Heritage Chickens of Ramona
The History of Cebe Farms, Inc:
By Joe Cebe, Sr.
Joe Jr (left) and Joe Cebe, Sr. (right), 2013
The history of the Cebe Family Heritage meat type chickens begins with the story of the development of dual purpose and specific meat bred chickens in the U.S.
Turn of the 20th Century Chickens
Prior to the early 1900’s, chickens were raised on a small scale in households through the U.S. Almost all efforts to breed chickens were to select for show qualities as showing poultry was very popular then and show birds sold for high prices. As the rural population moved to the big industrial cities, where it was harder to raise your own poultry, meat and eggs, small farms outside the cities started to raise more poultry for sale and farmer’s wives (who usually cared for the poultry) started to make more money. Please understand at this time before the woman’s suffrage movement, most women were traditional housewives. The raising of baby chicks required nurturing and special care. Men were more than happy to turn this over to their wives and in return they kept the income from poultry to help run their household. Typically hucksters would visit farm homes to sell pots, pans, cloth and other items of interest to women! In return, they would trade or buy outright their chickens and eggs. These hucksters would sell these poultry products to middle men who would assemble train carloads of live chickens and fresh eggs and ship them to other distributors in large cities like Chicago or New York. The farmer’s wives were sharp business women who had little need for show birds. They raised the type that filled the “cookie jar” with greenback dollars. This business was often their only way to make extra money on the open prairie where there were no factories or jobs. This created a demand for more and better producing chickens. Previous to this time, most chicks were hatched under hens. In the late 1890’s, artificial incubation became popular and commercial hatcheries started to develop. Right after WWI, the post office started using planes to carry “airmail”. Around this time the postal service started to accept chick shipments through the mail due to the fact that a day old chick absorbed the egg yolk just before hatching, which allowed chicks to go 3 to 7 days without food and water due to the “yolk reserves”. Before this time chicks produced in hatcheries had to be picked up by the customer or delivered by the hatchery. (Some were shipped via railway express) Gradually every small town or county had a small hatchery. With the mail shipment of chicks, larger hatcheries could ship to a larger market area. This increased competition and this brought the development of better producing stock.
Chickens have much room to spread out at Cebe Farms.
The demand for chickens that produced more meat and eggs created a need to improve commercial traits (especially more eggs per hen per year). In order to improve production you needed to know which hens were laying the most eggs in a time when chickens were not kept in individual cages (All were raised in a common area). This fact stimulated the invention of the trap nest. In fact, this single invention was the basis for the most genetic improvements in poultry – ever! With the trap nest and the discoveries of Mendel and other geneticist’s, commercial poultry began to drastically improve and compete and over take show type poultry on farms that needed to produce meat and eggs cheaply and profitably.
This progress encouraged breeders to develop 2 types of chickens – the egg type or dual purpose. White Leghorns were bred strictly for eggs and dual purpose (mostly American class) breeds were bred for brown egg production and meat type. In the late 1920’s to 1930’s there were still some selection for show type qualities.
Starting in and around the state of New Hampshire around 1915, the farmers and breeders took the Rhode Island Red Breed and started selecting, and later trap nesting, for both meat and egg production without regard for show type traits. A Professor from the University of New Hampshire, “Red Richardson”, encouraged these breeders to select birds for livability, vitality, ruggedness, exceptional egg production, fast feathering, good meat type and rapid growth. He once stated “The farmer should care not for the color of the bird’s feathers, but the color of the money earned by these birds”. These birds started out as show type Rhode Island Reds and gradually developed into a non-standard chestnut red bird with a heavy “blocky” body that was fast feathering and rugged. The New Hampshire was admitted to the standard of perfection as a recognized breed in 1935. Originally a true dual purpose breed, it was later bred by some breeders more for egg production; other breeders selected more toward meat production. The breeders developed excellent meat type birds with sufficient egg production to produce broiler hatching eggs as a pure line or in crosses.
During the 1930’s there was a demand being created in the big cities, mainly New York, for “springer” chicken, the forerunner of our broiler chicken. Specialty poultry farms started growing meat birds for the New York live markets. Around 1930 Hall Brothers Hatchery in Wallingford Conn. started to produce the barred crosses using a Barred Rock male and a New Hampshire female and also a reciprocal cross of a New Hampshire male on a Barred Rock female that color sexed. It was found that these birds produced excellent fast growing meat birds that are popular in New York live markets even today.
From this cross in the 1940’s a new breed was developed by Indian River Poultry Farm in Delaware, out of sports from this cross that were white with black wings and tail feathers. The Delaware was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1952. Hall Brothers Hatchery was also involved in the development of this breed.
