My name is Lee Riggs. This is the story of my journey to be a farmer, to make a living at farming, to create food security for myself, my family, and my community. To grow good food that is good for our bodies and our soul. WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.
Grass:The basis of pasture raised animals.
Today I was walking dogs down in our pasture, the pasture that one day I hope will be the staging grounds for raising lots of healthy chickens. I knelt down to look at a one foot square of the pasture to analyze it. There seems to be lots of variety. Last year we had 13 sheep on the pasture pooping and peeing all over it. Because of that it seems much healthier than in past years. The year before that we had 5 horses on the grass. They too pooped alot but after they were done the field seemed a bit more beat up. The fences sure were.
My friend Kevin (a soil guru), has done a soil analysis of the pasture. We will be seeding at the end of this year with alfalfa and clover. We will also be adding mineral elements that are lacking. What I am slowly understanding about plants and soil is they are just like our own body system. Our body requires minerals and vitamins and if we get them we can fight disease and pests much better. The same goes with soil. Strong soil, strong plants, strong chickens, strong us.
I have another friend named Bill. We were standing around one day talking about the ills of feeding salmon corn instead of other fish, (their native diet), salmon are carnavores not herbavores. Bill was having a very difficult time understanding that a salmon is not a salmon. If we feed one salmon a vegetable diet and we feed the other one its native diet of other fish they will not have the same beneficial nutrients. Can a salmon create the same amount of omega 3, 6 and 9 by eating corn? I am not a scientist but I don't think so. Shit in, shit out, maybe is the simpler way to put it. A previous head of the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. once stated that carrots from Michigan had more nutrients and vitamins than those from Florida. He was repremanded and he never said that again. We are what we eat, even if we are a carrot. It has been proven many times in the past and present that feeding our animals on what they traditionally have eaten is best. They get the best benefits of health and so do we through them.
Killing: Might as well call a spade a spade.
So I am coming up to 5 months of looking, planning, deciphering, and overall researching the possibility of raising broiler chickens. As I read Omnivores Dilema, the author was inguaged in processing chickens. The author was pretty much grossed out with the entire thing. He appreciated taking it to the final step, but still feeling upset internally. Killing our meat, killing another animal is for many quite and inconvenient truth. Deep down us North Americans simply want to go to the deli and order (sliced), our black forest ham and turkey breast and have it come in a nice little wrap for our convenience.
The concept of industrial meat preparation is for many a version that they would like to be OK with. Watching Food Inc. the movie, or Supersize Me the movie, are testaments that our industrial food system sucks. I have heard numerous people say that they have not watched Food Inc. but they know what it is about, and that is good enough. Rape is an easier thing to say than watch and that is my point about the industrial processing of meat. People would rather believe that they know what it is all about and it really is not so bad. Killing is killing right? A salmon is a salmon and a carrot is a carrot.
In 1988 I decided to become a commercial fishing deck hand. I wanted to experience harvesting my own food. The first time I stuck a large knife in the throat of a 60lb halibut and he/she stared back at me with thier large black eyes I got quite wigged out. That journey was concluded simply by looking at the fish with dollar signs all over them. In the end I was not a fisherman. I was not very good at it, and when it came time to throw large cherry bomb type fire crackers at the se alions so they would quit eating out catch, well I was not having any fun. It was a man over beast mentality, and I did not agree.
Joel Salatin, the farmer from Virginia made the statement that, "Processing chickens only once a month allows a person to stay sensitive with the job of slaughtering". One of the large issues of full time slaughter house employees is the simple fact that killing animals everyday becomes waring. The largest hog slaughtering factory in the U.S. kills and processes 30,000 pigs every day. I cannot imagine looking at a field of 30,000 hogs and concluding that they will all be killed in a day. Wow. Everyday. What does that say about us? How do those employees feel and how are they after work? Do they go home and love their families, kiss their kids, and go to church, or do they go home and hit everyone. I am sure that it effects everyone differently and the same. How we as humans deal with ourselves is always what is projected.
I have been a part of 2 - 400 roaster slaughters. We brought in a guy from the Fraser valley who had a truck with all the gear, killing station, blancher, plucker and then an assistant who gutted and finished the cleaning at the end of the line. With his operation we were able to process nearly 400 birds in 4 hours. It is quite an efficient operation. Trev, the owner of the truck is a licensed processor but not an inspector. He is licensed to process only personal use birds, not for retail. Trev probably processes 4 days a week and seems to have a good head to not become jaded.
If we as a society keep our food sacred than we will always have compassion in our actions. When I am up and running, I am not sure what my schedule will be. I am guessing that it will be once a week and maybe somewhere between 20 to 100 birds and hour. To process 100 birds an hour the system needs to be pretty darn together.
This summer we are getting 50 broilers chicks to raise and butcher for ourselves. Meat just for my family. I will attempt to mimick the system that I think will be our system. The location, the tables, the plucker, the blancher, the water system, the composting system. In the past when I had to cull my laying hens because they were too old and weren't laying very well it has truly been a task. At the end I would be quite tired. We weren't keeping the hens for stewing, simply throwing them away up in the woods. What a waste. Now I can see that. Putting those hens in the freezer or selling them to people who want to make soup from them will be more fulfilling and purposeful.