I like to keep it simple. Feed the things from time to time, do whatever else you can and.... cornbread 'aint too bad.
That's how it was arranged not too long ago. It was well known that chickens can get along on all sorts of things, as you suggest. They will make do and adapt and for many centuries we let them do just that. Meanwhile we took what we could from them
But it was learned along the way that it was just so much more satisfying to see them get bigger and do more for a little extra care. Toss in some breeding effort and some control and by golly, things worked out even better. This started back in the 1800's in this country, but it had been going on much longer. The Egyptians, Romans, Chinese and the Rajas of India all were poultry fanciers, well before the petroleum barons showed up to rape the modern world. Eventually, science did get in the game and the gates were opened.... but it was actually late to the party.
Sure, we can let any chicken run amok and revert back to it's "natural," adaptive state. At the same time, it's not wrong to give them a little something extra so they can fatten and prosper on our behalf. It's an investment, really, that we make in them.
If there weren't some benefit, at least to someone's mind, standardized breeding and commercial feed would never have happened, so I won't debate that obviously different people have at certain points have thought it was worthwhile to intensify production farming in the way you describe. All that makes perfect sense. But when it comes to massive overhauls of agrarian systems, I'm simply talking about the tradeoffs--because, like I described, it seems to me there are always tradeoffs, whether readily apparent or not--the most obvious of which is that however enticing, a novel system that relies on specific conditions and significant outside inputs simply cannot last. History tells us that, in case common sense isn't enough...
And as a farmer who utilizes a number of landrace farming principles in my work, and has made a point of trying to educate myself and other people about the practice of landrace farming (yes, a little disclaimer here! ) I really chafe at the implied assumption that landrace husbandry is just about being lazy and "letting any chicken run amok and revert." That is unfortunately a common but skewed perception. Obviously you aren't familiar at all with the nuances of landrace farming. Perhaps you should look it up, because it's actually quite fascinating! The genetic principles and the many breeding techniques of landrace farmers are actually quite sophisticated and savvy and represent cultural wisdom based on a keen sense of observation and a deep understanding of applied ecological principles--not just letting mutt chickens run amok and not feeding them.
We're talking about a different philosophy, not an inferior one--and so we're back to subjective values again here. But I'll just say that things that are timeless are timeless for a reason.
Edited by sky the chicken man - 4/22/12 at 10:23pm