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The Poulet de Bresse is a meat breed developed in France for range production and maximum flavour. They have become so famous that the French have assigned them an 'appellation controle' and of course protected the French producers from competition by forbidding the export of hatching eggs or live birds.
So an enterprising Canadian in British Columbia named Peter Thiessen decided to re-create the breed here, and apparently had succeeded in doing so about 10 years ago. Not being able to call them Poulet de Bresse, he called them Blue Foot Chickens. [The breed has blue legs but not blue skin on the rest of the body. Other features: it has a single comb, large-ish size -- roos are 6 to 7 lbs at 18 weeks on range -- and fairly long keel.] Unfortunately his farm was in the Fraser Valley where all the poultry was euthanized in 2003 following the Avian Flu outbreak, and all his birds were killed. But fortunately he had just sent some stock to chicken producers in California. The Californians named the birds California Blue Foots and they are producing these birds and selling them to the high-end restaurant trade. [Isn't this an ironic story? The French develop this bird and protect it for their own farmers. A Canadian develops this bird and gets wiped out by government authorities... Grrr!]
Anyway -- Does anyone know Peter Thiessen? Does anyone know of any breeders of these birds? I heard a rumour that some have been acquired by small breeders in California....
I was in Langley BC during that humanity insanity. The pictures on the news of poultry owners creaming hysterically while guys in white suits slaughtered there pet birds still haunts me. I too would be interested in knowing a source for these chickens, what a shame something developed here is now only available across the border.
It was sad times, that's for sure. Some really excellent small breeders were wiped out, and have never returned to keeping poultry... at least, not here!
but I'm hoping someone knows Peter Thiessen, and that he still has some access to 'his' birds. Wouldn't that be great, to get them back here?
OTOH I suspect that pasture raised birds of many breeds would taste as good as Poulet de Bresse/Blue Foot Chickens/California Blue Foots (to a double blind tasting panel) -- someone with some marketing chutzpah should make a name for slow-grown Chanteclares, or something like that, eh?
I have not been able to contact Peter Thiessen, or anyone who worked with him during the development of the Blue Foot Chicken, so I don't know how he did it. However, Dr. Silversides at AgCan has told me the most likely sources of the genes needed, in his opinion. While it would be fairly straightforward to breed a white chicken with a red single comb and blue legs, getting such a bird to be the paragon of flavor as well as the hardy and fast maturing pasture bird that the French claim for Poulet de Bresse.... those goals are perhaps a little more elusive!
The Redbro, interestingly, is not a French development -- in was developed by Dr. Shaver in Canada by crossing Rhode Island Reds with BRs and Orpintons. No one in Canada was interested in the bird, but the French liked it and have used them extensively. There is a breeder of Redbros in Chilliwack who was able to import parent breeding stock from France.
The Cou Nu version is a French innovation. I don't believe the stuff about thinner skin on these birds -- sounds like French hype to me. They have fewer feathers which makes them easier to pluck, but also best suited to hot climates.
I don't doubt that celebrity chefs would claim that these French birds are their secret ingredient -- but I think if you could do a double blind taste test, they would not be able to tell the difference between these famous French 'brands' vs. any other good growing meaty pasture reared bird. The flavor of chicken is primarily a product of what they are eating, not their genes. And the texture is a product of their age, sexual maturity and activity level, not their genes. Anyway, marketing is a separate topic!
It's hard to separate the stories about certain foods from the physical realities. The French, bless their hearts, have always cherished the specialness of their foods, and they are good marketers. I admire the way they have protected French agriculture against the juggernaut of the EU Agricultural Commission. Good for them! But I'm not sure their special products are actually as unique as they claim.
Canadian bureaucratic efforts seem to have done the opposite: restricting Canadian farmers while allowing importation of cheap food from American farmers who do not have to follow the same rules! Big article yesterday in The Vancouver Sun about antibiotics in meat animals: Canada has not allowed this practice since the 60's, but imports American meat that is raised this way. Who wins???? To be consistent against this stupid practice (feeding sub-clinical antibiotics to healthy animals) the government should ban that meat from coming in.
BTW, the Redbro is not a simple cross between the three breeds; Shaver took 20 years to develop a true breeding line that had the traits he was looking for. It was his pet project, while he was developing commercial birds (a task he did not enjoy).
Fat is not the only factor in flavor. Venison, which is very lean, has distinctive flavors different from range fed beef, for example. Some of that is genetic -- you will always be able to tell lamb from pork. But much of the flavor of a particular animal is diet. Back when poultrymen discovered that chickens thrive on animal proteins, people tried feeding them fish meal . Soybean meal has also been tried to increase the protein in poultry diets . Research has been done feeding just barley, just wheat, etc.... chicken raised on corn and wheat primarily have the most acceptable flavor to most North Americans. But chickens raised with 'supplements' of kitchen waste, farm waste (milk products, etc.), sunshine and bugs have a unique flavor.
Last edited by TruNorth (2010-09-14 15:03:58)
I purchased some faverolles this spring, it is my intend to try and produce a good dual purpose bird with superior flavour. I think I too may be buying into the french hype since faverolles like the blue foot chickens are supposed to have been developed for superior table quality.
Still since blue-foot type chickens seem to be unavailable here the faverolle seemed a good place to start.
The trouble is chicken is a very subtle flavoured meat and sooo.. many things affect its table quality. Not only the obvious diet and genetics, but also age, exercise, butchering practices, and the ability of the cook. I saw that iron chef episode with bluefoot chickens and remember thinking at the time with all the sauces, spices, etc they could have used any chicken and got the same responses.
Fat content and meat texture will certainly be two physical attributes I will concentrate on but as with all breeds the multitude of traits that need to be considered make it an interesting but daunting challenge.
Back when I was teaching organic gardening I would reconvene the classes in September for a harvest gathering, and one of the events was a tomato flavor competition. Everyone brought their best tasting tomatoes, and we had fun comparing them. There were absolutely for sure differences in the way the tomatoes tasted! I'd enjoy a similar chicken flavor competition -- wouldn't that be interesting? Maybe it wouldn't be possible to standardize the diets of the different entries, but one could select birds of the same age & gender, and they could be slaughtered at the same time and cooked the same way (simply!).
I actually think I read somewhere that one of these specialty breeds does breed true, that they have a hen line and a roo line and they are actually a cross between those lines but if you breed them together they will not reproduce themselves. I am not sure what type it was, but I am pretty sure it was a poultry breed.
Right. That is SASSO, in France which produces the Redbro and a number of other copyrighted breeds. They refer to the pure breeding birds as 'grandparent' birds. These are rarely sold because they could easily be bred and then sold in competition with SASSO. You probably have to let them put a lien on your first born son to get these. What they do sell for breeders are male chicks from the purebreeding line and female chicks from one of 4 types of multiply recessive hens. The hens are dwarfs, among other things. These birds are called the Parent birds. When crossed, the offspring (the Product birds) look and perform just like the grandparent generation, but if these birds are crossed with each other, all the recessive traits from the parent hens come out, and no one would want to breed that. It's a classic terminal cross.