Folks, You Can't Buy This at the Store!
What is Pastured Poultry?
Pastured poultry is a production model designed to enhance the natural foraging tendencies of chickens. Cornish Cross is the typical breed raised for use as meat birds (broilers/roasters) and are most commonly found in the commercial poultry industry. The pastured poultry method employs mobile, bottomless chicken shelters allowing the birds direct access to fresh air, grass, and sunshine. The shelters are moved daily to ensure their “salad bar” is fresh and plentiful. The chickens are raised for 6-8 weeks and then processed on the farm.
Why Pastured Poultry?
The commercial poultry industry is focused on how to produce and process chickens by using the quickest and cheapest ways possible. What is wrong with this methodology? The chickens are not allowed to express their natural tendencies to forage and are instead crammed into confinement houses where fecal dust causes respiratory problems and many other health issues. Productivity is therefore maintained by the use of antibiotics. These chickens never feel the warm sunshine, breathe fresh air or eat green pasture. Even commercial organic chickens tend to live in crowded and unhealthy conditions, the only differences being the organic status of the chicken feed and an “access to the outdoors” with no specifications regarding the required size for this space. Chickens living in unhealthy conditions produce a weaker and inferior product. These industrial chickens lack muscle tone and the soft and mushy muscle ends up soaking in up to 10% of its retail carcass weight in chill tank water, which due to the volume of chickens processed, includes fecal matter (Salatin, 1993). The pastured poultry model produces a clean and nutrient-dense product with superior taste and quality.
Industrial poultry processing begins with the chickens being loaded up and sent to a poultry processing plant. The chickens are then put in shackles to be killed. Mechanical killing requires the chickens to be still in order for the cutting wheel to hit the jugular vein. To accomplish this, the chickens are stunned with an electrical current, which inhibits the chicken from bleeding well and causes the black clotted blood found around the bones of commercial chickens (Salatin, 1993). Next, mechanical evisceration is used to remove the birds’ innards and many times results in fecal contamination as a result of the intestines breaking. This is why commercial chickens can be given up to 40 chlorine baths during the course of processing the birds, which then leads me to wonder how much of that is soaked up into the soft muscle of the carcass?
On farm processing starts with the birds being taken from the pasture to the processing site in plastic crates. Killing cones (stainless steel funnels) are used to hold the birds still while the carotid artery is cut allowing the birds to naturally pump out the blood completely. Next, the chickens are put into a scalder that rotates and dunks them in order to loosen the feathers and helps them to come out by the root and produce a clean and smooth skin. The feathers are removed using a plucker. A plucker is a rubber-fingered drum that rotates the birds and agitates the feathers to separate them from the skin. Next, the feet and the head are removed along with any other pin feathers or hairs the plucker missed. These birds are then put into a water tank to rinse and wait for evisceration. Evisceration starts by removing the oil glands from the tail. With the gentleness of the human hand, the crop, esophagus and windpipe are then loosened around the neck and breast and the entrails are removed from the opposite end. Hearts and livers are saved and birds are then rinsed and put into a chill tank to wait for the final quality control inspection. Once birds pass inspection, they are put into the final chill tanks and then packaged.
Who does the on farm processing??? The farmers....who raise and care for the chickens from the beginning and wish to make the best product the market has to offer.
Salatin, J. (1993). Pastured poultry profits. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.