Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Vegetarian Turned Scavenger Turned Poultry Farmer

I started eating meat this year when I found out I was pregnant with Pearl. Our bodies need so much protein to support a healthy pregnancy and I'm just not as creative with food as some of my vegetarian friends. The first meat I ate was what I call "meat without the guilt." Our friends at a local sheep dairy had recently had a mountain lion attack and leave a lamb for dead. They gave us a large portion of the lamb, which Glenn made into a fantastic stew. I tried to think of ways to scavenge all of my meat, but as it turns out, half eaten fresh meat is hard to come by. So I ate pasture-raised chicken and happy cows from a farm in Cayucos, CA. It's not that I have anything against eating meat in general, it's just that I think mass production of meat in the United States is disgusting, unhealthy and inhumane. Ideally I would hunt for my food, if only I had the cojones.

When Glenn brought up the fact that he would like to raise meat chickens, I was a bit apprehensive as I was sort of happy living on a "no kill" farm. We live close to a farm that sells pasture-raised chickens at the local farmer's market. The difference between pasture-raised chickens and free-range chickens is incredible. Pasture-raised chickens actually live outside and are free to eat bugs, seeds, plants and insects. They also have a shelter at night and nesting boxes. Free-range chickens are not confined to cages, but there are no rules about the size of their roaming area.

Glenn heard there is a demand for heritage chickens that are pasture-raised, so he started doing his research about different heritage chickens. Glenn would like to breed the chickens, then sell the chicks to our local farm to be pasture raised. Glenn ordered three rare heritage breeds from the Sand Hill Preservation Center: Buckeye, Mottled Java and Delaware. Several weeks ago he sent one rooster from each kind to the farm to be pasture raised. When the roosters reach optimal size, we will have a bar-b-cue to find out which one tastes the best. Next year Glenn will focus on breeding that heritage chicken.

The Buckeye was the first breed of chicken to be developed by a woman. It was originally established by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf in the late 1880s. Nettie wanted to develop a hardy chicken that could withstand the cold Ohio winters. This chicken looks like a Rhode Island Red, except it has a pea comb.

The gentle Delaware first originated in the state of (surprise) Delaware by a man named George Ellis. He created the breed in the 1940s and wanted to call them Indian Rivers (which I think is way cooler than Delaware). The breed was once very important to the poultry industry, but was pushed out by the White Cornish Rock. It is now critically endangered.

Also critically endangered is the Mottled Java. It is considered to be the second oldest breed of chicken in the U.S., developed around 1840 from Asian stock. These guys sell for $5.00/chick! Thank goodness they all survived (and three out of four turned out to be hens!).

I'm on board now with the chicken killing. People are going to eat chicken and isn't it better they eat a chicken that has climbed a tree or chased a butterfly than some poor soul that has never seen the sun? I'm also happy we will be raising endangered heritage birds. At least we will be helping in a small way to keep one of these breeds from going extinct.


  1. When I first started raising chickens, and wound up with 7 roosters. I decided to butcher the extras for meat. It was difficult both mentally and physically for me at the time. So, I decided that I would only raise my chickens for eggs. All of my chickens have free reign of our property during the day and I know they are far healthier than anything I can buy at the super market, so I am reconsidering raising my own meat birds. After all, if I can provide my family with something that is much better for their health, why wouldn't I.


  2. We raise meat birds and love it. We have the slaughter and preparation of the meat down to a science now so it isn't so hard. The lives our chickens have prior to becoming food is cushy, to say the least, so it definitely is food without guilt. We also started raising meat pheasants and meat quail this year - a good food addition that are a bit easier to breed than chickens. We also selected endangered breeds - we went with Russian Orloffs - a great dual-purpose bird that is definitely in need of advocates in the US. Not only do Orloffs lay eggs nearly year-round, they also are very meaty and tender even after over a year of laying. If you decide you are interested in them, I'd be delighted to send some hatching eggs along to you in the Spring.

  3. Rhonda,
    Too bad there isn't an easier way to butcher an animal. I guess that is part of the process of being thankful for the meat that is provided by the animal! Good luck if you do decide to raise meat birds again. Jess

  4. Julia,
    Wow, your Russian Orloffs are beautiful! And they sound like an excellent breed. We would love to have you ship some eggs in the Spring! Jess

  5. Sounds like an excellent enterprise, and I'm totally with you on the humane meat eating. One question that Glenn might be better able to answer- might there be an issue making a decision based upon eating the roosters of each breed vs. the hens? I believe roosters tend to have a somewhat different taste and texture than hen, so I'm wondering if it might be hard to judge the best meat from eating rooster alone? Just a thought from a wannabe farmer... Anyhoos, I'm thinking you will DEFINITELY need an assistant now and I've got someone in mind;).

  6. Erin, I'll have to ask Glenn about that one. Very interesting indeed. We would love an assistant. Our offer still stands: no pay but all the lip balm your heart desires.

  7. Wow, that was interesting. You rally know your chickens, Jess! I think like you concerning eating meat - the way it's done in mass production is absolutely disgusting and inhumane. I don't want a part of it, but since people don't see that and only buy from a nice and tidy meat cooler where everything is cut in pieces, it's socially acceptable. I bet if people had to kill for their own meat, there would be a lot more vegetarians!

    Besides, Jess, you don't need the cojones because traditionally Glenn is the hunter and you're the gatherer and child rearer.