Talking Point: April 2021

Each month we invite a Guild member to share something they feel strongly about. 

Capon or cockerel are terms often used by chefs to describe large chickens eaten at Christmas. Caponising (removal of internal testes from a chick or chemical) has been banned in the UK but there is no need for it since the introduction of the hybrid meat bird. This bird is produced in both sexes and is bred (and continually developed) to have a large amount of breast meat and put on weight quickly and efficiently. It is also bred to have an appetite and be easy to pluck. The hybrid doesn’t stand still as a type; every year it develops to meet whatever the need is – both from the consumer to the farmer. Typically it takes six weeks to grow a hybrid from chick to slaughter and beyond that there may be health issues or even death. 

Back in the mid 20th century, there had been the ‘utility’ bird. This is a pure breed such as a Rhode Island Red or a Light Sussex which is a good layer but also when fattened, made a table bird. That way you could use both male and female. Today’s layers mean that the male day-old chicks are destroyed as they have no commercial value except as raptor or reptile food. Today’s pure breeds are not bred for eggs but for exhibition and we have all but lost the utility strain that are high egg layers. If anyone knows of a pure bred flock of utility hens, I’d love to hear from you.

The hybrid has been developed using the existing different breeds and reproduced by using hybrid breeding flocks – many people think it is artificial but it’s actually a result of selection from existing breeds. There are welfare ethics as to methods of keeping, the desirability of a very heavy bird and the destruction of day-old chicks that are increasingly questioned.

Liz is the editor of The Smallholder magazine.