The development of the poultry meat business was market driven. Previous to the 1930’s, poultry meat was old spent hens or roosters or young surplus cockerels or extra pullets not saved for egg production. Previous to this time, most chicks were hatched and raised by hens that laid relatively few eggs in a year and mostly in the spring and summer. Eggs and especially young chicken meat was relatively rare and expensive. Beef, pork and wild market game were much cheaper. With the invention and use of incubators, trap nests and the application of genetic laws, new commercial strains were developed that grew fast, efficiently, satisfied customers and made farmers more money. The show birds were replaced on the farm with practical new strains.
Until the late 1930’s most chickens were sold in live markets or small butcher shops. These shops had live birds outside where the butcher killed and dressed them “New York Dress’, which is bled and defeathered. The buyer (house wife) took the bird home and gutted them for dinner and removed head and feet. During this time, supermarkets started to develop. The super markets saw the demand for a good young meat chicken. One market chain, A & P (Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) along with poultry industry people devised a national contest to develop a meat type chicken. They developed judging standards and set up state contests. The winners of the state contest would go to the national contest. The winning bird would be broad breasted with meaty legs, fast growing and produce a good feed conversion ratio. Most of the top birds were based on the New Hampshire or a cross of Cornish and New Hampshire. Also, some White Rocks did well. The first 1947 national winner was a Charles Vantress “California Red Cornish X New Hampshire cross from Marysville, California. Second was Arbor Acres with a pure White Rock. The majority of the rest were pure New Hampshire or New Hampshire Cornish cross. The second national contest was also won by (1) Vantress and (2) Arbor Acres. The trophy and prize money were small but the advertising for these companies was priceless. Through the early 1960’s, Vantress dominated the male line business and Arbor Acres the female line with each company holding over 50% market share respectively.
I consider the 1940’s through early 1950’s the Golden Era of the poultry meat business. The marketing and genetic developments set the world stage for poultry meat to become affordable to the masses. It was cheap to produce, of high quality, very healthy and adaptable to many recipes and food forms, from fried chicken to chicken hot dogs to even dog food!
From the broiler industries beginnings 1915 to 1940, the New Hampshire and the Barred Rock reigned supreme with a new cross (Barred Rock male X New Hampshire female being very popular).
The golden age built the foundation for the modern industry. During this time the New Hampshire became the female line for the broiler industry. New Hampshire’s were the most popular breed in the U.S. even passing the White Leghorn. They even had egg type strains that contributed to brown table egg production.
Many changes were to come after the Golden Era and some were not good changes. The popularity of the Barred Cross had its down side. Some were slow feathering causing dark pin feathers and body hair on the dressed birds. The birds of the time were killed between 12-16 weeks when this dark hair showed up. Some slaughter plants used workers with safety razors to shave them and “pinning knives” to pull dark pin feathers. At Cal Poly in the late 1960’s, Dick Leach, the Department Head, had a Red Cornish that we processed. We had a singeing rack where the birds were hung and let dry, then singed with a propane torch before evisceration. Although the Barred Cross did produce a dark pin feather, the light color New Hampshire had very few pin feathers and was fast feathering. However, it still took the blame and the industry moved to a white feather bird quickly. In the interim, the Indian River Delaware took center stage as a male to cross on the New Hampshire female line.
The period 1950-1960 the Indian River cross (Delaware male to New Hampshire female) was very popular. After the late 1950’s, the Vantress White Cornish and Arbor Acres female became dominant along with breeders like Peterson, Pilch, Hubbard, Cobb, Browns Ledbrest and the Indian River White Cornish, etc.
There were huge advances in business structure (integration), nutrition, vaccines, medication, development of M.G, M.S free stock, management and lighting methods and use of computers to record pedigree records of breeding stock, marketing and the way chickens were cooked and eaten.
Our Human Society changed after WWII. Family sizes got smaller, mom went to work, and a T.V. went into the living room – with a T.V. tray! The T.V. created T.V. dinners and fast food. Fast food was started by that old southern white guy, Colonel Sanders, pushing fried chicken to pull in truckers to his gas station that was passed by a new freeway. The Colonel was one of the originators of the fast food industry.
