As a small family farm with limited labor, we process only a few hundred chickens and turkeys a season. They are currently sold as whole frozen chickens at our stand in The Matthews Community Farmers' Market. Our Thanksgiving turkeys are processed fresh for the week of Thanksgiving. For chickens and fresh Thanksgiving turkeys we recommend you sign-up for our mailing list to receive notifications. For why and how we raise these birds please read continue reading below:
THE MISSING INGREDIENT
The predominant agricultural model of our age has made our food anonymous. We don’t know a lot about the life of the animals we are eating. This has contributed greatly to a disconnect between the life and health of the animals we eat and our own health; between their bodies and our bodies. This is a seemingly obvious relationship that is totally obscured in our eating experience today. Partaking of a healthy animal that has been given a wholesome life (provided with all the elements for good health and allowed to express their nature as creatures) is a clear benefit to the health of our bodies and our souls. This basic knowledge of the life and stewardship of the animals we are eating has been hidden and denied to eaters in the current agricultural system. The industrialization and centralization of our agriculture has put us at arms length from any connection with our food. The supermarket is as close as we come to the farm and our innate desire to have knowledge about what we are eating and how it was cared for is satisfied with images from advertising and packaging. We want to believe these pastoral images because it is our food, but these falsehoods do not satisfy but rather hide a lot of harsh truths about how our food is raised. This lack of true knowledge keeps us in ignorance and perpetuates poor husbandry; it diminishes our health, the health of our land, and the blessing of food.
Farmer /Author Wendell Berry said, “a significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes” (italics mine). This accurate consciousness is an ingredient that has long been missing from our meals, and maybe one of the most important ingredients in a really good meal. Many people are enjoying this consciousness again as they come to know their local farmers, visit local farms and learn about the lives of the creatures in their care. We once again have a choice and our choices become agricultural acts, supporting and encouraging the kind of farming we want to make part of our bodies and our land. With these acts we can begin to take back the blessing of food.
THE LIFE OF A CHICKEN
The life of our animals has been a priority at New Town Farms since we began in 1991. You are welcome to visit our farm and see first hand our animal husbandry. We want to give you an accurate consciousness of the life of our birds:
Our chickens are raised on pasture in movable pens to protect them from a host of predators. They are moved to fresh pasture twice daily to provide fresh grasses, insects, and a clean environment. They have fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and green matter; all the things we know are necessary for good health yet all the things denied an industrially raised chicken. They are allowed to be chickens- roaming, eating greens, and scratching the ground for seeds and insects. With all the ingredients in place for a wholesome life our birds have no need for antibiotics or any medications.
Our chickens eat well, moving to fresh pasture daily they have a healthy blend of grasses and broad leaf plants, seeds, and the myriad of insect life above the ground and below in their scratching zone. We supplement their forage with custom feed made with Certified Organic, non-GMO grains, certified Organic Fish meal, Icelandic Kelp (for minerals), Vitamins, and Probiotics. Unfortunately, Organically grown, Non Genetically Manipulated (or Non GMO) grains are now a rare commodity. Due to the short supply they are almost double the cost of the genetically manipulated grains that now dominate the agricultural landscape. Providing Organically grown non-GMO feed for our birds is something we believe is very important for the health of the bird, our health, and the health of agriculture. It adds significantly to the cost of production, but by purchasing these or other organically fed chickens you are bringing back the demand for these grains and changing what happens on the farm. There are hidden costs in abusive agriculture that are paid at some point somewhere.
We have experimented with many breeds but are currently focused on breeds of French heritage. The breeding stock is imported from the regions of Burgundy and Brittany (France). The genetic stock is derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken and was developed in the early 1960’s to meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program. Strongly rooted French culinary traditions have worked to preserve heritage breeds from being wiped out by the industrial production breed. The French have preserved a legacy of breeding for flavorful birds that thrive in small scale, free- range systems. These breeds have not lost their foraging instincts and thus gather more nutrition and flavor from the pasture than the industrial breed. They are also slower growing which allows them time to develop more flavor (10 to 12 weeks compared to the 6 weeks birth to slaughter for the industrial breed).
Diversity and sustainability are also issues in our breed selection. As with most industrial animal production, poultry farms in the US now rely on one breed of bird to the exclusion of all other breeds and the extinction of many. Bred to grow extremely fast, the industrial breed is too obese to navigate natural breeding when it is old enough to reproduce and is not a breed that can be sustained naturally. The choice of heritage breeds for flavor and nutrition is also in the interest of diversity and sustainability. These genetics are important to keep with us as we rebuild sustainable farming systems and add local character back to regional cuisines.
All of our poultry is processed on farm. Our birds are in our care and on the farm throughout their lives. It is important for us to participate in this final stage of animal husbandry to ensure it is carried out humanely and respectfully, honoring the life of the creature and it’s sacrifice for our nourishment. On farm processing also allows us to be in control of sanitation throughout the butchering and packaging process. We have processed chickens and turkeys on the farm since 1994. In 2010 we received a grant from the Rural Advancement Fund International to build an on-farm poultry processing facility to accommodate our growing pastured poultry operation.
Beside full circle husbandry, on-farm butchering is also a logistical and economic necessity for many small farmers. The vertical integration of factory poultry farms and their complete domination of poultry farming in our country has meant the demise of the small scale local processor. As of 2010 there was only one processor left in the state of NC where a small independent poultry farmer could take his flocks for processing. Fortunately, the NC Department of Agriculture has recognized the growing need for on-farm processing and has established regulations and an inspection process to ensure legality and safety of on-farm processing.
On-farm butchered, pasture raised birds have been shown to have significantly less bacterial counts than factory farm birds. A researcher at NC State has recently shown that bacteria found on farm butchered, pasture raised birds did not contain the antibiotic resistant strains found on chicken coming out of the industrial system.
© 2014 Samuel Ellis Koenigsberg