Kookoolan Farms is at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday, August 26, 10am to 2pm, with fresh whole chickens, ducks and rabbits; frozen cut-up and halved chickens; a small inventory of frozen no-soy, no-corn chickens; fresh eggs from pasture-raised hens; our homemade Kombucha tea; and several people will be picking up reserved shares of beef and pork. Thanksgiving 2012 turkeys are sold out. At the farmer's market you can also talk with Farmer Chrissie about reserving beef, pork, or lamb shares, and sign up for any of our cheesemaking classes! (We have fewer than 10 "pastured pigs" left for this year, and fewer than six lambs left for this year, reserve soon or you'll have to wait until June 2013!)
OUR CHICKEN SEASON RUNS THRU THE END OF OCTOBER
Kookoolan Farms poultry animals are raised outdoors on grass pasture. Therefore our poultry is a seasonal product, not available year-round. Our 2012 pasture-raised poultry season runs from the beginning of May through the end of October. We will kill our last chicken on the year on October 30, 2012, after which no more fresh chickens will be available until approximately May 1, 2013.
STOCKING UP - DISCOUNT PACKAGES FOR BUYING BULK
Note that in order to have chickens for the winter, you’ll want your freezer to be fully stocked up before the end of October (September recommended as October chickens sell out quickly with people stocking up for winter.) We offer a few different discounts for stocking up your freezer:
- Our chickens are always buy ten get one free. This applies to all fresh or frozen, whole or cut-up chickens, any combination. Buy any ten packages and get an eleventh package free. (10% off)
- Our jumbo chickens, 5.5 pounds or more, in bulk purchase units of 24 chickens or more, are 20% off at only $3.67/lb. This price is even lower than our 2007 first-season price! Reservation and $50 deposit required, email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve yours. Available for pickup at our farm in Yamhill, at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market, or at Barry and Lauri Tauscher residence, as arranged at time of reservation, email email@example.com.
- Limited quantities of "#2 cosmetically-challenged chickens" are available each week for $3.50/lb. Generally these chickens have a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, or torn skin in the breast area. As available.
WHAT MAKES KOOKOOLAN FARMS POULTRY SO SPECIAL?
Kookoolan Farms is coming up on our seventh anniversary in October, and has been a licensed and inspected poultry processor since July 2007. We are one of only a handful of farms in Oregon with on-farm licensed processing.
All of our poultry is pasture-raised: young chicks are started indoors until they are old enough to regulate their own body temperature and are a bit more robust against predators: about 5 weeks old in warmer drier weather; about 6 weeks old in cooler wetter weather.
Free-Range Poultry Housing
We start our young chicks indoors for about the first 4 to 6 weeks of their lives, depending on the weather: longer early and late in the season, shorter in the warmest months of the summer. For the last 2 to 5 weeks of their lives, our chickens live outdoors on fresh grass pastures. We prefer to raise larger chickens: as is true with most species, larger chicken carcasses have superior flavor and texture. Our chickens are slaughtered between age 7 weeks and 9 weeks, compared to age 45 days for most industrially-raised chickens. Raising them to an older age also maximizes the benefits of pasture-raising, increasing the Omega 3 fatty acids and CLA's in the meat.
The outdoors birds are a joy to watch. They require protection from predators (especially at night) and continuous access to fresh water and food, but these chores are completed twice a day, with more frequent checks on the very hottest days of summer or during periods of rainstorms or other harsher weather.
On hot sunny days, chickens need shade. We have used portable tarps, portable hoophouses covered with shade cloth, and wooden portable houses covered with roofing. Each of these structures is lightweight and portable, and can quickly and easily be moved from a “used up” section of pasture to fresh clean grass. In this way, the manure load is spread over the entire pasture, resulting in lush, deeply fertilized pasture grass. Each section of the pasture has a substantial rest period before chickens are returned to that section – this interrupts disease cycles and keeps our soil and poultry flocks disease-free.
Numerous studies have shown that birds raised outdoors on pasture have higher levels of Omega-3 compared to Omega-6 fatty acids; higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA, a cancer-fighting agent) and vitamins including Vitamin D which the chickens produce themselves when they are exposed to sunlight, just like we do.
Feeding -- Organic vs. conventional
All of our housing and raising practices qualify as certified organic; all of our slaughtering and packing plant practices are completely chemical-free and could be certified organic. Our pastures have never been treated with any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Here the term "organic" really just refers to the absence of chemicals.
