As promised, the results are in on our heritage chicken experiment! Normally, our Cornish-Rock hybrid chickens are processed at 7 or 8 weeks of age, but our Delaware rooster was about 7 months old. Because of this, we wanted a cooking method to keep the meat nice & tender, so grilling was out! Dan had been looking to try poaching a chicken, so we decided that a big pot of water could only help keep our bird from getting tough. The water came to a boil, and in went our chicken along with a variety of garden vegetables and homegrown herbs. After chores were finished we settled down to a feast. I'm always excited when most or all of the food on the table is produced right here at the farm. In this case, the only non-farm products were the salt & pepper, the butter for the sweet corn, and the sour cream used on the potatoes. Not 100% farm raised, but pretty darn close! So we dig in to the chicken, and I noticed that the dark meat was super tough, but with an awesome chicken flavor. The legs were even tougher than expected, but these guys were truly free range, running all over the garden and backyard for months. Note to self: if we do this again, a smaller pen may be in order! However, dipped in my homemade Lemon-Sage Wine Mustard, it was still great. Then we tried the breat meat, and the texture was totally different. I have never tasted such tender, flavorful meat. Growing up on store bought and fast food chicken, I never really understood what real chicken flavor was, and although our broilers do taste like real chicken, the Delaware did even more so. My father-in-law always said that his stewing hens (old layers no longer profitable to keep on the farm) got their flavor from "years of contented living under their wings". My Delaware must have had a content life because he was full of that flavor too! It was a great chicken dinner, complete with potatoes, the absolute last of this year's fresh sweet corn, along with some zucchini, cabbage and green beans. I was stuffed and wanted nothing more than a nap, but it was off to the local county Extension Office as I'm serving on the Board of Directors (as well as the secretary of the group) and it was meeting night.
The final verdict on my experiment was this: while he was delicious, he was also a little too tough to market for more than stew or dumplings for the most part. Unfortunately, it's not going to be economically possible for us to offer them for sale. This year we raised over 200 meat chickens, but had no more than 90 at any given the due to the (much) shorter time frame of raising the hybrids. I don't think we would have had the space for that many Delawares for that many months. Also, a longer life span means more total feed for each bird, and just to cover our costs of feed alone would make for one pricey chicken. But we are still looking to support heritage breeds. We plan on raising turkeys again next year, and I am very interested in the Burbon Red and Dan would like to try the Royal Palm variety. So perhaps that will be next year's adventure.