By Molly Sauvain, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s December 2010 Enewsletter.
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A few towns from Pete at Mockingbird I meet Beth at Shinglebrook Farm, a house and twenty acres nestled on a hillside in Shelburne. Goats and pigs are contented pasture-mates out by the barn, and chickens and turkeys have taken over the front yard. I am greeted by a barking chorus of dogs and a full-grown turkey, wreathed in plumage, staring me straight in the eye. Beth is a longtime member of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, so it comes as no surprise that the turkeys here are heritage breeds. She tells me that 90% of turkeys in the world are of one variety, bred to produce broad breasts of white meat. Beth reports that these birds are incapable of breeding on their own and cannot raise their own young – those natural instincts have been bred out of them by large-scale meat producers whose goal is a large amount of breast meat in the shortest possible period. Beth’s chickens are a breed called Freedom Rangers, a cross between the common, fast-growing Cornish Rock and a heritage breed. Full Cornish Rocks grow so fast their hearts give out, their legs are weak , and they end up sitting until slaughter. With the cross-breed, Beth’s chickens produce good breast meat but can also run around outside. “They’re so much better than what you get at the store. They are raised on good food and spend their lives out in the grass. You can taste the difference,” says Beth.
On processing day, Beth takes her birds up to Vermont to the USDA facility in Westminster. It’s worth it, she explains, even if they have only 15 or 20 birds, because “they do such a nice job.” It costs $5 a bird, with the end result being a beautiful packaged and labeled bird. Beth has thought about using the MPPU, but for her scale of operation and busy-ness level it just doesn’t make sense. “You have to get the labor together yourself, and we just don’t have the time or volume right now. We tend to have only 15 to 25 birds to process each time around, and to rent the MPPU for so few birds isn’t realistic.” She would love to see a USDA licensed facility built in Massachusetts, and this region “would absolutely be the place to have one because of the amount of farms here,” she says.
Processing issues, according to Beth, are what stand between most people and raising poultry. “There is huge demand. Generally you just have to get people to try the meat.” Initially, she explains, they buy the story and like the idea. Then they taste the meat and that ultimately convinces them it’s worth the extra cost. It’s catching on in our region, but in the grand scheme of things she realizes paying $7 a pound is a hard pill for some to swallow. In terms of price, the grocery store has local producers beat. It’s the better flavor and quality of the meat and the better life for the animal that can tip the scales in favor of purchasing locally.