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Pastured Poultry: Place Your Orders Now!

- by Kalynn Spain

One of the most delicious and easiest local meats I have ever made is a whole chicken. I know what you might be thinking: chickens take time, but then I have to take out the roaster, yadda yadda. Making a chicken may seem like a daunting task, but when you cook one that comes straight from the farm that has been raised outside on pasture and cook it low.... and slow... the results are, well, pretty amazing.

What does pastured poultry mean?

Pastured poultry is the term used for chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese or other farm-raised birds that have been raised on grass for the entirety of their lives. Farmers order chicks from a hatchery in the spring and receive them sometime between April and June, depending on when they would like to have chickens ready for their customers. When the chicks are big enough (about 3 weeks old), the farmer will transition them from a warmed area to an outdoor area that is enclosed. Some farmers use " tractors" to raise their chickens in, which are moveable pens that keep the birds safe but provide them with fresh grass every day when the pen is moved. Once the birds are big enough (about 15 weeks old), the farmer will bring them to an inspected processing facility or will set up processing equipment on-farm. Poultry that has been processed on-farm can only be sold through a "farm gate" sale whereas poultry that has been processed in an inspected facility can be sold at markets and in stores (read more about this on our FAQ page).

How do you cook a pastured bird?

Cooking a bird from a farm, which has been raised differently than one you would buy in the grocery store, is much easier than you think. Follow these steps to get the juiciest chicken.

1) Allow the frozen bird to thaw out for one day prior to when you plan to cook it. Thaw the bird by submerging and leaving it in cold water or by placing it in a bowl and putting it in your fridge.

2) On the day of, allow yourself about 3 hours for cooking the chicken. Turn your oven first to 350 degrees. At 350 degrees, put the bird in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the outside is golden brown. This outside layer will lock in the flavour and juiciness of the chicken.

3) After the skin on the chicken has browned, turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Leave the chicken in the oven at this temperature for about 2.5 hours, and then check the internal temperature (82C, 180F). Once the bird is fully cooked, cut normally, but be careful of all of the juices that are hot and trapped beneath the skin of the bird.

4) Once your bird is ready, make a plan for using all of it. Will you be eating all of it in one night? Will you be using the bones to make a broth for soup? What other recipes and meals can you use chicken in? Keep in mind that you can cut up and freeze pieces of chicken for future use, as well as make broth by boiling the bones for 3-6 hours (overnight on low works too). Too much broth? Freeze that too!

Do pastured chickens eat grain?

Like humans, chickens need well-balanced diets that include sources of protein, carbohydrates and vitamins. Carbohydrates are necessary in a chicken’s diet for the production of fat, heat and energy. Cereal grains and their by-products are the most common sources of carbohydrates in poultry diets. Protein is necessary for growth and repair of body tissues, and can be sourced through meat scraps, fish meal, soybean meal, corn meal and hemp. Vitamins are necessary for health, growth, reproduction and the prevention of disease, and can be found in green grass and other forages as well as whole grains, wheat, corn and fish-based oils. These sources are only a few examples of where each of these dietary requirements can be found. So, in short... YES, pastured chickens eat grain :)

How does one buy pastured poultry?

Most farmers take orders for their poultry between March and June so that when the chickens are ready to go, the farmer knows exactly who they are going to! Pastured poultry is also one of the most popular local farm products, so ordering early on in the spring is the best plan of action for filling up your freezer when the birds are ready.

Farms that are currently taking orders:

Green Pastures Farm (chickens, whole, $3/lb.)

Tri-Pop Farm (chicken, whole, pieces and ground)

Rempel Family Farm (chickens, whole, $3.50/lb. - home-grown and -milled feed)

Fenez Follies Farm (chicken, ready in June, turkeys, ready in September)

Breezy Way Farm (chicken and turkey, Morden pick-up, home-milled feed)

Fostering Change Farm ($3.75/lb., delivery to Winnipeg)