When I heard that this year’s Hazon food Conference would be focusing on poultry I quickly made up my mind to help provide heritage chicken for the event. The only problem is that there hasn’t been a run of USDA certified kosher heritage chicken processed in the US for as many as 60 or 70 years so I knew this might be a bit a of a challenge. But I’ve never let obstacles like this stop me in the past and I certainly wasn’t gonna start now. To make it all happen I would need birds, a slaughterhouse and a way to deliver the chickens from place to place. I had already established a relationship with a small kosher plant and knew I could rely on heritage poultry farmer Frank Reese to provide the chickens. The one problem would be getting the chickens from Frank’s farm in Kansas halfway across they country to a slaughterhouse in upstate NY. But I figured that I could work that little detail out later so I just checked in with the plant and Frank before pitching the idea to Hazon and they accepted.
Turkeys enjoy the freezing weather (left) at Good Shepard Poultry while Frank speaks to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal (middle)
Barred Rock (sides) & Jersey Giant (middle) chickens which we brought to slaughter brave 15 degree weather on the day before the drive.
So on Sunday morning of last week I dragged my friend Puriel to Kansas and we spent the night listening to Frank speak to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal about heritage birds. On Monday morning we woke up early, loaded up the chickens and headed out on our cross-country journey. We would have to drive over 1400 miles in less than 24 hours without making any significant stops, all with 161 birds stinking up the back of a brand new rented U-Haul van. In order to keep the chickens comfortable we loaded them into large turkey crates so they could have enough room to stand up and move around. This reduced the number of chickens we could bring but was essential in making sure they'd be reasonably cozy on such a long drive. The trip was difficult but in the end it was a manageable experience for both the chickens and us. Nonetheless, on Tuesday morning we were ecstatic to finally reach our destination after a grueling 23 hour drive that pushed everybody to their limit.
Soon after we arrived workers took our birds into the plant and this is when the most amazing part of my trip occurred. Everybody at the slaughterhouse, from the Rav HaMachshir (head Rabbi) to the shochet and Mexican line workers, loved our birds. I thought the workers would think of me as some crazy granola toting hippie and laugh at my funny looking chickens but instead people kept coming to me to say how beautiful and healthy they all looked. It was only when I really took into account how the rest of the birds in the kill room looked that I realized why they were so excited. I realized how monotonous it must be to kill the same sick birds all day every day. The normal birds they process literally looked as though they were ready to keel over and die at any moment. I even saw that despite one of their transport crates being open nobody bothered to close it because the birds inside didn’t make any effort to step outside of it. In comparison, my birds, which had just traveled from half way across the country, were robust, healthy and energetic. How could workers that deal with hybrid chickens every day not know the difference.
The whole experience makes me think about the dozens of huge slaughterhouses across the country mechanically killing millions of the same exact birds all day every day. Work weeks filled with ugly, sick, pathetic, poor half dead chickens. But then I think of the heritage chickens we shechted and I imagine thousands of small slaughterhouses all throughout the country. Each one filled with healthy bunches of beautiful chickens, robust ducks, loud geese and boisterous turkeys. I think about how different the way we all eat poultry would be if this was the case. I think about how different the world would look if this was true and I think that I must be crazy for even considering such a thing.
Knowing the realities of consumer demand for cheap meat, the costs of starting a slaughter operation, the lack of breeders and producers as well as the many regulations put on processors and farmers forces me to concede that this thought is little more than a big pipe dream. But somewhere deep inside I believe it is inevitable; I trust that somehow our society will keep this dream of mine alive. A dream of slaughterhouses teeming with interesting and lively creatures that led healthy natural lives and of shabbos tables piled high with beautiful, healthy and delicious kosher poultry. So I urge all my readers to take action now. Visit the kosherheritage.com website to join other consumers in catalyzing demand for kosher heritage poultry. And if you are interested in learning more while getting to eat the chickens featured in this post then you should definitely consider attending the upcoming Hazon Food Conference: Poultry, Polinators and Policy.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.