Omega Blue Farms


Morganically Grown * Heritage Conservation

Introducing the French Meat Bird


Label Rouge of France began 40 years ago as a grassroots movement led by visionary farmers. As poultry became more industrialized after World War II, demand grew in France for the taste of traditionally raised farm chickens. Label Rouge performance has been called 'stunning' and now accounts for 50 per cent of domestic whole bird sales to the public, in spite of its high price - twice the price of conventional poultry.


Label Rouge Success


The Label Rouge program focuses on high-quality products, mainly meat, with poultry as the flagship product. It emphasizes quality attributes such as taste and food safety and free-range production practices. The average consumer can note a positive difference in taste between Label Rouge and conventional poultry, label rouge birds have much more chicken flavour. They look different as well, they are longer, more narrow and with larger legs better suited for covering large areas of pasture.


The main reason for the superior taste is considered to be the use of slow-growing birds instead of the fast-growing birds used in the conventional industry. The slow-growing birds are from specialty rustic genetic stock and are harvested close to sexual maturity, the meat is flavoursome and firm, but not tough.


Slow-growing birds are key in Label Rouge production - birds grow to five pounds in 12 weeks. In comparison, the fast-growing broilers (Cornish cross) of the conventional industry reach five pounds in six to seven weeks. Not only does slow growth allow the organs, muscle and bones to grow in harmony, it also results in a more flavoursome meat. The carcass is generally more elongated and has a smaller breast and larger legs than conventional carcasses. In addition, slower growing breeds are more suited to outdoor production than Cornish cross.


Are these Heritage Chickens?


Despite the marketing attempts of several farmers and chick suppliers to suggest otherwise, these are definitely NOT heritage birds. A heritage breed is a pure breeding line that has been maintained for more than a human generation. French Meat birds are hybrids and therefore do not breed true. Their grandparent lines are true breeding lines and one could make a claim that they are heritage breeds, although they also would not qualify by most recognized definitions in North America. At the very least, it's plausible to suggest that the grandparent lines descend from Heritage breeds.


Despite the French Meat birds not being heritage, I still feel they are a very important addition to our agricultural landscape and heritage poultry germplasm. They bring all the adaptive traits of a heritage breed but produce a marketable product in half the time. After attempting and failing to create a viable market for my heritage chicken breed, I feel the French meat birds offer a valuable bridge that can open doors for heritage poultry in our local marketplace. I also feel it is very likely that the French Meat bird germplasm will give rise to heritage breeds of the future. Heritage isn't just about looking backwards, it's also about looking forwards and protecting functional diversity. One should expect our agricultural diversity to evolve over time.



Sources of Slow Growing Meat Birds

There are two main sources for the slower growing French Meat birds, Sasso and Hubbard, both of France. Locally, the slower growing meat birds are sold under a wide range of Labels such as Freedom Ranger, Mistral Gris, Kosher King, and even Sasso, however, despite many of the fanciful claims to the contrary, they all trace back to either Sasso or Hubbard of France. This is why I simply call them French Meat Birds, it seems like the simplest way to honestly describe them while giving credit to the actual breeding companies.


In Europe, the slow-growing genetics are mainly supplied by the poultry breeding companies SASS0 and Hubbard. The companies do not sell the actual broiler chicks, but rather the parents. However, many pastured poultry producers have hatching capability. SASSO's typical Label Rouge cross is T44N male × SA51 female (using a different male - the T44NI - results in white under-feathers in the offspring). A typical Hubbard cross is S77N male × JA57 female. Broilers from both of these crosses will have red feathers, yellow shanks, thin skin and a naked neck. Other parents are available for broilers with white feathers and skin, black feathers, barred, non-naked neck and more or for faster growth.



The use of slow-growing genetics and the low-density Label Rouge production system offer distinct health advantages - ascites, leg problems and sudden death are minimal, and birds have good immunity. Mortality for conventional broilers in France is six per cent during a six-week grow-out; it is half that for Label Rouge production (three per cent) even during a much longer grow-out of 12 weeks (Faure, 2002).