Mom didn’t have time to cook chicken & dumplings, baked chicken, chicken Marcella, chicken mole and the other old world recipes taking 1-3 hours to prepare. Chicken was easier to fry or barbeque quickly. The new broilers were blander and were best used with these cooking styles. They didn’t have the flavor needed for the old world recipes and when cooked for longer periods turned into a greasy, mushy mess, ruining the old recipe. Bottom line is our family “meal time” and “preparation time” decreased. So did the time to grow the chicken. Chicken is sold by the pound. The quicker you grow it, the cheaper it gets. The faster they grow, the more fat you put on it. The more lazy and lethargic the chicken, the fewer calories it burns to move around and more can go to making fat and weak muscle tissue (white meat). The modern chicken lives most of its life within 5 feet of its feed pan and nipple drinker where it eats, drinks, sleeps and poops! The breast of these birds are so big that when they stand to “waddle off” they practically tip over on their face, assuming their legs and joints will ever allow locomotion – believe me, they only do that to get to their “food plate”. Ever see a “free range chicken house” with the commercial birds? You won’t see even 1% outside and the 1% probably was leaning against the door and fell out when it was opened. They usually don’t move much till they get hungry, which happens quickly due to its voracious appetite. These birds are truly a cross between Dolly Parton and the couch potato and sorry Dolly, but the couch would not hold both you and the chicken! These birds don’t need or get a lot of room, the only time they would stretch their wings would be to regain their balance when they stand up, and assuming their legs and joints are still working.
Commercial chickens are bred for white breast meat. White meat is non-working muscle. Dark meat is working muscle like legs. Working muscle is dark due its structure and more blood vessels to carry nutrients to produce energy and movement. The Birds that exercise has more dark meat and more flavor with less fat. It is healthier for you to eat, as well as, tasty and satisfying.
Commercial chickens don’t get any exercise. They hardly move except to water and feed. If you walk into one of our chicken houses, the chickens get out of your way. They are hard to catch! Don’t leave the door open because they are gone! In a commercial chicken house watch where you step because you will either step on one or trip over it. When you go into our chicken houses you “knock first” to alert them or they will fly or stampede and leave you in a cloud of dust. Open a commercial house door and a chick will probably fall out as it leans on the door, trying to gain his balance!
Educational Background of Joe Cebe, Sr.
Our chickens are direct descendants of the chickens developed during the Golden Age 1930-1950. Elsewhere, you will see pictures and descriptions of the breeds that we keep. I personally secured these breeds starting in 1977. I started raising the dual purpose New Hampshire meat birds in 1962, when I was in high school, over 50 years ago. I attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo from 1967-1970 and graduated in 1970 with at B.S. in Poultry Industry.
I had the privilege of studying poultry and poultry genetics under Professor and Department Head Dick Leach. While attending Cal Poly, I worked with the pedigree bred Cal Poly White Leghorn and the Dick Leach White and Red Cornish meat birds. At the time, Dick Leach’s meat birds were much higher quality and just as efficient as the commercial white birds of the day. The Red meat bird had a slightly slower growth rate but, was more active and had better legs that could grow to roaster weights with less breast blisters and leg problems. The meal was firmer textured with more flavor and less fat. They brought a premium “price” in the specialty and live markets. In fact, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Famous Chicken dinners used the red bird exclusively until they were wiped out in the Newcastle epidemic of 1971 on the West Coast.
In 1977, I attended an alumni banquet and was shocked to find that after Dick Leach retired all these breeds were sent to market!! This inspired me to begin a search for those heritage colored meat birds. In 1979, I found a company called “Breeds of America” and purchased foundation breeding stock for the California Red Cornish, the descendants of the old Vantress Red Cornish. The cost at the time was $30 per day old breeder. In 1980, I entered into a business relationship with Breeds of America and took possession of the Christie New Hampshire, a golden recessive White Rock, a Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red from the old Harco line. I also received a meat type Barred Rock (possibly Hubbard). My Delaware line was developed from crosses of the Barred Rock and the New Hampshire line in just the way they were developed at the Indian River Farm! I also developed a slow feathering New Hampshire for use in feather sexing.
In 1989 the business relationship with Breeds of America came to an end and I started raising colored meat birds for the L.A. Live markets and also started a hatchery business under Cebe Farms. I eventually sold to a customer base of over 200 feed stores, distributors and small farmers. I was breeding and selling 37 different varieties of poultry. I expanded my gene pool of older colored meat bird lines and dual purpose blood lines and distributed chicks all over the western states until the end of 1999. At this same time both my mother and father died. The old generation has passed and a new phase for Cebe Farms started. I started the new millennium by discontinuing the feed store chick business to concentrate on the colored meat bird business selling mostly in southern California and some in central California. We started shipping colored meat birds live daily around southern California. I expanded my breeding work on the colored meat lines. Raising larger and larger numbers allowed me to put more selection pressure on my great grandparent’s lines and improve on the market and economic qualities needed to supply this growing market. From the beginning until 2007, I had a 90% to 100% market share of this market in southern California.
There have been ups and downs in this business. In 2003, I lost 3 blood lines in a USDA government taking during the exotic Newcastle outbreak. These lines were to be used in taking a large market share of the 17 week old Chinese light pullet market that was at least 50,000 – 100,000 pullets per week in California. That USDA taking put an end to that end of the business but our 12 week original colored bird market continued.
What makes Cebe Farms Heritage meat birds different and distinctive and the highest quality?
