Pasture Raised Poultry- A brief history and some culinary notes
July 6, 2020
- One chicken- many meals to nourish the soul
Almost nothing smells as good as a roast chicken in the oven (ok maybe bacon frying!). There is excitement when the bird comes out of the oven and presents itself as a golden brown juicy bird of beauty - so many possibilities….
I've heard from many customers that they are nervous about cooking a whole bird… well, I have news for you. It's about the easiest way to cook chicken! You don't have to worry about overcooking the breasts, what kind of sauce to put on the thighs or wings… just salt and pepper will do it justice. Psst, I like to throw an onion or a lemon cut in half inside the bird if I don't have any fresh herbs but more on cooking and recipes later…
Our chicken raising legacy...we’ve come a long way
2003 on our hilltop farm in Huntington it began with a few batches of 75 birds. We had done all the reading that chickens are one of the best sources of fertilizer and quick growing, harvesting after 7 or 8 weeks, and would be well suited to our growing pasture raised meat offerings. We built “chicken tractors” that housed 75 birds each and moved them daily to fresh grass. Tight to the ground, the structure kept predators at bay and the birds sheltered from extreme weather. The great taste of a bird raised on pasture was apparent and sales took off! We processed birds ourselves with a small crew taking all day to do a few hundred. At the time farmers could only sell to direct customers up to 1000 birds in a year but not to restaurants and stores. Most of our customers were at farmers markets so that worked for us.
2008. Scaling up. The demand was there. To expand our sales to wholesale markets we needed USDA processing. There was a mobile state inspected plant that traveled around Vermont to farms and the finished product was inspected and able to be sold to the restaurants and coops demanding our pasture raised product. At the time, not many farms could offer truly pasture raised. This was and still is our number one priority! We were able to do several thousand per year but after a few years the mobile inspection services went out of business and there was nowhere to get USDA processing unless we drove to Maine! We were pulling 36 chicken tractors forward one length every morning! That's not efficient! So we researched...
- See John here with the long line of tractors to move every morning!
2013. Taking matters into our own hands.
- With the mobile processor gone and the demand high, we decided to go for it and order a “PLANT IN A BOX” - we were the first ones in the country to order a shipping container that was designed to be a poultry processing space. We got a crane to lower it onto a poured pad, hooked up water/sewer/ utilities and BAM! It wasn't that easy, there were modifications that needed to be made but finally we had our own space, and we could scale up! First we were state inspected but then the following year the USDA certified us and we could sell and ship chicken across state lines and sell to any customer AND cut up our own chicken into value added cuts that many customers were looking for.
- Photos below are of our USDA processing spaces, not the plant in a box, you can see our parting line and packing area.
- 2016. Scaling up again!
- The scaling up and looking for more efficiencies to raise more birds brought us to building a fleet of 8 MRC’s (mobile range coops). Each one houses 500 birds, the water and feed are suspended so they move with the coops. The chickens forage fresh grass and insects and since the coops move daily, they do not have to stay in their own waste. We use the high nitrogen content of their manure to fertilize our fields. Its been revolutionary for us, and the birds! They are happy, healthy and able to live like chickens should. Each MRC moves with 2 crew in 10 min and with thousands of birds on our fields each season, the fertilizer and organic matter that is added is a big WIN!
- Lots of room to roam, forage and have access to fresh air and be sheltered from predators and extreme weather!
- 2019 and beyond- more chicken and all on pasture! A new arrangement....add Partner Farms! We realized that our pasture production system and MRC capacity was maxed out so we have partnered with some amazing farmers in Vermont. This year the farms are; Scuttleship Farm in Panton, Vermont Heritage Graziers in Bridport and Perrin Farm in Berlin. We will highlight them in future stories. They are growing chicken exactly the way we do at Maple Wind: daily move to new pasture, non GMO feed and low stress in addition to the same brooder set up. This has given us 10,000 more chickens to bring to the marketplace. For 2020, we will process over 30,000 chickens!
What does this mean for you, the consumer?
The best most nutrient dense chicken possible
Knowledge that your chicken was raised with care, fresh air, no antibiotics or hormones
You can know who raised the chicken and see first hand where it has lived
You are feeding your family the highest quality meats and supporting local agriculture
Now back to the kitchen….
Did I mention that one 4lb chicken can be a budget stretcher?
Meal #1: carve off breasts serve with sides
Meal #2: left over legs? Shred into tacos
Meal #3: Carcass and skin- boil and create the best soup base EVER!
There are so many resources about cooking chicken. A few hints from me...
Choose a quality chicken.
Bring chicken to room temp, pat dry before you season the bird
Get a meat thermometer. Digital one preferred. When chicken reads 160 take out and let rest, safe to eat at 165. The chicken will rise in temp as it rests.
Great easy combos for adding easy flavor: Combo 1. Rosemary/ Onion/ Orange Combo 2: Sage/ Shallot/ Lemon Combo 3: Oregano/ Onion/Lime
I came across an amazing New York Times link to roasting/ spatchcocking/ carving chicken. Dont miss out. Bookmark this !
- Why do we do it? It's folks like YOU that support our farm. Thank you for your choices and feeding your family the best and most nutrient dense chicken from our farm and for the health of the soil building organic matter in the most sustainable way!
We appreciate you.
Beth and Bruce