Saturday, July 7, 2012

Steps Toward Sustainability: Raising our own chickens

In May, I wrote that we are trying to be intentional about creating a sustainable lifestyle. Even before that though, we have been talking, praying and dreaming about what life might eventually look like for us. And about how all of these pieces fit together into the big picture that is our destiny.

One of the big things on our heart is food. Not just any food. But food that has been sustainably and ethically raised and harvested. This is, however, not the easiest to find in our local community. I love being within walking distance to two different markets from which I stock my kitchen with raw milk and fresh, organic produce, but I have yet to find a butcher who sells pastured chicken. It’s too expensive. No one would buy it. These chickens are local, that’s all I can tell you.
But I beg to differ. I believe that there is a growing community of people who want to know where their food is coming from, what it’s been fed, what chemicals have been sprayed on it, and the conditions in which the animals have been raised. Ben and I are just two people in this group, but we have decided to do something about it. We’ve been called to do something about it.

So in April, our first batch of 2-day-old chickens arrived. Twenty-five laying hens—an even mixture of Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock.

 A week later, we received another shipment. Twenty-five Freedom Ranger broilers which would—in a mere 9 weeks—grow to be our meat chickens. After a few weeks under a heat lamp, our chickens were ready for the pasture.

There were just a few minor hiccups: 1) chickens are illegal in York City; 2) even if chickens were legal, our postage stamp “yard” does not even come close to resembling a pasture—we don’t own even one blade of grass.

Fortunately, my parents live on a farm with some extra pasture that was perfect for our chickens. So Ben rigged up some {temporary} moveable pens and we sent our chickens to do their thing.

 Our Freedom Rangers at 9 Weeks
Fast forward nine weeks and our broilers have fulfilled their purpose in this life. After immersing himself in literature and watching a few YouTube videos, Ben has successfully butchered all 22 of our broilers {we had two casualties within the first week or so and a few recently due to the high summertime heat}. I want to note that we have a great respect for these birds and Ben has expressed to me his juxtaposed feelings of remorse and reward. It is never something to take lightly or irreverently. He still has some work to do perfecting his technique, but I am very proud of him for providing beautiful and tasty chicken for our family.

The very next day, we decided to taste our product. With the heat, we opted for grilling a whole chicken rather than heating our home with the oven. I rubbed the bird in olive oil and some freshly dried herbs from our CSA and plopped the bird on the grill over indirect heat for about 75 minutes, turning it only once halfway through. The result was the juiciest, tastiest chicken I have ever had! And the skin! We hate skin and this skin was to die for. Perfectly seasoned and crispy without being charred or crunchy… Yeah, it was a whopping success!

Grilled chicken paired with parsley milk potatoes... DELISH!
And it was so immensely rewarding to know that we raised this chicken from start to finish. We knew exactly what we were eating, which perhaps added even more flavor for us. Above all, we were so relieved to know that there is a difference in taste, texture and peace of mind between an industrially produced bird and a sustainably-raised and pastured bird.

Aren't they gorgeous? Our Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock laying hens.
 As for our layers, they won’t begin producing eggs for at least another 10 weeks, as egg production usually begins around 20 weeks. However, they are so fun to watch as they freely range about the pasture. In the meantime, we enjoy fresh eggs from my parents’ chickens and look forward to reaping the bounty from our own in the upcoming months.

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