The biggest factor in having high quality poultry that is different and distinctive is the fact that we started with the older heritage breeds developed in the 1930-1950’s. We have maintained their original traits and have improved and adapted them to our southern California markets and climate. We raised them in the old fashion open type housing giving them plenty of room, fresh air, good water and high quality feed of the type used in the golden age. The type bird I desire and breed are selected for vigor and vitality – birds that are very active and love an active lifestyle. They carry excellent muscle tone, low body fat and have an excellent respiratory system that will support an active lifestyle.
They have a moderate growth rate that will put on high quality, lean meat at a steady rate. They can be grown even at high altitude under average ranch stress conditions and continue to grow at a steady rate without breaking down or getting sick. They will not suffer Ascites, leg problems or other disease if given the average care. The commercial white meat birds will not thrive and prosper under bad conditions and high altitude because their bodies outgrow their organs and respiratory system. The commercial birds are MG-MS free, bred under antiseptic conditions in an ideal “germ free” environment allowing growing extremely fast with an unnaturally large breast. This front heavy breast will not allow them to walk or stand normally. Over years of this type of breeding they lose their natural ability to fight off disease and to exercise freely (mostly sitting on the exaggerated large breast – losing their natural gate and mobility). Our birds are selected in Potrero, California at high altitude to add enough stress to select out the best, most healthy and natural breeders to reproduce. The ideal market age is about 11-12 weeks. This age along with the active nature of our natural bred birds produce the best tasting, low fat and nutritious meat you can buy.
Steady healthy growth to a market weight at about 12 weeks produces the best meat quality. Our birds will accomplish this under average conditions with a good feed but do not need a high density, high protein, fat laced broiler ration. Our specially designed feed rations are made of corn, soy beans, some meat and bone scraps and a vitamin mineral pack to fortify it. No added fat to push growth and a fatty body!
Our birds move to market in special racks that protect them and keep them safe until slaughtered. They are sold fresh not frozen – some stores sell them minutes after slaughter, still warm and not chilled yet! Although, I like my chicken to chill about 24 hours to let the muscle relax (post rigamortis), then prepared and eaten! Please check out our website for places to buy our fresh chicken!
What makes our birds different?
Our colored meat birds have always been different and distinctive. **Please see Montgomery Ward catalog in the 1940-1950 chick sections. They are direct decedents of the golden age of meat chickens. I use the same general techniques that breeders used during this time. Listed below are the traits I am looking for:
(1) Livability, vitality and vigor
(A) Chickens are raised in open sided housing under southern California ranch conditions. They are raised on ranches in the mountains and valleys of Ramona, Valley Center and our high altitude ranch in Potrero, California along the Mexican border. The foundation stock is selected and test grown at high altitude in extreme high and low temperatures. Many times they are exposed to a “long thermometer”, a high day and low night temp that stresses the respiratory system.
(B) High Altitude: At high altitudes there is less oxygen so the birds have harder time breathing. Any respiratory diseases are magnified. Fast growth requires large amounts of food, water and oxygen to digest feed and build organs, muscle and bone. Fast growing commercial meat birds develop ascites, a disease brought on by fast growth and high altitude and lack of oxygen. The heart and lungs have to work harder to gain enough oxygen for life and growth. Our birds are bred and raised under adverse conditions and must have outstanding hearts and lungs. They are very active causing them to stay in shape and develop dark muscle and a strong respiratory system.
(C) Our stock has always been MG-MS positive although; all commercial breeders are MG-MS clean. Southern California is a MG-MS positive area especially on the Mexican border. All our stock has been bred positive for over 30 years. It is a known fact there are genetic factors that help manage CRD if selected under MG-MS stresses and our birds have always been highly resistant to the effects of MG-MS.
(D) Livability and vitality through mass selection. We raise almost 2 million meat birds per year. We select our parent, GP and GGP stock in commercial conditions even out of commercially growing flocks using broiler type feeds, lighting and management conditions. We can put severe selection pressure on birds using this method. Although some breeders have climate control housing, we never raise them that way and never keep our GP and GGP lines in climate controlled housing. They are all raised at high altitude in open sided housing under average ranch conditions. This makes the strongest birds rise to the top!
(E) Mass selection for conformation, skeletal structure, growth rate, skin color and general movement and activity. We don’t keep lazy birds!
(F) Breeder hens and males are culled in the breeding pens with less aggressive and timid birds culled immediately. Only the most active, virile and healthy birds are kept!
(G) To acquire the above traits, we have to sacrifice growth rate and a slower bird will require more feed per pound of meat. However, a faster growing bird will not have the meat quality, texture and flavor with low fat and high nutrient value needed for our customer. They would never make it in the commercial industry any more than the commercial bird would satisfy our quality minded customer base.