Yup, we raise broiler chickens and turkeys, and they get to eat grass and do other things birds like to do. We use locally-sourced, GMO-free grain. Chickens are available at the Storrs Farmers Market, the Willimantic Food Co-op, and for CSA members, directly from the farm. Turkeys are available on a pre-order basis only. Contact me if you’re interested.
Our chickens are ‘alternative breeds’, which means they are not the industry-standard white Cornish-Rock crosses. The breed we’re raising this year has the fancy name of ‘mixed gray’. I choose to raise alternative breeds for a number of reasons. Our birds spend most of their lives outside with the opportunity to eat plants and tiny animals. Alternative breeds are much better at this than Cornish-Rock crosses. The crosses are bred to grow as fast as possible, and thus have a tremendous appetite and choose the highest calorie foods available. Which is their grain. The alternative breeds grow more slowly and have conserved more normal chicken behaviors, like scratching and pecking for food in the soil and eating plants.
Additionally, the alternative breeds get to be happier chickens. Crosses grow so fast that often their joints can not keep up with their increasing body weight, and their knees blow out. Heart attacks are not uncommon in full grown birds, especially in warmer weather. The alternative breeds don’t have these problems as frequently because of their slower growth rate and different body proportions – longer, heavier legs and relatively smaller breasts.
Though, as a side note, don’t let me delude you about the ‘happy chickens’ concept. Our birds are farm animals. I do not love them – oh! it’s not true! I do love them! Especially the turkeys. I have a deep fondness for our birds, and their welfare does guide my care for them, but they are also food. This is a concept so many people feel conflicted about. I often feel at odds talking about the ‘happy, healthy chicken’ because people seem to want us to care for the birds like pets. They are not. They are production units. I want them to produce the highest quality product as efficiently as possible. But they are also living creatures that deserve to live a life with integrity. To exhibit their natural behaviors and live in comfort. So it’s a balance, and sometimes a compromise. Right now, for example, the turkeys are still in a portable pen. They would love to have more space and room to roost. But if they were in their electric fence rather than their pen, they’d be preyed upon hawks. So tough luck turkeys, you’ll have to wait a few more weeks.
But I digress. Back to why our birds are good.
And they are. As in, so good! Many people have told me our chicken is the best they have ever eaten. While I agree with them, I used to wonder if they were just being polite. But I think most people can tell the difference between our birds and store-bought, even the ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ ones. I have no science to back this up, but I think our birds taste better because of their varied diet, breeding, age at butchering, clean water, activity levels, and exposure to sunlight and the elements. I think this last bit is important. Think about hydroponic lettuce versus garden lettuce. It’s like barn raised versus pasture raised poultry. Fast growing, tender, and bland for the former. Plants and animals develop way more secondary flavor compounds in response to environmental stresses, which makes tastier food. One could go on…
This year our turkeys are Narragansetts. Man, do these birds like their greenery! If you care about omega 3’s in your meat, pasture raised turkeys are the way to go. (Again, no science here. But I bet you could find some.) I only raise one batch of turkeys per year, so if you are interested contact me well before Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading,