"Grass Fed", "Natural", "Pastured",
What do all the terms really mean, and more importantly,
what do they matter?
In this world of gimmicks, marketing, and word-play, we've found it difficult to accurately describe our meats without sounding like another sales tactic. However, we do feel it is very important that folks realize the importance of sound farming practices and the necessity of quality, safe food made available to the general public.
As a wife and a mom of six children, I am concerned for the health and the availability of safe food for our family. Long before we purchased our farm, I had entertained the idea of growing all of our family's meat, produce, & dairy. This is hard to accomplish in a yard, although we made a valiant effort. When the Lord graciously allowed us to purchase this farm, I wanted to grow it all... everything from small grains for flour to dairy cows for churned butter (ideas that still excite me, by the way).
I have studied and extensively researched food production and practices. (I have now earned my GS degree: "Google Search"). In doing so, I've become more concerned about the state of our commercial food quality. With my nursing background, I suspect a lot of the illness and disease seen in hospitals today is related to our food production practices. It seems that in our corporate growth, and mega production and processing, we have complicated the basics. This leaves us with inferior and, as we've all seen in the news, unsafe foods. I realized that with the land the Lord had given us, we had the capacity to raise not only our family's meats, but to provide healthy, safe meat to many families in Virginia.
Does this mean we are agricultural extremists, eschewing all modern research and advances? Certainly not. I thoroughly enjoy research and study, especially on the cellular level, and Rick is a die-hard conventional farmer who thrives on the latest, greatest seed and chemical findings. However, we do feel we should take a step back, examine our practices, and uncomplicate matters a bit.
For instance, we choose to run our poultry in large portable pens (protected from predators) in the pastures rather than raising them in confined poultry houses. Not that we are animal rights activists. Although it's easy to get "attached" to the funky looking chickens and the bulky beef cows after spending so much time raising them, even the children recognize they are animals, not people. Their purpose is for food.
Why on pasture, then?
When chickens are in close confinement, they tend toward cannibalism, which is why it is common practice to cut 1/2 of the top beak off the birds. We choose instead to just give them plenty of space. They're happy because they are not pecking each other to death, and we're happy because we don't have to trim beaks...and well, because they are not pecking each other to death.
In poultry houses, the ammonia levels from the manure and the constant presence of fecal dust cause diseases that require antibiotics for treatment, and a steady supply of antibiotics for prevention. With the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in today's society, we especially feel we should be doing something differently.
When on pasture, the birds have fresh air and are moved daily to a fresh paddock of clean, green grass. The disease risk automatically is lowered, just by them having fresh air and clean living quarters. (A fact that I would love my kids to understand about their bedrooms). Sometimes a boost to their immune system is needed - the chickens, not the kids-, but rather than throwing antibiotics at them, we give probiotics (the necessary good bugs). --Kind of like us eating yogurt, to help with stomach upset from being on antibiotics.
Then, there's the diet to consider. Chickens are birds, and therefore love insects as well as forages. They help earn their keep by de-bugging the pastures from pesky things such as flies, grubs, beetles, & grasshoppers. They are great at grazing also. This has lots of benefits for them and us, one of which is the B vitamins and minerals they get from eating the nutrient-rich green grasses. They are fed an assortment of grains while they are on pasture, and because they eat grass as well, their diet is balanced. As the birds forage on pasture, they walk and peck and do all those chickenish things they like to do, and all along they are building muscle tone. (More about the importance of this during processing, in a minute.) Long explanation made short, this system makes their meat (our food) high in polyunsaturated fats(the good guys) rather than saturated fats that are found in birds raised in confinement & strictly on grain. They are healthier, we are healthier, and our doctors are happier.
On to the processing...
With my nursing background, I envision the chicken processing done in a sterile environment with my husband and kids donned in surgical suits and "scrubbed up" ready for the task at hand. It is an enjoyably dramatic vision, but unfortunately totally unrealistic and what's more, completely unnecessary. In reality, it is a very clean environment, with each bird carefully and meticulously handled and processed with "extreme clean" care. We use stainless sinks and countertops in the processing shed, (which I love --refer back to the surgical scene) but we do not soak the birds in multiple chlorine baths as is required in commercial processing. The muscle tone that our birds develop on pasture makes the meat less permeable to the water in the cooling tank, (although it is crystal clean & clear drinking water). This makes for better meat texture, less water weight (better on your wallet when buying by the pound), less volume lost from fluid loss during cooking, and a safer, lower bacterial count. When a commercially raised chicken cools in vats of chlorine water, it's weak muscle cells soak up that chlorine water. This equates to larger water volume, mushy meat, more volume lost during cooking, and poorer taste (who really prefers chlorine-washed meat after tasting real chicken?). Oddly enough, even after all the chlorine, irradiating the meat to lower the persistently high bacterial counts has become practice in commercial processing. Quality control is much simpler small scale, dealing with one bird at a time rather than thousands.
We take seriously the fact that we are producing our neighbor's food, and raise & process it meticulously.
We know we won't change the world with our 240 acres, but we can make a difference in our communities' families. We want to do just that.
It's not about marketing, not about terminology, not about a label's description, not even drama. It's simply about real, clean, healthy, delicious food produced honestly by a local farming family.
We are committed to do everything possible to provide the absolute best poultry and beef you can find anywhere.
I Corinthians 10:31
"And whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God."