TOTW Pastured Poultry vs the Average Grocery Store Chicken
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
-Chris at TOTW is very proud to present his Pastured Poultry Finished-Product.
What was the last chicken you had at the grocery store like?
Maybe you picked up some chicken breasts, or even one of those rotisserie-style birds in the plastic tote under the hot lights, ready-to-eat!
How did it taste?
Was it tender?
Was the meat falling off the bone?
Was it salty?
How did eating it make you feel?
Did you wonder where this bird came from?
How it was treated?
What kind of life it lived?
How it was processed?
Were any preservatives added?
How far was it transported?
How old was the carcass?
How much energy went into keeping it refrigerated or frozen?
How much fuel went into getting it here?
What did the chicken eat?
Did the bird ever see sunlight?
What did the barn it was raised in smell like?
How did you feel after you ate it?
Was it a good choice?
Was it healthy?
Was it full of necessary nutrients your body needs to function happily and healthily?
What about the impact of the farm-to-fork-process?
What does the farm/company producing these birds do with the waste?
What happens to all the parts you didn't eat?
What is the environmental impact of eating this chicken?
Is there a farmer/producer/CEO I could talk to about all of this?
The likelihood of walking onto a factory farm poultry operation and having all of these questions answered is slim.
The truth is- our conventional food system is not on display for the consumer to know about for various reasons. One of these is safety concerning exposure of animals to contaminants- so no, if you went to a big corporation producing chicken and asked to take a look around, you probably would not be able to do so.
I was able to find out some key info from an internet search and I also found an informative video on the Chicken Check-Off website.
Here is a basic summary of the info I was able to find out about chicken available at the grocery store:
-Above is an info-graphic summary I put together for folks who may not have the time or desire to read though the full comparison I prepared below.
-The Growing Stage
Factory Farm Chickens are raised in "Grow-Out Houses."These usually measure 40ft by 400ft and are used to house about 20,000 to 30,000 birds. This equates to a density of 0.8 sq ft per bird (the industry standard is 0.5 sq ft).
Grow-out houses are closed off from the outdoors and are artificially lit and ventilated with fans. Birds are not allowed outside access to prevent disease and predation.
The floor of the grow-out house is layered with organic material; usually rice hulls, peanut shells, or wood chips. this organic material protects the skin and feet of the birds since their double-breasted physiology makes it hard for them to stand for extended periods of time as they grow.
Factory Farm Broilers are fed a balanced ration made up of mainly corn and soy with added nutrients and vitamins. The ration is adjusted as the birds grow over the 7 week start-to-finish production period to suit their changing nutrient needs.
Once birds reach finishing weight they are caught and placed in crates, which are loaded onto trucks with forklifts. These crates are specifically designed to prevent injury of the birds and to promote ventilation in-transit. The birds are trucked to the nearest processing facility, unloaded, and hung up on moving belts where most of the butchering is mechanized.
Machines stun the birds using an electrical pulse or Carbon Dioxide Gas, then machines sever the jugulars, clean, pluck, eviscerate, sanitize, and chill the carcasses. Chickens are sanitized using chlorine, paracetic acid, cetylpyridinium chloride, acidified sodium chlorite, organic acid rinses, and other FDA approved substances.
After the birds are chilled and sanitized they are packaged, sometimes injected with solutions like Bromilin and Ficin (approved by the FDA) to preserve freshness and tenderness while in-transit to stores and on the shelf.
TOTW Pastured Chicken
-The Growing Stage
We purchase day-old-chicks from a hatchery. In 2019 we used Meyer as our source.
The chicks were shipped to us in the mail. (We are currently working on the process of raising our own chicks, but it is a massive learning curve. It will take us some time to be able to do this ourselves).
We set the chicks up in brooder boxes with heat lamps and bedding. For bedding we use wood shavings/sawdust from Chris's construction job as well as garden leaves we collect in the Greenwaste Trailer in Laramie.
The chicks live and grow in these brooders for about one month, until they have most of their adult feathers- then we move them out to pasture. The used bedding is composted and spread out on pasture.
-Left, Chicks are moved out onto pasture as soon as they have most of their adult feathers and as the weather allows.
On pasture, the broiler chickens are kept inside a mobile tractor. A 12' by 10' framed enclosure with wheels which is moved every day onto a fresh piece of grassy pasture. This equates to a density of 1.2 sq ft per bird. We have to keep them inside the broiler tractor (half tin-sided and half chicken-wire sided) to prevent predators from attacking the birds. This tractor also provides shade, shelter from the wind/rain/snow, and fresh water we carry over in buckets from the nearby creek.
Every day the broilers get 1/3 of a lb of food waste per bird in addition to the pasture plants and bugs they have access to 24/7. This food waste includes bread, spent grains (what is
left over from the brewing process after Bond's Brewing Company is done brewing a batch of beer), produce, and restaurant scraps. Some of these scraps are left behind by the broilers and are incorporated into the soil by microbes along with the chicken manure. This process leaves beautiful green stripes across the pastures where we graze the birds. You can tell that the plant communities really love the added nutrient strips these chickens leave behind!
-Right, the broilers get fresh pasture and a mixture of food waste daily.
The broilers spend the next 2 to 3 months scratching and foraging for the plants and bugs they like to eat in the safety of their chicken-tractors while they are growing to the optimal weight- about 5 to 7lbs. We like to process at this weight because the chickens are still healthy at this stage. They still act like chickens and are still able to eat, sleep, walk, scratch, and forage like a chicken should be able to do, but they have filled out enough to produce a lovely product that can feed an average family at a meal.
