We recently shared BIG news with the poultry industry – 100% of our chickens are transitioning to a higher-welfare, slower-growing breed by the end of 2018, which will result in a better quality, more flavorful product! We named our new, proprietary breed “Das Klassenbester” for its European descent and premium, best-in-class genetics. Our first Das Klassenbester chicks hatched on 12/1/17 and were transported to our farms on 12/4/17. Now that we’re in the midst of transitioning and people are asking me some wonderful questions, I thought I could answer a few of those questions here. Also, check the “Our Farms” tab of the website, where we are tracking our progress and illustrating some of the differences of our new breed.
What made you decide to move to a new breed?
Big commodity chicken producers have “unintentionally” damaged the genetics of most broiler chicken breeds by selectively breeding bigger, faster-growing and cheaper-to-raise chickens for decades. I say “unintentionally” because, while they were intentional about growing chickens to an unnatural size in a forced amount of time, I don’t think that they thought past the foreseen profits to the greater breed issues they were creating. Pretty soon, all chicken producers (us included) were affected by the limited breed choices and consolidation of breeders within the industry. Most broiler chickens today grow faster than their bodies can handle, causing them to experience skeletal, cardiovascular and muscular issues. They get so big that they can barely move in their final days. Not only is it inhumane, but it results in poor quality issues, like white striping and woody, tough breasts.
At Bell & Evans, humane animal welfare is and has always been our #1 focus. We feed our chickens a nutritious, well-balanced vegetarian diet, without fillers. We don’t overcrowd our barns and we provide enrichments to keep our chickens active. We realized though, despite our efforts to maintain a higher welfare with the existing breed and raise our chickens to a smaller liveweight size, we couldn’t outsmart genetics. So, several years ago, I set out to find a better option than the primary breeds available.
What is Das Klassenbester breed and how is it a higher-welfare option?
Das Klassenbester chickens are the offspring of specialty female and male parent stock that we carefully selected for their premium, heritage-like characteristics. Our new chickens grow at a slower, more natural, rate, allowing them to remain active their entire life. Think of it as rewinding time to the chicken breeds available 15-20 years ago. We already raise our chickens to a smaller liveweight than most producers, averaging 5.6 lbs., but the new breed grows slower, significantly reducing stress on their bodies and greatly improving their overall health.
How can we claim a more flavorful chicken?
I’ve spent my entire life raising chickens for meat. Experience will tell you that an older animal has more flavor. Other contributing factors to a flavorful bird are low stress and a good diet. Our Das Klassenbester chickens have all of the above. In addition, our 100% air chill cooling method means that our chickens retain their natural juices and flavor during processing. Most, if not all, chicken in the supermarket has been processed through water chilling. Chickens retain water from those chlorinated water baths, which dilutes their flavor. Ever wonder why most fresh chicken has a “diaper” at the bottom of the packaging? It’s there to soak up excess water. You won’t find that in Bell & Evans’ packaging!
I’ve seen the decreasing quality of commodity chicken offered in the supermarket – the evidence is visible! If you’re looking at a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and the breasts are really big with white stripes running across them, the meat will not be enjoyable; I’d even say inedible! With an unnaturally large breast, the texture suffers and instead of a juicy, tender bird, you get a tough, hard-to-chew one. Our new breed will grow more humanely and our chickens will stay smaller, combating those issues.
Will the increased costs to raise a higher-welfare chicken impact my cost as a consumer?
We do not intend to raise our prices. Our chicken is already a premium price to account for our higher quality standards. We consider our new breed to be an investment in our promise to offer “The Excellent Chicken” to our consumers. We continue to raise the bar in premium, natural and organic chicken, and we’re thrilled to have established a better breed to help us provide the best product for you.
What does our new breed mean to you, the consumer?
In this day and age when food labels are confusing and commodity producers trick consumers into believing their products are something that they’re not – like all natural, premium or higher welfare – you can be confident in knowing that Bell & Evans truly delivers on our promises. Commodity producers will likely jump on the bandwagon and offer a slow-growth line in the future, but it is highly unlikely, maybe even impossible, for them to fully convert like we are doing. Our 100% transition will take the guesswork out of shopping for better chicken. Plus, without our other higher-welfare practices, a slow-growth chicken wouldn’t be any better off. I’ll cover that discussion in my next blog. My point is, you’ll know, without a doubt, your chicken comes from the best breed available, from the best practices in the industry. Our commitment to quality and doing the right thing will not waiver – you can trust us for true natural and true organic chicken, as labeled, now from a better breed of chicken.
I’ll discuss the issue of label claims in a future blog post too!