Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Views from the field: Conor Crickmore

Views from the field is a series of essays from our business members on the experience of farming and producing local food. Here we learn about the experience of raising "slow grown" chickens from Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farm in Neversink, NY. The farm was a recipient of a Pure Catskills Sustainable Agriculture Development Grant earlier this year. With the funding provided, on-farm poultry processing equipment was purchased for their flock of slow growers.

Neversink Farm has the only slow grown organic chickens in the northeast. As a reformed vegetarian of 20 years, having broilers was a hard decision but how to raise them was not. Our philosophy from the start has been to produce the best possible food while doing it in a way that felt right and to sort out the costs later. We will put the chickens on pasture early, let them roam freely, and feed them GMO-free organic local whole grains ground fresh on the farm.

The problem was we didn’t see the sense in putting birds bred for factory life on pasture. In a quest for raising poultry cheaper the fast growing chicken was created and is now used almost universally. A fast growing hybrid chicken grows from egg to slaughter in six to seven weeks. This fast growth results in difficulty walking and standing. That growth rate just didn’t sit right with us. It gives the bird no time on pasture and a quality of life that we wouldn’t feel good aboutInstead we found a French variety of chicken that can easily forage and be outside from two weeks old. These birds take 12 weeks to mature, giving them ten weeks on pasture.

The common pasture cage was also not an option for us so we built a moving shelter that allowed true free access to roam the pasture and eat fresh grass and clover. When it comes time for slaughter, we wanted to do it in the most humane way we could using professional equipment on the farm, by us and in the open air. The cost of professional equipment for our small farm was prohibitive and the grant from the Watershed Agricultural Council enabled us to bring this improved product to market. We will also provide a means for other local farmers and homesteaders to rent such equipment. We feel that our slow grown, certified organic chickens that are raised on pasture are very content and are also the best tasting.

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