Ben Bylsma listens for sounds of distress among his chickens while we stand a distance from the shelter they live in. That’s the kind of farmer I want raising the chickens I’ll soon roast in my oven this fall.
For me, it’s all about animals living in a stress-free environment, which is a far cry from the factory farm meat you find in a grocery store. It’s not just because I’m an animal lover (which seems hypocritical, I know, since I’m happy to roast the chickens I visited); it’s also important to me to consume meat from animals that have lived a happy life. It’s simply healthier.
Last week I took a ride out to Bylsma’s place, Real Food Farm, to see how he raises his chickens. I first heard from him when he contacted me as a member on an email distribution list from Tom Carey, the chicken farmer that Bill and I used to get chickens from at Lubbers Farm.
I like what I heard from Ben. A college grad with a major in International Development, he has spent time in third world countries (Tanzania and Guatemala), including a stint in the Peace Corps with his wife.
Ben believes that the major road blocks in the development of countries always seem to be about food–how to find the most nutritious calories to sustain a population.
And it’s not like raising food is new to Ben. As early as fifth grade he had a garden. As an AmeriCorps volunteer he moved into large-scale gardening with multiple bed and sites through his work at the Blanford Nature Center. Then he got hooked up with Trillium Haven Farm while awaiting his assignment for the Peace Corps. Finally, it was on to Guatemala where he and his wife kept their own animals: a pig, turkeys, and chickens. And he spent a lot of time reading about permaculture, composting, and the nature of chickens.
A chicken farmer who has actually read about the nature of chickens!
Since March of 2011 he’s been raising pastured chickens for meat the way Joel Salatin does: by moving them through a pasture every day.
You can see where the grass has been matted down from moving the chicken house.
In addition to the bugs and grubs in grass, the chickens are fed organic grain with a mix of minerals and fish meal.
Because organic feed isn’t cheap, the cost per pound to the consumer has to be higher. But, honestly, as Michael Pollan says, wouldn’t you rather pay the grocer (or, in this case, the farmer) than the doctor? I am happy to spend more on pastured chickens fed organic food in a green pasture than to buy the stressed-out meat from factory farmed poultry you see in the grocery store. Oh, and don’t forget the chlorine bath those chickens get before they’re packaged up in styrofoam and shrink-wrap just to sit there waiting for you to purchase.
In addition to broilers (for food), there are egg layers on the way.
And baby broilers!
For my friends in West Michigan, I wanted you to know that I’ve done the work of paying Ben a visit, checking out his farm and reporting on it. Why not sign up for chickens this fall? For the rest of my readers, I hope you’re able to find a farmer like Ben where you live. If not, try searching on EatWild.com or AnimalWelfareApproved.org to find an ethical, humane farmer in your area.