Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We do this because...

Last week for my job as a FACS teacher I had to purchase 18 roasting chickens from BJ's for our annual Renaissance festival.  As I placed these inexpensive chickens, two at a time, into a roasting pan I was struck by the dramatic difference from our pasture raised birds.  I am not an iPhone person so I did not snap a picture of their yellow tinged skin and short legs.  I observed another dramatic difference in the neck and liver in the little plastic package stuffed inside.  The chicken's neck was about the circumference of my thumb and the liver a mushy, burnt orange.

We have raised pasture based chickens for five years.  We started with dual purpose birds that we raised for most of the summer.  These chicks were cheap as they are often discarded by hatcheries selling pullets but their carcasses were not the breasty birds we are accustomed to.  We then tried the carefully breed Cornish Crosses one finds in the supermarket.  I know the ones I purchased at the supermarket last week lived about 50 days.  We were disgusted by the Cornish Crosses as they stayed belly up to the feeder not foraging and rarely waddling to another spot. 

We then discovered Freedom Rangers. These red broilers are slow growing and well suited for a grass based system.  The Freedom Rangers appreciate our efforts to provide them with fresh grass.  We move them outside as soon as they have feathers into portable pens.  We move the pens twice a day if the chickens are closed in the pen.  When the chickens are about 6 weeks we open the pens and release them into a polynet enclosure.  For the first couple of weeks of the pens being open we close them in each night.  It is great fun to watch them run when the pen is opened each morning.  They race in a big circle around the pen flapping their wings. 

We have the birds slaughtered on the farm at about 12 weeks of age.  The legs are long and strong, the neck thick and the liver and gizzard a deep burgundy color.  Beyond the health of the chicken and it quality of life it had is the flavor, it tastes like chicken and does not need to be hidden under BBQ sauce or marinated for hours to have flavor.  It is real food.

Friday, February 8, 2013

March 11th

I've called to schedule Sparkler into the Royal Butcher.  Sparks is my original sow.  She came to us over 5 years go and is a fantastic mother.  Her last two litters have been small with no piglets surviving from her fall farrowing.  After the failed fall litter we decided not to breed her again.  Mike offered to let her live out her life here as she holds the status of being our original pig.  She will follow me like a puppy dog.  Sparkler was the one who came when I said wouldn't it be fun to have a sow so we could have piglets.  After that it was "Well, if you are going to the barn to care for one why not have two, or three, or more."

I was torn about Sparkler's fate and undecided about what we would do.

The controversy this fall surrounding the oxen at Green Mountain College was a no brainer for me, of course they should be food it is cycle of life on a farm.  I was frustrated by those not understanding a farm's cycle but at the same time I was debating what to do with Sparks.  She is separate from the other sows and Boris in a hog paneled enclosure in the paddock with Maysa.  She talks to Maysa, we have even seen Maysa grooming Spark's back like she did the other horses.

One challenge with Sparkler staying is she still goes into heat.  Just last weekend I was greeted on Saturday morning by Boris out of his electric fence standing outside Sparkler's area.  He easily came for food and I closed he and sows inside for a couple of days until her heat passed.  Sparkler's age also has taken away from her the top spot with the sows.  Last fall when all the sows were briefly together she was no longer top pig and got beaten up some.  I worry about her being injured as she ages.

We talked about selling her to someone to slaughter but I've decided the most respectful thing I can do it to take her myself to the Royal Butcher.  She will be treated with respect.  She will experience minimum stress as  I will carefully load and unload her myself. 

We raise meat animals so we know they are treated well.  As a farmer I believe it is my job to care for and respect them from birth to slaughter, even when it is a difficult choice.