I've known for some time that I wanted to raise both laying hens and meat birds. About 5 years ago,we began buying pasture raised poultry from a farmer who grew the chickens naturally and treated them humanely. This kind of poultry is expensive (depending upon the farmer, it can be up to 4 times more than grocery store chickens) but it was something I knew we needed to do for our family for several reasons.
First, pastured poultry is better for you. Our bodies require EFA's (essential fatty acids) such as Omega 3 & Omega 6 in order to survive (that's why they are essential) and we need them in an approximate 1:1 ratio in order to maintain our health and avoid chronic diseases. The standard American diet of processed food contains a large amount of Omega 6 (found in abundance in all corn and soy products) but very little Omega 3. Pastured meat and dairy products from pastured animals contains a nice balance of the two EFA's. It seems that animals that eat lots of green grass have the right balance of Omega 3 & Omega 6. This is one of the reasons we go to the extra trouble and cost of seeking out locally raised chicken, beef and eggs. Knowing the farmer allows us to know how the food was raised, thereby knowing what is in our food, so to speak.
Second, pastured meat and eggs taste better - a lot better. In fact, even 5 years after we started buying pastured chicken and beef, I am still blown away by the taste difference. The difference between conventionally raised, factory farmed chicken and pastured chicken is literally equivalent to the difference between pale watery store bought tomatoes (in January) and garden fresh tomatoes in July- no contest!! And even though these meats cost more than grocery store meats, our food bill did not go up much when we started eating them because between the amazing taste and added nutrition, I find we need to eat less of it to feel satisfied. Meat has become part of the meal, not the main focal point.
Between the health benefits and the taste benefits, there are reasons enough to make the switch to locally raised pastured meat, but there are still more reasons we made the switch and keep seeking it out. One of those reasons is that buying locally from farmers you know helps out the community you live in. Buying from the farmer, instead of the grocery store means that not only does your farmer get to make a decent profit for their work (hard work, I might add), but it also means that they will get to keep doing that work year after year and thus supplying your community with healthy food.
But the other side of the coin is that we want to avoid factory farmed meat both because of its toxic environmental impact and because of the conditions the animals live it. I won't rehash details of what its like for these animals for their short lives, but you can read about it in The Omnivore's Dilemma or watch Food, Inc to get a good idea. Its not a pretty picture. But of course, even after reading about it or seeing film, I still didn't fully understand just how poorly these animals were treated. Then we moved to our new home, which is about 30 minutes from a poultry processing plant. We don't travel in that direction often, but we do have to go out that way sometimes and we've seen the trucks carrying the chickens in for processing. It really is shocking and puts a whole different spin on those pretty rotisserie chickens.
So, we buy our poultry from farmers who raise them on green pasture and allow them to live the way chickens want to live - foraging for at least some of their food. I know first hand that chickens want to live this way because our chickens call to us and practically ask to be let out into the woods to forage. They run around in the fresh air and sunshine eating grass and leaves, bugs and even sometimes small reptiles like lizards or toads (I've seen it with my own eyes, otherwise, I'd never believe it, lol). It really is something to see.
Our hens and roosters are 5 months old now and hopefully the girls will start laying eggs soon. As mentioned in other posts, the guys are getting pretty amorous, so I'm hoping it wont' be long before we start to see some reward for our efforts at chicken raising. But, the guys are not only getting amorous, they are also getting pretty aggressive, at least some of them are, and not only with the hens, but also with us. After one of them came at me with wings spread and clawed feet bared, well, I just know that I am not allowing that around my kids. So, we set their date with destiny. The two aggressive roosters are moving on Saturday - one to the Bar-B-Que and one to the freezer.
Yeah, I am a little nervous. I will probably cry. I am glad someone who knows what they are doing will be here to help with the "hard" parts. But I also know, deep down, that this is right. These roosters have had a good life - better than most chickens and much, much better than most roosters who do not live more than a day or two in factory farm settings (google it - pretty disturbing). And I know that my family does not take lightly the raising or the eating of meat, so, over all, I feel good about it. Wish us luck.
Disclaimer: These are the rambling thoughts of a very pregnant woman at 5:30 am. Please don't just take my word for any of this - do your own research. The above mentioned book/ DVD as well as the book Nourishing Traditions are great places to start.