Posts Tagged ‘Pastured chickens’

chickensWe are currently looking to hire a part-time helper to care for our broiler chickens from April through October. This is a great opportunity for someone who is interested in learning about our sustainable farming practices. All the details are on our Job Openings page.

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Pastoral Chickens

I was walking down to the lower field the other day, when I came upon this view of our broiler chickens foraging. Sometimes it is hard to explain why our pastured broilers taste so much better (and are so much better for you) than supermarket chicken. It struck me that the sight of them roaming around, looking for bugs and eating grass says it all. So I took a video.

And just by way of comparison, here is what a supermarket chicken’s home looks like:

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We announced in a newsletter last week that we have started taking orders for pastured chicken by subscription for 2012. If you are like me, it may be difficult to estimate ahead of time how much chicken to buy for a whole year. I went searching around the web for consumption statistics, and I found this interesting graph:

Holy hockey stick, Batman! Look at that chicken trend! If you extrapolate from this picture, we’ll all be eating 500 pounds of chicken per year in no time!

So what is the answer for how many chickens the average family buys today? It’s complicated. Of the 60 pounds of chicken meat (not counting bones) consumed per person, 48% is sold through restaurants. So on average, we eat 35 pounds boneless or about 12 chickens per person at home.

My family of four bought 40 chickens last summer (2 subscriptons). It is February, and they are all gone. It looks like we are ahead of the curve.

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Chicken Stew

Stew season is upon us again! Yesterday, I had some chicken and half a cabbage I wanted to put in a stew, so I called up Chef Craig Fournier for advice. I gave him a list of what I had in the cupboard and he came up with this recipe. It was delicious!

Chef Craig Chicken Stew

1 whole chicken, cut up
3 lg potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
3 parsnips, peeled and cut in 2 inch long sections
1 lg onion, chopped
½ cup flour
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
½ cabbage, chopped in 1 inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°. Put ½ cup flour, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper in a large Ziploc bag. Put half the chicken pieces in the bag at a time and shake the bag to coat. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large skillet until it just starts to smoke. Brown the chicken on all sides over medium high heat. Transfer the chicken to a Dutch oven. Sauté the onions, parsnips, and potatoes in the skillet until the onions turn clear (5-8 min). Transfer the vegetables to the Dutch oven. Add 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp flour to the skillet and cook 3-5 minutes over medium heat. Add ½ cup white wine to the skillet and deglaze. Add 2 cups of chicken stock to the skillet and bring it to a boil. Transfer the liquid to the Dutch oven. Pour in more chicken stock if necessary to just cover all the meat and vegetables. Throw in the cabbage on top. Cover and bake @ 350° 30-40 minutes. Take it out, stir it, taste it, salt & pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thin, strain out the meat & vegetables and reduce the sauce. Optional: remove the chicken meat from the bones and skin before mixing the meat & vegetables back into the sauce.

Serve with fresh bread.

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If the projections for Hurricane Irene come true, we might have tropical storm conditions on Sunday. We are working to make sure the animals have adequate shelter. And we are also preparing for the possibility of a power failure. Despite our mission of farming sustainably, we are very dependent on electricity for many things, including the fences that  keep animals in and predators out. Steve has temporarily put the pigs into the corral, where they will be very cozy and secure without power. The chickens will be shut in their houses temporarily, and the cows will bunk with the pigs. This should please the pigs no end—they love the cows and visit them whenever they get the chance. The feelings are not mutual, but cows will just have to tolerate their annoying little friends for a day or so.

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We have lost a number of chickens to aerial predators over the last couple of weeks—as much as one chicken per day. The red-tailed hawk pictured above seems to be one of the culprits. At this time of year, the young fledglings are leaving the nest, and the adults are teaching them to hunt. It seems that they see our fields as the perfect place to train, and to treat the whole hawk family to a good meal of organic pasture-raised chicken.

This is now a major problem, and it could get worse over the next few weeks, so we decided to contact the USDA Wildlife Department to find out what options are available to us. Angelic DeButts, Wildlife Specialist with NH Wildlife Services stopped by and gave us a number of options to try and deter the hawk. These include pyrotechnics, a screech owl effigy, scary eye balloons, and trying to create a “no landing zone” in our chicken paddock. A permit to kill the hawk can be issued by the NH Wildlife services if these options are tried and none of them work. We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.

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It’s not easy to farm in harmony with nature. In fact, it seems that whenever you think you have it figured out, nature demonstrates that she can make your plan fail, no problem at all.

Yesterday, Patrick set off to the fields on his daily round of chores, and came upon a gruesome scene. In one of the chicken enclosures, 40 of the 5-week-old chicks had been killed by a predator. We aren’t sure what the animal was, but it got to the chicks by digging a shallow ditch under the electric netting. Lately, grass and weeds have grown thick around the electric fences all over the farm, draining power from the fence at every point of contact. The voltage got low enough that the predator, whatever it was, was undeterred by the shock. We all feel sickened by this episode. Steve has been furiously taking it out on the weeds with the weed whacker. He also installed a bigger fence charger, so the voltage is now back to a level that should be effective.

As for the animal’s identity, we were quick to suspect a fox. A fox has been spotted many times snooping around the fence. But the mass killing is not typical of foxes. And here is a strange detail: several of the dead chickens had been buried. Domestic dog is one possibility. Fisher cat, badger, and skunk are all on the list. But none of them matches the m.o. perfectly. Craig and Patrick will be on the case this weekend while Steve and I are both away for the holiday. Craig is going to install a game camera for hunters to see if we can get a photo of the culprit, so we can figure out how to deal with it.

It’s not that we think we can beat nature with technology–that is an arms race that we don’t want to start. But we have to solve this particular mystery because now that the predator has succeeded, it is almost certain to come back, bolder than ever.

We’ll let you know how this turns out.

Photo by Craig Fournier of a chicken buried by the myster predator

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Steve and I were exhausted today after our first day of chicken processing on Wednesday. We owe a tremendous thank-you to volunteer Craig Fournier (Patrick’s Dad), who worked way above and beyond the call of duty to help us. Craig applied his training as a chef everywhere from eviscerating to following all the food safety best practices to barbecuing a chicken lunch for us on his smoker grill. Plus, his cheerful spirit and iPod/boombox really helped make the day fun.

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Today we connected the paddocks of our two laying flocks so the younger hens (Barred Rocks, foreground) could meet the older hens (New Hampshire Reds, background). They will all be bunking together once we get the mobile layer coop finished, so we are letting them sort out a new pecking order first. All went well. Everybody was very curious and very skittish. We witnessed a lot of bluster and games of chicken. It was so much fun to watch, we could have sat there all day. But sadly, we are behind schedule on too many other projects (like building a mobile layer coop). Luckily, the grass is behind schedule this year as well.

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Shea Vaccaro and I have spent the past few days assembling this giant tin can in the garage. Whenever I see one of these things on a farm that ostensibly raises grass-fed beef, I question the farmer what it is for (and so should you). Steve will tell you it is our tribute to the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight. But in reality, it is a bulk grain storage bin. Some farmers use them to store grain for their cattle. In our case, it will hold organic chicken feed for our broilers. We can save over 20% of the cost of feed by buying in bulk, rather than in bags.

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