Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tastes Like Chicken!

"But that is a chicken, so why wouldn't it taste like chicken?" The real question is: do you know what real chicken tastes like?  

For quite some time, I've been tossing around the idea of growing and eating my own chickens.  I was raised in the midwest and saw truckload after truckload of animals headed to slaughter.  Even as a little girl, it made an impression on me--a very negative one.  My father took me hunting for years and taught me to respect the animals we killed.  Suffering was not a part of the equation.  As I grew older, I was exposed to chicken houses in Arkansas and feedlots in Missouri.  The animals were eating things they were never meant to eat (corn for cattle, chicken poop and feathers for chickens), and packed in like sardines in a can. They were not living the way they were meant to live before we eat them.  Long ago, I told myself that if I could ever grow and slaughter my own meat, that I would.  All these years I've just separated myself mentally from where my meat comes from; and how it ultimately meets its death.  

I am taking one step away from grocery store chicken after 40+ years.  Baby steps. 
My first bit of business was to see if "real" chicken tasted any different than grocery store chicken.  Goodness knows it is a lot of work to take a chicken from coop to table.  Would it be worth it?  I headed to my local Farmers Market in search of chicken that had a good life and died without suffering.  I came across Dewberry Hills Farm table and purchased a chicken.  

When I brought it home, poor Lee......well, I'd paid $12 for a chicken!  Twice the grocery store price. "That had better be one tasty bird!"  I pressed on.  When I opened the packaging (vacuum packed-frozen) it was then that I knew things were going to be different.  It didn't have that funky smell that grocery store chickens have.  I cut it up and discovered it had been very well bled.  Nothing puts me off chicken more quickly than a bloody drumstick.  I chose to bake it with just salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  The moment of truth was just around the corner, would it be a "tasty bird"?  It tasted wonderful!!  Lee described it as 'fresh'.  The kids said it didn't taste 'chickeny' --like fish tastes fishy when it's not so fresh.  I thought it was mild, and tender.  I could gush on, but you get the picture.

When I emailed the Dewberry Hills Farm to let them know how much I'd enjoyed their chicken, Jane was nice enough to email me back.  We exchanged stories and she was kind enough to offer that I could come out to her farm the next time they processed chickens.  I want to see what I'm getting myself into.  Tyson is certainly not going to let me anywhere near their growing or processing plants!

Anyway, real chicken tastes nothing like grocery store chicken, I'm happy to say. I'll be ordering chicks in a month or so.  In the meantime, I need to get busy building a moveable chicken coop (chicken tractor).  The chickens get a new patch of pasture every day, all the bugs, dirt and grass they can eat and plenty of sunshine.  The way they were meant to live.  Guilt will no longer be part of my chicken-eating equation. 


  1. It is amazing, isn't it. Part of the increased price can be absorbed in accounting for the water weight. The grocery store charges as much for the injected water or "flavoring" in poultry as it does for meat. We realized that once the newness of real chicken wore off we ate less. The excellent flavor and texture became expected instead of novel and we ate less. It's more filling and takes longer to digest. It takes longer to eat because you have to put effort into chewing. If you can buy a Thanksgiving turkey from the same farm I'm sure you'll be just as pleased.

    I often wish we were neighbors. I'd love a girlfriend to go hunting with!

  2. The water/flavoring that they add is, I'm sure, what causes that funky smell and taste. Lee asked about getting a turkey for Thanksgiving, but all the growers in our area are sold out already. Some begin taking T-giving orders right after Christmas!

    I haven't hunted since I was 15. Boys became more important than quail and duck. I know my dad missed having me along. I would love to take it up again! My dad died 16 years ago.

  3. Hi Ceecee, thanks for that post.
    I wanted to eat better and knew $12 chickens for a year couldn't work with our budget. We will probably start processing/killing some of ours this week. It is a lot of work getting them to this stage (slow growers) but hope to save a few hens and a rooster and have them provide us with meat for next year too.
    I'm done eating cheap food, even if it means doing the dirty work myself.

  4. Ceecee - that's great! I'm glad the $12 chicken work out for you guys. I am interested in the processing piece - you will have to tell us that story when it happens.

    Good luck with the chicks and building the tractor!

  5. Fresh chicken organically raised and home grown is the best. We always butcher our hens as they age out of egging. They lay for two years usually and then we replace them with new chicks and butcher the older hens. We don't have a big flock just 10 to 12 so it doesn't keep us in chicken year round but it is good enough for us. You won't regret this and really I don't think chickens are hard to raise at all. Good post.

  6. Great post - written from your personal experience and your heart. This is something everyone has to make their own decision on and it was interesting to read how you reached yours. My biggest roadblock is I am not (yet) able to get past the animal-in-my-care = pet mentality. At this stage, I would choose to eat less or no meat if it meant killing and processing one of my own birds. But I realize that, like everything, there is a process - similar to what you have gone through - to reach new ways of thinking and feeling about things.

  7. Vonda, I think you're one brave woman. Like Danni, I would have trouble making that leap from pet to plate. That's why I keep my laying hens until they die. They have names. Unfortunately, my hens are now 3 years old and I get about 1 egg, every other day. That's the downside of keeping them as pets.

    Danni, I will be raising fast growing chickens (Cornish Cross). They go from day olds to butcher in 7-8 weeks. They resemble tiny dinosaurs (broad chested, huge feet/legs) and never seem to get into your heart. They have no interest in being your friend. I got given a few 'free ones' when I ordered my laying hens. They don't wiggle into your heart like regular chickens do. While it won't be easy to kill them, it will be less painful (for me) than if it were a bunch of hens with names.

  8. Hi-I'm Jane and I raised the chickens that ceecee is raving about.
    Thank you so much for your kind words about our birds.

    True pastured poultry is very labour intensive and requires a committment to moving the chicken 'tractors' daily as our chickens really do appreciate their greens and need them to produce Omega-3 fatty acids.
    We monitor every aspect of our flocks, from the day they are born right up to the time we process them.
    I like to tell people that our chickens have 7 1/2 very good weeks and one bad day.

    $12 may seem like a lot for one chicken but that is actually the cost of a bird weighing over 3.5 pounds.
    If you work the bird properly, you can turn into three or four meals-depending on the size of your family.

    I really appreciate the support of people like ceecee who make local production possible.
    Thanks again!