We hear many compliments about our chicken and turkey meats. But the one that we hear the most is how good they taste. We all know that chickens and turkeys raised on pasture taste better than conventionally raised poultry raised in large chicken houses. The grass and other plants in the pasture are an important part of the flavor, but it was not until this past month that I found out something else that we are doing that significantly contributes to the flavor and health benefits of our chicken that is different than most other pasture-raised chickens.
Last month, Cathy and I and some of our children had the privilege of attending the Mother Earth News Fair at the Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania. One of the seminars that I attended was given by a professional butcher who understood the importance of grassfed meats and the science behind it. One of the things that he said was that muscles that have more activity are the meats that have the most flavor. Muscles that have had very little activity, such as beef tenderloin, are the most tender but also have the least amount of flavor.
He said that fat is what gives meat flavor. Muscles that are exercised more have small amounts of fat dispersed throughout the meat because the muscles need the fat stores for energy as they work. It is those small deposits of fat that gives those meats more flavor. Here in America, people have prized tender meats over flavorful meat. Tender meats are achieved by confinement rearing that limits the exercise of the animal or poultry. The result is that conventionally produced chicken, beef and other meats are usually lacking in flavor.
The thing that we are doing that is different than most pastured poultry producers that we allow our chickens to run. Most pastured poultry producers use the “Salatin pull pen” or “chicken tractor” method. It is a method in which 50 to 75 chickens are placed in a small 10 foot by 12 foot bottomless pen on pasture. The chickens probably get less exercise than what chickens do that are raised in large chicken houses because they are limited by the small confining space. I say that from my observations from working on a large confinement poultry operation when I was in college and from when we tried the “pull pen” method. In the large chicken houses, because they are not confined to a small 10′ by 12′ area, the meat birds can move about more.
Not only does the exercise give our chickens more flavor, but the fat that gives it flavor is a good fat. The fat is in a meat that has been able to get omega-3’s from the grass and store those omega-3’s in the fat. The exercise gives the chicken meat a more firm texture, but it is still tender and a good eating experience.
One of the keys to flavorful meats is animals that have been able to get plenty of exercise. In buying meat, ask the farmer how they raise the meat. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend among grassfed producers to move toward confinement on pasture such as mob grazing of beef. In mob grazing, a large number of animals are confined in a small paddock, such as 1/4 acre, on the pasture until all the grass is eaten or trampled into the ground. They are then moved to another small paddock. The cattle are moved three or more times a day, but they are confined in a small space 24/7. Mob grazing is supposed to do great things for the soil, but in my opinion, it is not humane to the animals.
Mob grazing 1000 head of cattle. There is approximately 1.2 million pounds of weight in cattle grazing this strip. http://mobgrazing.blogspot.com/2011_08_01_archive.html
Not all mob grazing is this intensive but the animals do have to be bunched in a “mob” with the equivalent of 200,000 plus pounds of animals per acre so that they consume most of the grass in a short period of time.