October 2018 at Wark Farm
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Why DID the chicken cross the road? The joke chicken had had many and varied reasons, some of them even funny; I was thinking though of your more average, less humorous chicken. The answer I'm hoping for is: Because it can. Not quite in the sense that one (used in the most wide-ranging sense of the word) might set out to climb everest but not so far away either. Chickens, along with pigs, are amongst the most compromised of the farm animals that are reared for meat; part of this is down to the way in which they are kept (restricted, controlled environment) but also in the biological changes that have been bred into them to produce â€˜better' yields and returns. It's not an unfamiliar story - though awareness is still a long way from any meaningful change in the lot of your average straight-faced chicken. The point being that actually a lot of chickens being produced for meat now might just not be able to cross the road. Not because they are in a cage (that treat is restricted mostly to egg laying hens) or because having never been in natural light they might be a touch agoraphobic or because they can't get far enough from another chicken to actually see the road, but because they just aren't capable of walking that far. When you take an animal that has evolved to run as it's main mode of transport (legs) and selectively bred into it large muscles that are used for flying (breasts) it gets badly out of balance. The net effect being that even given a decent environment, a reasonable lifespan and clear sight of the road - your modern hybrid chicken will not be able to make it to the other side.
I've prepared over 30 breeds of chicken for the table in my time here and have developed an intense dislike for the modern meat chicken; the one you see pretty much in every butchers or supermarket counter. Food production at it's very worst: an animal so compromised that even before hatching there is no way we can design a system to give it a reasonable life. It's the reason that I'm very happy with our current choice of chicken - the Poulet de Bresse. Of all the chickens I've kept over nearly 40 years of life with hens it stands out as one of the fittest of all breeds, and certainly the fittest of any meat bird I have reared. We have been hatching batches through this year from eggs sourced locally (we now have our own breeding flock for next years hatching eggs) and from the day they bust out of the shell they have a serious zest for life. No sitting at the feeder filling their faces for them, nope they're away exploring after a few mouthfuls. No waiting patiently to be fed or let out (they're knocking the door down), no chance for the the bug or slug that comes within their eager sight. I think we may have found the ultimate free-ranging meat chicken, I've never seen it's like. This month we have our first full batch of birds ready for sale. Initially we are offering them as whole birds only, not pieces. They aren't a big bird and (in line with all I've just written) have a proportionate distribution of breast and leg meat, so don't expect the football shape of a standard chicken. The big test now is - how is the taste? This isn't a meat to be lost in sauce or spice; it's an attempt to put chicken back on the menu as an equivalent to the best beef or lamb, something to be noticed and appreciated. If you'd like to try it - I'd love to hear your thoughts.
This month we have a full selection of Belted Galloway Beef and the last of this years pure bred Hebridean hogget, before we switch to new season lamb or possibly a batch of mutton next month. Otherwise we are still on a restricted product list as we pick up from the disruption of the fire, but we are making good progress. We will be delivering orders on Friday 19th, will be at Banchory Farmers Market on the 20th and will be open for collection of order at the farm on Monday 22nd (no shop yet, but you can place an order for pick up).