-Left, Chris evaluates a bird to decide whether it has reached the finishing stage.
On processing day we set up our equipment that has been sanitized by sunshine, dish-soap, and bleach. We get a large pot of hot water boiling and we make our way over to the pasture
that the broilers are grazing in.
We crawl into the chicken tractors and pick out the birds that have reached the optimal weight. We carry these birds out of the mobile pens and place them into wire dog kennels on the back of our ranch pickup. Then the birds are driven across the ranch- about 1/4 of a mile, to the processing area we have set up for the day. We set the kennels in a shady spot and go to work.
-Left, We use wire crates to transport birds around the ranch.
If you want to know more about how this process works email me! I'm happy to explain it in detail and I can even provide photos, I just don't want to post potentially-sensitive content right here on the blog. If you are really interested in the process you are welcome to join us on a processing day and we will show you exactly how we do it and we will teach you how to do it as well- if you are interested.
-Below, Bree learned to process chickens with us as an intern in the summer of 2019.
-Below, Chris does a little bit of detail-plucking on a carcass he has run through the Whiz-Bang Plucker.
After the birds are processed, we place them in a cooler filled with chilled water and ice. We let the birds cool for about 2 hours and then we shrink-wrap them using shrinkable plastic bags and a pot of hot water and we stick a label on them that has all of the info required by the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.
-Left, A TOTW chicken processed, packaged and ready to go into a customer's freezer!
We package the organs and feet separately for folks who are interested in purchasing those, and everything else that we don't usually sell off of the birds goes to our pigs. This is one of the best kinds of days for the pigs at TOTW. Chickens are a very special treat that they enjoy every little piece of- nothing is left behind.
Once the birds are packaged in the shrinkable bags, we put them in coolers and take them to one of our freezers, until delivery day when they are dropped off at the doorstep of customers like you!
How the Finished-Products Compare
Pasture-raised chicken has a higher concentration of Omega-3 Fatty-Acids (a nutrient us humans need, but do not produce ourselves). Pastured poultry also has a higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio. Eating more foods that contain a higher ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s has been shown in scientific studies to reduce inflammation in the body.
Animals that have had a longer chance to grow and forage for the nutrients they need usually produce a product that contains more nutrients for the consumer. Most conventional poultry only takes 7 weeks of growth from start to finish and the feed is limited to a grain-based product mixture. Our pastured birds fed food waste have 3 months of opportunity to forage for the nutrients they need and pick and choose the ratios of available feeds to satisfy their unique needs at any given time. This combination allows the broilers to accumulate the necessary nutrients in their bodies in the necessary ratios which increases feed efficiency, animal health, and quality of the finished-product.
This comes through in the flavor, color, moisture and tenderness of the meat as well as the richness of the organs and strength of the tendons and connective tissues in the feet, and the skeleton of the birds- which make great broths and soups once we have prepared and eaten the chicken!
Have you noticed that the chicken products you purchase at the store shrink a lot when you cook them?
This is because packing plants sometimes inject meat products with solutions like Bromelin and Ficin to help the meat retain it's shape, weight, and texture while it is being transported and stored. We don't have to worry about this as local producers and sellers because our birds don't have to travel very far or withstand long storage times so they don't have a chance to lose their freshness!
The fat on grocery-store poultry products is white and greasy. The fat on pastured poultry as well as other animals raised on pasture is yellow due to the intake of carotenoids like beta-carotene from pasture plants, which are vital for many processes in the body. Nutrients like carotenoids from natural sources are easier for your body to use than nutrients from artificial sources like vitamin supplements, as explained by the BBC documentary The Truth About Vitamins. We have also noticed that this yellow fat dissolves with little added heat and tends to be easier for the stomach to break down. This "grass-fat" -as we call it- is also chock-full of flavor and really gives our birds a lovely finishing taste and texture if you let the bird cook in it's own rich juices.
TOTW broilers have NO-Preservatives. Therefore we either recommend eating them within a day or two of purchasing them or keeping them frozen and eating them within the month of purchase. Grocery store poultry does keep longer, but the flavor, tenderness, and texture are sacrificed for this purpose. At that point, why even eat chicken?
-A Note About Price
At the grocery store, chicken averaged $1.47 per lb in 2018 in the US. This price makes the price of TOTW Chicken at $5/lb seem outrageous! However, when we consider some key differences in the process and product the pricing difference begins to make sense.
The $1.47/lb does not take into consideration the tax-payer dollars that went into subsidies to produce the feed that fed those chickens. This price also does not take into account what the cost will be in the future for the health effects of eating products like factory-farm chicken.
What the price-difference gets you is a higher-density of nutrients and a product with less environmental impact, along with a purer product with no added hormones, antibiotics, solutions, or sanitizing substances.
By purchasing Taste of the Wind Chicken you are funding a different kind of food system- one that does not rely on government subsidies, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and large equipment to function.
You are supporting a system of ag that cleans up waste products from the defunct system of ag that we currently have- without supporting this system further.
You are also supporting small business that is knitted into the community of Laramie.
It is hard to quantify these things monetarily, but by purchasing products from small operations like TOTW, you are putting your money where your mouth is and you are taking action in bettering our food system, our community and your own health. With your support small operations like TOTW can work towards efficiency and can produce quality products for more reasonable prices in the future.
As always, we want to stick to our policy of 100% transparency. If you have a question about anything to do with our process of raising chickens or any other TOTW products please ask!
I hope this comparison has helped to distinguish our product from the standard poultry products at the grocery store.
- BJ and the Taste of the Wind Crew