Chickens are omnivores, like pigs and humans. Chickens cannot sustain themselves just on grass, anymore than you or I could sustain ourselves only on salad greens. They require a balanced diet with a significant portion of protein: about 18% to 21% of their calories should be protein.
We have raised a few batches of chickens on certified organic feed, and a few batches even on soy-free, corn-free certified organic feed. While these projects supplied food to a niche market who was willing to pay a premium, the size of that niche is too small to provide our family with an income. And the more we dig into sourcing certified organic animal feeds, the more we became convinced that in general certified organic feed is actually NOT an ethical choice for us, even if more folks were willing to pay for it. This conclusion surprised even us; let me explain.
Most commercial chicken feed is conventionally raised corn and soy, which means most of it comes from monoculture corporate-owned factory farms in the Midwest, using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. At best these are high-producing hybrids which require large amount of fertilizers for their high yields; virtually all of them now are GMO varieties. The Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers drain the bulk of America's bread basket, pouring millions of pounds of chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico. The unnaturally high levels of phosphorus cause algae to flourish, sucking oxygen away from native plants and animals and causing "hypoxia".
"Organic" commodity grains are mostly imported into the U.S. rather than grown domestically; most come from China and Brazil. These grains come to Oregon through the commodity market, using large amounts of fossil fuels for shipment by barge, train, and truck. Chinese organic grains are of questionable certification and prone to containing unauthorized ingredients; Brazilian grains may be grown without chemicals, but the soil fertility comes from unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture of the Amazon basin. Also, "certified organic" just means the absence of chemicals; lower-quality certified organic grain by-products rather than higher-quality whole grains are often used in certified organic animal feeds. Organic feeds can be as much as twice as expensive as conventional feeds, and not necessarily of better or even equal nutritional quality for the birds. But even if there were a large enough market, we’re not happy with the non-transparency of origin, questionable labor and environmental practices, and high fossil fuel requirements associated with commodity grains grown on a different continent.
There exist the beginnings of locally grown, organic grains and poultry feeds which we are happy to see, and we use these on a limited basis as a portion of our poultry flock’s overall ration, mostly just to encourage the effort. However these feeds are substantially more expensive -- 50% to 100% more expensive compared to conventional feed -- and until a larger fraction of our consumers are willing to pay that additional price, we are not able to use this fine local organic feed exclusively.
Our current feed is milled locally with ingredients that are preferentially sourced locally whenever available; it is primarily comprised of soy, corn, barley, limestone/oyster shell for calcium, and a vitamin/mineral packet.
Handling, Slaughtering, and Processing
At Kookoolan Farms, "trucking to slaughter" involves a 200-yard-long, two-minute tractor ride. Our birds undergo minimal handling stress, are killed humanely and with respect, and are processed cleanly, chilled rapidly, and delivered fresh to our customers. We handle our birds so gently that more than 90% of the chickens we process are sold as fancy-quality (absolutely blemish-free with no bruises, dislocations, or broken bones) whole broiler/fryers: the evidence of their gentle handling is right there in the perfect carcass in front of you. However, and this probably is not a surprise to any of you, killing chickens, burying their offals for compost, and cleaning the slaughterhouse are not our favorite farm chores. So we only process 300 chickens a week, only one day a week, only five months of the year. Other days we’re busy with milking cows, making mead and kombucha, growing and harvesting vegetables, and offering cheesemaking classes. This balance of work is important for keeping our farm humanly sustainable for our family and our workers.
I know you’re tired of reading emails from me so this time we have Imogen Reed as guest essayist. She wrote this piece especially for Kookoolan Farms.
Where do you Buy Your Chickens?
In times past, pasture-raised poultry would have been the norm. Until the 1960s, the intensive factory farming methods we know today simply hadn’t been heard of. Then, some farmers started to raise their animals intensively in order to increase output. To compete, others followed and the rest is history. Have we now reached a point where intensive farming is an inevitability or is it possible to turn the clock back and find another way? Some farmers have already done so. The difference in their pasture-reared poultry and the birds churned out by intensive, industrial farms is huge. Pasture raised poultry is tastier, more nutritious and of course, much more ethical.
