been growing and raising American Bresse on our homestead for over a year and they've met every hope we had for them. We now offer local pickup for chicks and hatching eggs. You can find info in our shop here.
Welcome back to Living Traditions Homestead, it's time for us to discuss a significant decision we've for our homestead.
This article is a synopsis of the video below. We encourage you to watch for even more about our decision to change breeds on our homestead.
For the past ten years, we have been raising or hunting all the meat our family consumes. One of the first types of meat we began raising was chickens for meat, specifically the Cornish Cross breed. We have absolutely loved raising them and have even created two series on how to raise Cornish Cross chickens for meat.
However, this year we've made the difficult choice not to raise Cornish Cross chickens. Let us clarify that our decision has nothing to do with any shortcomings of the Cornish Cross breed itself. We still firmly believe that no other hybrid or heritage breed can match the Cornish Cross when it comes to the amount of meat they yield in a short period of time. That aspect didn't even factor into our decision-making process.
Over the past year, several things have occurred that caused us to reconsider. One of the main reasons is the increasing difficulty in securing Cornish Cross chicks. Last year, they were in such high demand that many people couldn't get the chicks they needed for their own meat production. Given the fragility of the supply chain, along with existing shortages, it made us uneasy. While we could likely still obtain Cornish Cross chicks this year, the uncertain circumstances surrounding the supply chain made us realize it was time to search for an alternative.
Another factor influencing our decision is the current spread of avian influenza in the United States. While the hatcheries test for avian influenza, introducing new chickens to our homestead poses a risk until the disease is eradicated. Therefore, we want to focus on hatching and raising chickens on our own farm to maintain a more bio-secure environment.
We aren't completely ruling out raising Cornish Cross chickens again in the future, but for now, we want to explore options for heritage dual-purpose meat breeds. This year, we've been particularly interested in a breed called the American Bresse chicken. We've conducted extensive research on various breeds to find the best fit for both meat production and egg laying.
A couple of years ago, we conducted an experiment with Freedom Ranger chickens as a potential replacement for Cornish Cross. However, we found that Freedom Rangers weren't any more sustainable than Cornish Cross, and their growth results didn't meet our expectations. Our main concern with the Freedom Rangers, similar to Cornish Cross, was their hybrid nature, which made them reliant on outside sources for breeding.
Therefore, we sought a breed that we can raise and reproduce right here on our homestead. The American Bresse chicken stood out to us as a breed not widely found in the United States. We're excited to explore their potential as both meat producers and egg layers, ensuring a sustainable and self-reliant approach on our homestead.
Now, let's delve into the history of the American Bresse chicken. Originally from a specific region in France called Bresse, this breed is incredibly old. In 2011, the first Bresse chickens were imported into the United States by a farm called Green Fire Farms. They repeated this importation in 2017. However, because these chickens are not raised in the Bresse region anymore, they are now known as American Bresse chickens.
Since the original import, a few other farms, including North Star Farm, have obtained stock from Green Fire Farms and started hatching and selling American Bresse chickens. We have had a fantastic experience working with Jen and Buddy at North Star Farm. They have been extremely helpful and responsive to any questions we had about the American Bresse breed. We highly recommend them if you're in search of chickens, as they ship nationwide and offer reasonable prices.
Let's discuss the reasons why we chose American Bresse chickens over other dual-purpose, heritage meat and egg layer breeds. Firstly, they excel in egg production. While exploring other big-bodied heritage breeds like the Brahmas, we discovered that the Brahmas lay just over 100 eggs per year. In contrast, American Bresse chickens lay 250 or more eggs annually. This was a significant factor for us. Additionally, they start laying earlier than most breeds, typically around 16 weeks of age instead of the usual 20-24 weeks. This means we can expect eggs from them 1-2 months earlier than other dual-purpose chicken breeds.
Another advantage of American Bresse chickens is their fast growth rate. By 16 weeks, they reach butcher weight. In comparison, other larger heritage breeds take six to eight months to reach the same stage. Additionally, American Bresse chickens are renowned for their exceptional foraging abilities, which is valuable in times of high feed prices. They can find a significant portion of their own food, reducing our reliance on commercial feed.
One unique aspect we discovered is that traditionally, French Bresse chickens were finished on a combination of grain and milk. This aligns perfectly with our homestead, as we have a milk cow and plan to use the surplus milk to supplement our animals' feed. It's an excellent opportunity to reduce our reliance on the feed store and grain.
The flavor of French Bresse chickens has long been regarded as among the best in the world. This is attributed to the way they are traditionally finished on grain and milk. American Bresse chickens also boast a favorable meat-to-bone ratio. Although their live weight may not be as large as some other meat breeds, their finer bones mean they have more meat per pound. Overall, they are expected to be a great addition to our family's meat needs.
The American Bresse chickens have distinctive characteristics. They are all-white chickens with a single red comb and mature into chickens with blue legs. It's a charming red, white, and blue combination. They develop their blue legs at around three to four weeks old.
This is the exciting change and surprise on our farm. You won't be seeing Cornish
Cross chickens this spring, but we are thrilled to introduce the American Bresse to our homestead. It brings us a sense of security knowing that these are breeds we can sustainably produce here, creating a closed flock without the need for external birds.
Thank you for visiting our homestead, and until next time, take care and God bless!
Kevin & Sarah