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10.04.2011

Why raise your own chickens for meat (or buy from a local farm...)?


Really, why would anyone want to raise their own chickens when you can get a whole chicken at the grocery store, often for $5 or less.

Where do I start?  I think a list is in order. 

Crowding in a commercial broiler house.
  • You know how your animals are being treated.  Commercially raised broilers are raised inside and never see the sun.  They're crowded together, usually on a wire or plastic slated floor with no bedding.  Obviously conditions vary from place to place, but in the worst cases poor manure management results in ammonia burns on the feet of the chickens.  They are kept under unnatural lighing on an unnatural schedule, since more hours of light=more eatting=more meat faster.  So they get as little as 3 hours of dark per day.  I know this matters to some people more than others, but if I am going to eat meat (and I'm going to eat meat!), I am going to eat meat that has led a comfortable, dignified life.
  • The meat is healthier and more nourishing.  Poultry raised on grass, whether tractored or free range, has a better balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which we all know are better for our health.  Pastured poultry is also higher in vitamins C and E and often lower in saturated fat if a decent amount of the chickens diet consists of grass and bugs instead of grain.
  • There's nothing scary in your meat.  There is actually a lot of misinformation out there about poultry.  Poultry producers don't ever use hormones (they're illegal for poultry) and only use antibiotics as needed to treat diseases.  But not because they care a lick about your health- there is no financial reason for them to use either, as hormones don't privide enough additional growth to be worth the cost and effort, and since commercially raised poultry is only alive for 6-8 weeks there isn't much time for them to get sick.  HOWEVER, there are still substances in conventional poultry that I want to avoid.  For example, up until recently arsenic was used in broiler feeds as a coccidostat (a preventative to a dissease common to chicks).  I actually haven't found any information that says it has been removed 100% from the feed supply, but I do know that a major supplier stopped producing it in June and that even the FDA was starting to be suspicious.
  • Because it is more sustainable.  How many miles does the chicken you buy at the store travel before it goes in your mouth?  Depending on where you get your chicks, odds are good they do a lot less traveling.  And if you REALLY want to be sustainable (and have the space) you could work on creating a self sustaining flock of dual purpose chickens for both meat and eggs.
  • To learn/teach your kid where kids come from.  Look at it as a step up from gardening.  You appreciate any food you grow yourself so much more, which makes it taste better and makes you happier and more fulfilled.
  • Because you can.  That's often all the reason I need to do something.
  • Because it's a lot easier than you think.  Right now I have 90 chickens in two pens in my backyard.  Pens I built myself.  And I am not a handy person.  Then you just have to provide feed and water and move the pen.  Easy peasy.
  • Oh, and you don't necessarily have to kill them yourself.  With a little looking and asking around you should be able to find a meat locker that processes chickens, depending on where you live. 
Yeah, these guys look crowded, too, but that's because they're about to be fed.  The area they are crowded into is actually a fourth of their pen... and they're outside (if you couldn't tell...).

I know it's not plausible for everyone to get meat chickens.  Not everyone has the space, or if you live in town they may not be allowed.  In that case I strongly encourage you to find someone who does raise pastured poultry as the health benefits are easily worth the extra cost.

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