Industrial poultry is raised in huge-scale industrial facilities. They truly are factories, rather than barns or anything we might associate with traditional farming. They are concentrated in just 15 states, and there are only 27,000 producers of poultry in the whole country. That is a 98% drop from the number there were 50 years ago, when there were 1.6 million producers nationwide. The average broiler chicken sold in US supermarkets today will have come from a farm which raises around 600,000 chickens each year. Our appetite for cheap chicken is huge, with 9 billion being eaten a year, compared to 580 million 50 years ago.
What problems does farming on this scale and at these kinds of densities create? It harms both the birds and the environment around them. In order to meet our huge demand for chicken, industrial farmers have used breeding and growth drugs to help reduce the time it takes to raise a bird by almost half (naturally, it takes 84 days on average, now it is down to just 45 in confinement – 63 days at Kookoolan Farms). These drugs are harmful, giving the birds some nasty health problems, as their bodies grow faster than their hearts can support. They suffer chronic pain, leg defects and heart failure. The conditions they are kept in add to their problems. With only around 130 square inches each, they cannot move around properly and are subject to stress and disease; in confinement most poultry is treated with antibiotics, usually hidden from consumers by injecting a long-acting antibiotic into the egg the day before the chick hatches.
All those chickens in one place creates an awful lot of mess. That mess has to go somewhere. The manure and waste products from the industrial farms end up in the fields in higher concentrations than the land can absorb, and from there is washed into streams and rivers, polluting them.
Pasture-raised poultry is kept very differently. It is a natural, seasonal, ethical product. Chickens are raised on natural grass pastures, perhaps with barns or shelters that they are free to wander in and out of as they choose. They can peck, dig, scratch and generally do what chickens do. They are not forced to grow faster than their bodies can handle. They do not produce mountains of waste products: their waste is a natural part of the life cycle and is easily absorbed by the earth they live in due to lower stocking densities and periods of rest for the pasture between batches of birds. They will generally be fed on higher-quality grain rations, rather than on poor quality commercial feed mixes. They live as close to the way that wild chickens will live as possible.
Chickens raised like this cost more than those raised intensively, as do the eggs from chickens raised this way. These products are also not available all year-round. Chickens raised indoors in barns are not seasonal because their living conditions are removed completely from the seasons. Pasture-raised chickens are born over the spring and summer, although of course, they can (and should!) be frozen for use over winter. In the past, most food was seasonal. Just as certain fruits are only around during the summer months, so various meats are only naturally grown at certain times of year.
As well as being much more ethical, pasture raised poultry is healthier and tastier than industrial poultry. Both meat and eggs from industrial birds are lower in certain nutrients than those raised in pasture. They are often bruised and damaged from being kept in confinement, and can be prone to parasitic infection.
The industrial farming industry has removed most of us from the natural life cycles of our own foods. We can produce anything we want, whenever we want it. The question we should ask is whether the low cost of cheap chicken is worth the high cost in suffering, taste and sustainability.
Imogen Reed is a freelance writer from England who writes mostly about drug addiction facilities and resources. She also believes strongly in other good causes such as organic produce and has everything from an organic mattress to organic carrots at home. She wrote this piece particularly for Kookoolan Farms. Thanks Imogen!
Kookoolan Farms pasture-raised, hand-butchered chickens are available fresh weekly at our farmstore in Yamhill, fresh every Tuesday through October 31, 2012, and then frozen until sold out early in November.
Available fresh weekly at all Oregon New Seasons Markets meat cases, fresh every Friday with final delivery of the season on Friday, October 26, 2012.
Available fresh and frozen EVERY OTHER WEEK directly from Kookoolan Farms at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, Sundays 10am to 2pm, August 26; September 9 and 23; October 7 and 21; November 4 and 18, 2012.
Whole first-quality chickens are $4.59/pound (same price everywhere). A note about pricing: due mostly to the drought in the Midwest and the loss of an estimated 50% of the nation's corn crop, we have seen feed prices rise from $266 to $433/ton in the past four weeks alone. All projections are that increases in meat and poultry prices of 33% to 50% are likely in 2013. A freezer of meat and poultry bought at 2012 prices may turn out to be an excellent investment.
As always, we sincerely thank you for your patronage of our little farm. Please feel welcome to email or phone with questions or to make a reservation. We'll see you Sunday at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market!
Best wishes for your health,
Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor
August 22, 2012