12.30.2005

#2 Tastes of the Region: Java Chicken

This edition of "Tastes of the Region," will not focus on one of our more popular regional foods, like Spiedies or Buffalo Wings, but instead upon a food that was once ubiquitous across New York and is today almost completely forgotten and extinct: the Java Chicken.

The Java is America's oldest native chicken breed. Coming into existence somewhere between 1835 and 1850, it is belived that the root stock came from the Far East (thus the name "Java"). It is an excellent "homesteading" bird, meaning that it is able to largely fend for itself foraging and produces both good eggs and meat. The Java were entered in the first poultry show ever in the United States in 1849 and where awarded the Standard of Perfection in 1883.

In the end, though, this versatile bird, an excellent forager, egg layer and meat producer, became victim to the effects of the industrialization of agriculture. Modern chicken farms are not looking for versatility, but hyper-efficiency in a single area. Thus most eggs today come from huge chicken farms with thousands of identical hens living in tiny cages, laying eggs until their bodies collapse. The Java has declined from being the pre-eminent bird of New York State to being sold by only three hatcheries, raised by seven backyard breeders from a stock of only around 100 breeder chickens. This breed is considered critically endangered, but there are efforts to bring them back.

But why should we concern ourselves with preserving this breed, except as something of a historical curiosity? The first reason is for genetic purposes. As livestock across the United States become increasingly genetically homogenized, they become more and more susceptible to disease and similar problems. Maintaining these "heritage" breeds, keeps genetic variation that protect vitally important food sources.

Secondly, free-range and organic food have been proven to not only be better for the environment, but also better for the health of consumers. Free-range chickens have a more varied diet and lay fewer eggs, meaning that there is a greater range and quantity of nutrients within their eggs and meat. Plus, organic chickens are free from chemicals that can hurt especially the very young and very old.

Finally, raising food locally, especially such a regionally prominent food as a Java Chicken, creates local identity. A venerable breed like the Java gives a unique flavor to our tables and a connection to centuries of history. Eating locally grown chickens keeps money in our communities and decreases the amount of gas used to transport meat and eggs from farm to table.

So the Java can help us to protect genetic diversity, protect the environment, build healthy bodies for ourselves and our families, give unique taste to our tables, build regional pride and protect local economies. The only question that remains is: how does one acquire a Java chicken?

The Java, of course, is not available in your ordinary grocery store. Chickens are available, though, through the Garfield Farm Museum in Illinois (info@garfieldfarm.org) or through the Java Club (contact Pete Malmberg at pamhlm@raccoon.com). If you are a farmer or a member of a Community Sponsored Agriculture Project, you might be able to bring commercial Javas to your local area. However, the Java can be easily kept in small numbers in your own backyard (check local ordinances). The joy of raising chickens, especially for children, does not involve a tremendous expenditure of cash and owners begin recouping their losses almost immediately. For more information about raising chickens in your backyard: check out this article on the Ten Commandments of Chicken Raising (and this continuation) from Mother Earth News, and this from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

If you have any success in the breeding of heritage livestock from New York, of any kind, feel free to send us a post discussing your experiences and why you decided to take this path. Also, if you sell heritage livestock form NY (preferably in NY), we can put up your contact information for our readers.

"...when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again."-William Beebe

Posted by Jesse

7 comments:

Jesse said...

One thing I forgot to mention about the Java and heritage breeds is that they taste better. Modern "industrial" agriculture focuses upon food's quick maturation, uniform size and coloration (for shipping and selling, respectively) and long shelf life (for shipping around the world). Notably, the two most important factors for the eater, taste and nutrition, are absent from this equation. Thus older varieties that haven't been bred into homogeneity tend to be tastier and healthier.

Russell said...

Do they make Java Script Chicken also???

joe Whineybread said...

Haha, javascript. that's why the ladies will line up to marry him. Yo, screw all that nonsense about proper methods for killing animals. kill the poor and not the chickens.

Pat Smith said...

I am raising Java's free range. This year I have 13 chicks. I enjoy them as pets. I have the mottled ones. I wanted to raise a Heritage breed, as I heard about them being endangered. We do not eat them, we sell the eggs. I get $2.50 a dozen for their brown eggs, because they are free range. I was impressed with the fact that they do not wander off the property nor near the road. You can make great pets out of them, they jump on my shoulder to be petted and follow me all over the farm. The mothers are very protective I am glad I allowed them to hatch their own rather than the incubator. They seem so much healthier and calmer.

High Ground Farm said...

So nice to find your comments on the Java Chicken. I have kept a flock of about 40 Java Chickens over the last 4 years. The stock has all come from the Garfield Farm through the work of Tim Christokos at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture in Chicago. I do have a blogspot:

highgroundfarm@blogspot.com

so you can view these lovely hens and roosters. I have both white and black and a rare mottled from the same stock. They are very gentle, even the roosters. They forage vigorously, and are very broody. We enjoy the curious personality of the white java, who is in behaviour different from the black java. Glad there are so many people interested in bringing the Java back. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy also is also working to hold on to this wonderful ancient breed. The website is : albc@albc-usa.org

thanks, Deborah
High Ground Farm

lizzylanefarm said...

Hi,
Any updates on the Javas? I am looking to raise some here on our farm and am having a hard time finding some for sale.

Any info would be helpful

thanks

Karyn

Asheville Free-Range Chicken Farm said...

your link above to the livestock breeds conservancy no longer works. where can i purchase birds for starting a flock? thanks