So enough of the goats and on to our chicken harvest. It was a cool morning on January 17th 2015. Normally during this winter month we try to avoid processing any animals, let alone spend very much time outside. Today of all days the temperature got up to a whopping 50 degrees! We have been noticing over the past couple of months that some of our flock started crowing! We purchase straight run chicks to avoid the higher costs of purchasing just females. This means we get about a 50/50 spread of male and female chickens. Unfortunately for our male friends, they aren't really needed for anything. Some people think that you need to keep at least 1 rooster around for egg production, and that just isn't the case. If we wanted to hatch our own chicks here at the farm we would need a male for fertilizing, but we shut down our incubator for the winter so these boys just are not needed. So we skulked around at night, similar to the animated version of the Grinch, grabbing up all the male chickens to place them in a holding pen over night to ensure their digestive system would be empty for processing the next day. All the chickens are pretty easy to catch at night while they are sleeping. Here is a quick photo of the inside of our hoop house with our laying hens going about their business:
So back to my chicken harvesting story! We woke up bright and early to begin preparing our processing area. We clean everything including the chill containers and the processing table. After about an hour's worth of cleaning I move on to sharpening my knives while I wait for the water to heat up for scalding. Once that water is hot enough we can get started! We processed 60 chickens that day. We had some volunteers come and help with the harvest. We began slaughtering at 9 A.M. and didn't finish until about 5 P.M. That is 8 hours straight of chicken processing! Some people might say, "By Golly! That is a long time to process only 60 chickens!" I would have to agree with these people due to our primitive De-feathering machine shown in the picture below:
The closest facility that we could take our chickens to is 2 hours away. This would mean having to transport live chickens 2 hours to pay someone to process the birds, and then you drive 2 hours back to sell them. Not only has the carbon footprint grown now that you have to burn so much fuel to transport them, but now it adds to the cost of growing the bird in the first place. People who have their birds processed at this facility can legally sell them anywhere including restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets. Since we have a Poultry Exemption License we are only allowed to sell our chickens off the farm to individuals. This means we can't sell to restaurants, stores, or even at farmers markets. People say that farming is hard work, but the truth is that the laws make it next to impossible to operate. How can a farmer market their food if they are not allowed to take it to places to sell it? Why is it that everything we want to do is illegal? Some people might say that 'food safety' is the law's priority here! If that were the case then they would make it illegal to administer growth hormones or antibiotics to the animals we eat. There are many studies showing that these regularly used hormones and antibiotics in commercial food operations are transferred to us, the consumer! If you haven't heard of this, try looking up Bovine Growth Hormone (apparently Monsanto is behind that one too.. thanks Monsanto!), once you do, you will keep reading this with a horrified look, thinking "What can I do! It's EVERYWHERE!", and there are a few things you can do. One solution is to not support commercial agriculture whenever possible. There are local farmers running creameries, raising meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. You can ask them personally what is in the product you are buying. Another solution is to buy products that specifically say that growth hormones were not used, or of course Organic is a pretty safe bet (but read up on Organic Regulations to make sure you agree with what they deem as acceptable! Don't just take my word on it!). I found a really nice guide on Slow Food St. Louis that you will find useful when you start questioning every grocery you buy! Here is the link: http://www.slowfoodstl.org/propaganda/you-are-what-you-eat/
Ultimately, keep in mind.. a HEALTHY animal, living in a CLEAN environment, that is not OVERCROWDED does not need antibiotics! And no animal EVER needs growth hormones! End Rant!
I love farming. I love the hard physical work that shapes me in many ways. I love the food that I grow and eat, and it has made me a healthier person. I haven't been ill with the cold or the flu since we moved out here over 2 years ago and started growing our own food. Is this a coincidence? If you don't think that the food I grow is safe than don't eat it, but please don't make a law that keeps other people from making the decision for themselves.
Now you know why pasture raised food is more expensive. It costs a LOT of money to grow it. We utilize more land with less animals to maintain a healthier ecosystem. The law forces us to utilize expensive avenues in order to sell our products. The bureaucracy ends up being more exhausting than the actual farm work!
On a lighter note! Here is a picture of Alicia, and our 2 volunteers Dan and Jeff!