Bell & Evans, Fredericksburg, Pa., is said to be the first U.S. chicken producer to transition to a higher-welfare, slower-growing, more flavorful breed of broiler chickens. The new breed, Das Klassenbester, will 100% replace Bell & Evans’ current breed of chickens by the end of 2018.

“We expect to invest more than $75 million in the new breed during the first five years, an investment I can’t see commodity producers making,” says Scott Sechler, owner. “We don’t raise commodity chickens. Every single chicken we process passes through our organic-certified hatchery, never receives an antibiotic – even while in the egg – and have the same genetics, taking away all guesswork for our customers. We’re pretty proud to say that 100% of our products will come from a higher-welfare, better-quality breed.”

Bell & Evans has experienced some quality issues related to the breed, despite having a high animal welfare standards and growing its chickens to a smaller live weight.

In 2015, Bell & Evans pursued options for a better-quality breed of chickens by working with European breeders. A specialty female breed was selected for its slow growth and high meat yield, and a male breed was chosen for its excellent meat yield, fertility and livability rates. The new breed of offspring was named Das Klassenbester for its European descent and premium, best-in-class genetics.

“This is a big deal,” says Sechler. “So far, our testing has netted healthy, hardy chickens that result in a great-tasting, high-quality product with lots of flavor. No white striping or woody breasts were detected. We’re really excited to fully convert to the Klassenbester.”

The new breeds look different too. The females boast rich reddish-brown feathers while the males are slightly larger than the females and have bright white feathers. The Klassenbester broilers are mostly white feathered with some sporadic color variations.

The first female pullets were placed into Bell & Evans’ pullet houses in May. By the end of 2018, 100% of Bell & Evans’ chickens will be fully converted to the new breed. Bell & Evans already grows its chickens to a smaller size than most producers, averaging a live weight of only 5.6 pounds over 41 days. The new breed will average the same live weight, but will grow slower over 47-50 days, extending the growth cycle upwards of 15% and reducing unnecessary stress on their bodies, resulting in better overall health.