**This post will discuss pasture raised and commercially raised chicken with some detail. If you are super squeemish, I apologize. You might want to stop and protect your mind from the truth! If you are a pro-active supporter of local, free market economy and sustainable farming practices AND healthy food then read on! **
So you want to make the change over to fresh, local raised chicken. You want to feed your family food sans the antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals, and other drugs while supporting the local economy. You make the decision that you will no longer settle for the mushy, flavorless trash chicken sold in the grocery store. After hours of searching, you locate a local farmer who raises chicken out in the fresh air and on clean, green grass. Fabulous! You are excited and ready to make this transition only to discover that the single chicken costs anywhere from $15-$30! Is this the correct price? It's only a chicken, after all. You can go buy one at the store for half the price or less! What is the story behind that price tag?
Many people find themselves in the dilemma similar to the above when they decide to make a switch locally grown food such as chicken. The commercial food industry has brainwashed us into thinking that cheap food is as good as any other and to expect low prices. I will tell you that the high price on the locally raised chicken will cost you less in the long run versus the cheap, commercial chicken available at the grocery store.
Let's start with what you get when you pay $6- $10 for the 3-4 pound grocery store whole chicken. You are buying food for your family and this food started out in a cramped, commercial growing house along with thousands of other chickens. The facility is so crowded, in fact, that the air is full of chicken waste and dust. The chicken spent its entire life in this facility, never experiencing what a chicken is naturally born to do which is live outside in fresh air. The stress and threat of disease on the chicken is so intense within the facility that drugs and chemicals had to be placed in the feed to help it survive its short life in confinement.
The grower had no emotional attachment to the chicken either as it was just another bird amongst the thousands, therefore it's total well being was never a consideration.
After the chicken grew to its desired size, with the help of growth hormones, it was crammed again into a small crate with lots of other chickens to be placed on back of a truck and driven many miles away to be processed. The cramped conditions of the cages often results in more than several bird deaths on the drive to the processing plant. Once at the plant, the chickens are hung up, electrocuted and mechanically killed and eviscerated. The evisceration process is sometimes so brutal that the intestines are cut, resulting in a fair amount of fecal matter splattered everywhere. Don't worry though, after the entire bird is processed it will be placed into several water baths made up of cold water and chlorine. The bath water usually does have fecal waste at the bottom of the tank, but rest assured that the water and chlorine soak up into the chicken meat to help kill the germs. After proper cooling the chicken is finished, wrapped and shipped to your grocery store where you can purchase it for your family meals at a bargain price.
What do you get when you buy a $15-$30 pasture-raised bird from a local farmer? First you get a chicken that was raised in a brood box by a farmer who gives the chicks space and is gentle in handling them. The farmer also changes bedding often and because the number of birds is quite low, he can monitor and watch for any chicks that might seem ill or might not be getting enough food.
After a couple of weeks in a brooder, the chickens are moved outdoors into a roomy cage that is open to fresh air and sunshine. There is also a covered area for the chicken to sleep under at night so they are safe from rain and predators. Everyday the chickens are moved onto a fresh area of grass so that they can live like chickens by scratching around and eating grass and bugs. The farmer also supplies fresh water and grain each day so that they have plenty of nutrients in their diet. Because of the fresh grass and sunshine the chickens are healthy and do not require drugs or chemicals, and the manure left behind by the chickens fertilizes the pasture so that it can remain healthy and vigorous as well.
When it is time for processing the chickens are not shipped to a plant in cages but rather simply carried by the farmer, in his arms and in a calm manner. There is no electrocution, but rather a slit of the carotid arteries so that the chickens simply pass out and sleep until they are bled out. The evisceration is done by hand and carefully so that nothing is contaminated and nothing is wasted. The chickens are cooled in a clean tank with ice water and wrapped and finished by hand. The entire process is completed humanely and with total respect to the living animal that was sacrificed to feed local families.
The final contribution to the local chicken is that the farmer has not only supplied your family with clean, healthy food but has most likely supplied his own family with the same nourishment. Local farmers who raise pastured poultry do it so they can make a living and feed their families. Your purchase stayed within the local community and is supplying a farmer with an income so that he may continue to provide the service of raising pastured chicken. While people might cringe at the higher cost for local food it is important to understand that a small grower spends more money, time, and labor raising the food. Buyers also save money by maintaining a healthier diet on pasture raised chicken versus the commercial chicken which contains fewer nutrients, unhealthy fats, and harmful drugs and chemicals.
Buying local, pasture raised chicken supports local economy and supports sustainable farming practices.It also creates a buyer-consumer relationship! Where else can you visit the location where your food was raised and speak to the grower face to face? It's a satisfying feeling to know who you buy from your food from and exactly how it was grown, and local farmers appreciate the relationship as well.
Later this week I will post pictures of my birds and their outdoor pens, along with details on how we built them!
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