I only eat heritage poultry. Unfortunately this makes it real hard to keep kosher because there is no commercial kosher heritage chicken or turkey available anywhere on earth so I have to kill and process everything I want to eat. About a year ago I wrote a post about the sheer exhaustion that processing my own meat was causing me and that despite the fact that at first it was empowering at this point it's just become exhausting. Not much has changed in the way of commercial birds since I wrote Ethical Convenience but I’ve been determined to find a more convenient way to eat poultry ethically ever since. I spent nearly a year planning and all my hard work came to fruition with a successful shechita run in August. I killed and processed 30 birds in less than a quarter of the time it took me to do only 15 birds in the past. I even felt happy and energized afterwards. What I learned not only helped spare me energy but can also make producing local kosher poultry, a dream of many that still lies unfulfilled in the U.S., a reality.
After writing Ethical Convenience I realized that the only way to make processing easier would be to use a preexisting non-kosher facility. Using a kosher place is difficult both because there practically aren't any this side of the Mississippi and because of the regulatory mechanism within such facilities. But since kosher methods of killing and processing are radically different than non-kosher I needed a small place that is flexible enough to accommodate me but also experienced and large enough to fully take over the arduous task of plucking and evisceration. After months of tireless searching I found Seifer, a family farm with a small on site slaughterhouse that processes custom batches of chickens for local customers. They were just the right size and also work under the federal poultry inspection exemption act, which means that I would not have to worry about the USDA, a factor that often imposes insurmountable burdens for meat processors. Once I’d found my slaughterhouse I still needed to find birds, which proved to be an even harder task. Finding local heritage poultry was very difficult so I ended up asking my friend, Frank Reese, to send 30 of his USDA certified heritage flock to Nebraska for slaughter. Having only 30 birds delivered was expensive, costing over twice the price of the actual chickens, but I found it to be well worth the hassle. I had the birds, I had a facility now it was just a matter of setting up a date.
During slaughter I found that I had ample time to focus properly and check my knife between each bird. I wasn’t overly bothered with the plucking and evisceration, something that always hurt the quality of my shechita in the past. Towards the end of the day Ray and I discovered that using the standard whizbang plucker was quite helpful for removing the difficult pinfeathers, which don’t come off using my specialized kosher dry plucking machine. This was a huge revelation and could prove quite useful for those attempting to process small batches of kosher birds locally. Once the birds were eviscerated I used Seifer’s many sinks and drying racks to soak and salt the chickens, a process that had always proven to be very difficult without this ready infrastructure, and after only a few hours I was done. It was expensive and allot of work to set up but after I finished the day I realized that this may have just been the most enjoyable shechita experience I had ever had in my life so it was well worth the effort and extra cost.
After over 8 months of searching, preparing and planning I awoke at 4:00am on a Friday morning ready to make the drive to Seifer. I arrived early and was warmly greeted by the farm owners, Ray and his sister, doing early morning chores. The family and neighbors converged into the small gravel parking lot as I set up my knives and specialty plucking equipment. With the sun rising the crew began their prep and a feeling washed over me that I was not alone in this. I was a part of a community and today we were all coming together to do the work. But it was when Ray brought the entire team together for a prayer before the day of work to began that I knew that I had found the right place for me.
I'm not the only one to have had problems doing small runs of local kosher poultry in America. I’ve spoken to many people who have tried to do the same and failed. I’ve figured out that this is at least part of the solution to providing local kosher meat. If anybody is to be successful in such an endeavor they must first find a local slaughterhouse to work with. The reality is that in this country Jews are a minority and in order to build our own infrastructure of local meat it’s essential that we team up with non-kosher operations. This is something most large kosher slaughterhouses already do and people with local aspirations would be wise to recreate those same models on a smaller scale. But why even go through all this trouble? Why not just buy Grow and Behold or KOL foods chicken? Kosher poultry slaughter is generally quite humane and those brands are pasture raised, organic and free range… right? Well, that kind of depends on your definition of those terms. So stay tuned because in my next post I’ll be explaining why eating heritage poultry is so very important for me, and why it should be for you as well.
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.