From Pasture to Plate: Small-Scale vs. Factory-Farmed Poultry

I asked my farmer friend, Jerry, to tell me a bit about the chickens on his family’s farm, specifically the process of raising chickens for meat. How do they go from pasture to plate? He then wrote an article explaining the way small-scale poultry processing is done and the differences in commercial farming.
Preface: Our chickens are raised in small batches on fresh pasture every day where they can be a chicken. They eat, peck, and forage all day on grubs, bugs, and grass. When raised in smaller quantities, chickens are not as exposed to sickness. Pastured birds roam and do not sit in their own waste preventing them from spreading disease. This method means we do not need to medicate. Our birds are raised naturally with no hormones or antibiotics. It is the best life for our chickens and the best meat for our buyers.

 {Jerry’s Chickens}

Jerry's Chickens

Why Small-Scale Poultry Processing?

This article will explain the process of small scale poultry processing and note some of the differences between large commercial processing and small farms processing on site. The intent of this article is to show the benefits of small scale processing and to promote small farms that steward their land, family and food.

By weeks 8-12, depending on the breed of chicken, the broiler chicken is ready for harvest. The feed is removed from the chickens 12 hours before processing which allows the chickens body to process the remaining food that it has stored and thus prevents extra waste and also keeps the meat cleaner during the processing session. The birds are loaded into plastic crates, 8-10 at a time and moved to the processing area. (In our case we drive a trailer to them allowing them to live in their space until harvest.)

In the commercial production model the birds often travel 30-40 miles  minimum to a processing plant. This causes stress on the chickens resulting in a change of texture in the final meat product and has an environmental impact of fuel usage with the use of semi-trucks and trailers full of chickens packed into small metal crates.

The birds are handled one at a time and their eyes are covered to allow their heart rates to slow and for them to almost be in a sleeping state. They are then slid into cones upside down which keeps them in one place and protecting the meat from bruising. A cut is then made on the neck through their main artery and then allowed to ‘bleed out’. This cut is carefully made with an extremely sharp knife and does not hit nerves in the neck or the windpipe. This method allows the bird to die within 1-2 minutes and not go into shock which allows the autonomic nervous system to continue to function. The heart naturally pumps all of the blood out of the carcass.

In the commercial production model the birds are shocked before killing. This method reduces muscle contractions making it difficult for the carcass to bleed out completely resulting in quicker spoilage of the meat.

The birds are rotated to the scalding station. This is a tank that is set to 145* fahrenheit and the birds are dipped in and out of the water bath for about one minute to loosen the feathers. After the scalding bath they go directly into a plucking machine where they are rinsed and spun until all the feathers are removed.

They are then moved to an evisceration table where all the insides are removed by hand. It is done in a way that all the insides remain intact and are not ruptured. When done properly none of the insides come in contact with the meat. The bird is fully inspected, rinsed, and then put into a chilling tank.

In the commercial production model, the evisceration is done with vacuums or automated tools. This can rupture the guts, spreading feces on the carcass. This creates the need for a chemical baths to sanitize the meat.

The birds are chilled in two ice baths, the first one for 10-15 minutes. Then the bird is inspected again for quality and cleanliness and put in the final chill tank for about 30min. When they are fully chilled they are drained of the water, shrink wrap bagged, and stored on ice until taken home.

In the commercial production model, the chill tanks have chemicals in them to reduce the risks of diseases being spread. There is such a large number of birds that go through the chill tanks in one day that there is as much as a foot of ‘waste sludge’ (guts, particles and fecal matter) in the bottom of the chill tank. The birds then have to be put through a final chemical rinse to kill any disease that may have been picked up in the chilling tank.

The small-on-the-farm processing model by its design stays cleaner. By processing fewer birds in one place the impact is less stress on the environment. It is also easier to keep a small facility clean and uses less water per bird. The waste on a small farm is light enough it can be composted and drained on the pasture to help provide fertilizer and water in the dry season closing the nutrient cycle of the land without over loading it.

{Jerry’s chickens ready for his poultry club members after processing}

Jerry's Processed Chickens

 

Small Scale

(50-300 per day)

Large Scale

(5,000-100,00per day)

Small Scale

Outcome

 

Killed in cones Electrocuted The chicken dies within 1-2 minutes, avoids shock and bleeds out fully allowing for better meat quality
Hand evisceration Automated evisceration The guts stay intact with lower chance of rupture reducing fecal contact on the meat using fewer chemicals for meat sanitizing
Small tank chilling Large tank chilling The water stays clean preventing build up of sludge in the water and contaminants on the meat
2.5 gallons of water is used per bird Up to 5 gallons of water per bird Less stress on the environment
Bird are processed on site Birds travel 30-50 miles Little to no fuel and travel cost lowering the carbon foot print of the chicken industry
Waste is composted Waste is hauled off and treated Lowering fuel consumption and carbon foot print the chicken industry and using waste to bring life to the land through composting instead of stress with millions of tons of waste in a concentrated area

 

Benefits

In the small scale farming, land is cared for by using rotational practices that bring health to the land. These methods create wholeness by composting the waste and closing the nutrient cycle. There is less demand on the land by using less water and fuel in the travel of chicken and waste treatment methods.

When chickens are cared for and processed on small farms it produces greater nutritional value, higher quality, and freshness. The food has a better flavor.

Families benefit greatly from small farms. The farming family has a higher quality of life from working together and enjoying each other. The consumer families enjoy higher quality food. The relationships between the farm and customers grow.  This creates long-lasting, sustainable communities.

Jerry's Fam

{Jerry & His Family}

Jerry's Fam_BW

Written By Jerry Tindall 2012, Grow International

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7 Comments

  • Kiersten says:

    This is incredible. Sobering. I am so glad I took the time to read it!! It greatly informs future decisions… makes it kind of hard to think of eating those little cuties at all! But since I’m actually comfortable with it, I am so drawn to Jerry’s methods. Thank you for this valuable information!!

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Agreed. I understand why vegetarians are vegetarians, you can’t get around the fact that if you eat meat, an animal dies. But, is there a more humane way for the animal to live and die and does it matter? It does and Jerry shows us that. Thanks, Jerry!

  • julie says:

    Was wondering how to find out more about ordering chicken from Jerry or someone closer to me with the same philosophy.

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Julie! Hey. Message me on FG’s FB and tell me where you’re located. I’ll send Jerry an email. -Rama

  • Nikki says:

    FANTASTIC! I need to find someone to get this type of poultry from!

    • Freshly Grown says:

      Yes! If you can find a local farmer like this it is soo worth it! The chicken is amazing and makes the best bone broth! 🙂

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