The year is 1945 and in a post-World War Two USA, the powers that be hatched a plan that would change ‘chicken’ and indeed chickens forever.
The Chicken of Tomorrow Contest was launched in an effort to breed a larger, more turkey-like bird to satisfy the tastes of a post-ration America, a bird vastly different from the pure and crossbreed chickens occupying the predominantly mixed-farming operations of the day. With their promise of ‘a bird for every table’ the Chicken of Tomorrow Contest was launched by the US Department of Agriculture with the backing of a large supermarket chain among others.
After several years of qualifying rounds, the winning bird was announced on June 24th 1948; a hybrid containing New Hampshire and Cornish breed genetics, ‘created’ by Charles Vantress. When looking back at the history of the chicken, whilst this moment certainly aided in founding an entire modern industry, it could well be said that as their guardians and caretakers, June 24th 1948 was also the day we humans failed in our duty to protect those we had tamed.
A further Chicken of a Tomorrow Contest in 1951 saw Charles Vantress’ bird again reign supreme and saw their ‘creator’ go on to establish a hatchery that contributed to the genetics of over 60% of America’s ‘broiler’ chickens.
In fact, the Chicken of Tomorrow Contest was not only a turning point for the commercial chicken meat industry, with only a handful of companies owning the intellectual property that makes up the birds’ genetics to this very day, it set forth a sequence of events that changed these birds forever. In time, antibiotic use to address disease and encourage growth would also come into play and whilst this is the subject of current debate, in their absence, we are still left with a bird plagued by genetics that still replicate the original goal of defying Mother Nature.
Today’s ‘broiler’ bird grows at three times the rate nature intended and reaches mammoth proportions that plague immature skeletal systems. Many or most broiler birds are likely in pain for the duration of their lifetime. Sudden Death Syndrome and Woody Breast Syndrome are so common, they are now industry terms describing conditions brought about by our genetic manipulations. So common are sudden deaths, fractures and starvation that in Australia alone, 20 million ‘broiler’ birds die in sheds within their first 5 weeks of life. And perhaps, saddest of all, today’s ‘broiler’ bird reaches his or her target weight at just 5-7 weeks of age. This means these birds are still blue eyed, chirping babies when they reach the dinner table, although their adult proportions would have us believe otherwise.
In a world where we humans so often put our own desires above those of others, where we can so easily turn a blind eye to situations we believe of no consequence to us and where we can pay another to carry out acts we would never ourselves undertake, one could wonder if we’ll ever truly be able to right the many ‘wrongs’ we’ve committed against animals like our dear, gentle Brady. Brady, a commercial ‘broiler‘ bird, was rescued just prior to reaching his target weight and arrived at Edgar’s Mission three years ago. In knowing Brady as we are fortunate enough to do, we know he is so much more than the mere sum of his larger than life parts. We know Brady to be charismatic, gentle with his ladies and with visitors alike and to have patience in spades, taking our beloved Red Baron under his wing and teaching him what it means to be a rooster. We know his personality, his likes and dislikes and exactly what he needs to have a life worth living. Perhaps this, this knowledge and this connection is the key to creating the new Chicken of Tomorrow? To truly see these gentle, sentient and intelligent beings for who they are at their very core. Surely then we cannot continue on our current trajectory of producing birds whose very genetics would be deemed cruel if it were a dog or cat before us.
Lament as we may about mankind’s failure toward animals, we cannot, no matter how angry, upset or broken-hearted it leaves us, rewrite history. Our energies are wasted there. The truth is the Chicken of Tomorrow will be determined by the daily choices we each make today. We can create the kind of future we desire both for ourselves and the birds with whom we share this world and eradicate so much unnecessary suffering at the same time. And it truly is as simple as what we choose to put on our plate.
Will the Chicken of Tomorrow be admired like our handsome Brady? Adored worldwide like dear Little Miss Sunshine for her smarts and personality? Or will he be revered and celebrated like our cheeky and charismatic Red Baron? Our dream here at Edgar’s Mission is that the Chicken of Tomorrow will be valued for who he or she is, not for what he or she can produce. That the Chicken of Tomorrow will be seen as Someone, not Something…
Then, perhaps only then, we will truly have something to crow about.
“If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others… why wouldn’t we?”