Monday, April 5, 2010

Traditional Breeds

Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch is the nation's leading traditional breed poultry producer. This photo was taken when I visited Frank two years ago, for his presentation on Cooking with Traditional Breeds.
The statement below is the one he offers chefs who wish to purchase his poultry to serve to their customers:

We use only standard bred poultry and we do not use any factory genetics or genetically engineer birds. That means all our birds are purebred, which was the norm 60 years ago. These are the traditional chickens of the thirties and forties; chickens with history. They were here long before the factory-produced, hybrid, fast-growing chicken came into being. Our birds grow slowly and naturally, as nature intended. The factory birds grow to marketable weight in 42 days and the other so-called slow-growers, like Freedom Rangers, are marketable in 60 days. Our chickens take 120 to 140 days just to get to broiler weight. And that makes a big difference in flavor, texture, and health of the bird.

All our birds – chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese - come from the eggs laid by the hens on our farm. The eggs are gathered daily and carried to the hatchery, which is right here on the farm. None are purchased elsewhere or shipped through the mail. Not only do the chickens you buy run free on the farm, but so does the breeding stock. That’s unheard of in industrial production systems. No where in our system is any bird kept in confinement.

Because we raise only standard bred birds (birds that meet the ENTIRE description for their breed as defined by the American Poultry Association) we have birds with strong and natural immune systems. So we do not need to use antibiotics anywhere in our system. The hens and roosters laying the eggs that produce the meat chickens we sell do not get antibiotics. Antibiotics are not needed in our system. That means your customers won’t get antibiotics with their meal!

At night the birds go into barns to sleep. This keeps them safe from predators and is the only time they are enclosed. The barns are clean. Our birds don’t have to eat, drink or sleep in there own manure. All our chickens have access to roosts at night and our chickens still have normal skeletons so they can fly up to the roost. Roosting high in the trees has kept birds safe from predators for eons. Roosting is still hard-wired into their brains, and they feel safe, and therefore less stressed, when roosting. And roosting also eliminates the skin diseases that afflict most factory birds that can’t get up off the ground and out of their own manure.

I can’t say it enough: all our birds are physically healthy. All our birds can fly, run and walk normally.

Because our birds are physically, structurally, and mentally healthy, they can live very long lives – 10 – 15 years. The factory bird is not physically or structurally fit. It has been bred to grow fast. Really fast. To the detriment of the rest of its needs for a sound body and immune system. The factory chicken is a dead end animal and will die within a year if you do not kill it. Because they grow at such a rapid rate (300 times faster then ours) and become morbidly obese so fast their skeletal structure can not hold the young bird up. These birds can no longer walk and so die from muscle weakness and joint failure. Many of these birds also die from congestive heart failure. In the factory system the average life span of a meat birds is 42 to 60 days and for breeder birds, no longer than one year.

Our birds can produce their own young. They can mate naturally, because their bodies are proportioned appropriately, their skeletons and muscles are strong enough, and they still have the instinct to mate, In short, they can reproduce themselves. The factory birds cannot live long enough to reproduce themselves, which is a good thing if you want to control the farmer and the genetics. To keep the breeder birds from getting too fat the factory farmer starves the breeder hens so they will live long enough to lay eggs. Because they are using genetically engineered chickens the birds would get so fat they will die and not produce eggs.

Our birds have access to feed and water all their lives.

All the birds on Good Shepherd are owned by the farmer raising them.

Nowhere in our system do we use “chicken tractors” to raise our birds. We DO NOT put our birds in 8 by 8 boxes and push them across the ground – just another type of confinement. Our birds truly run free and can interact with each other. They can fight, play and roll in the dirt. They can chase bugs and dig up worms.

Our hens can interact with each other and lay in straw-covered nests. They even become broody and will sit on a nest and hatch their own chicks.

We do not check the sex of our chicks, an invasive practice itself, or kill any chicks because they are male or female

We do not de-beak or de-claw any of our birds

All our chicks are taken from the incubators within minutes of hatching so they have access to feed and water.

The chicks are taken to the farm where they are going to be raised in a temperature-controlled vehicle.

No one farmer has more the 1500 to 1600 chicks at one time, so the birds don’t get overcrowded and the farmers don’t lose their ability to give quality care to the flock.

When it is time to haul the birds to the processor, the birds at loaded at night, when they are calm, one bird at a time.

NONE of the birds are ever shackled live at the processing plant.

The biggest thing to me is this: we are bringing back genetic diversity. We are raising six different breeds of chickens. Each breed is unique and each has an important role to play in the health and future of sustainable farming. This is very important on so many different levels to the farmers, the environment, disease control and the future of poultry production world wide. One company controls all the chicken and turkey genetics world wide. To bring back bio-diversity and save genetics within our food systems is critical for future generations. Good Shepherd is trying to put the power of what we raise and what we eat back into the hands of the farmer.

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