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Food & Drink

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Alt-chicks: What goes into the trendy, tasty and expensive boutique poultry

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Chickens roam the pastures at Parker Creek Ranch


[Photos from Parker Creek Ranch]

There’s a certain sense of guilt that comes along with eating mass-produced poultry. There’s only so many blinders we can put on to block out knowledge of where our food comes from.

Gone are the picturesque Old McDonald farms. Instead, most of the poultry we consume comes via factories and assembly lines that treat workers poorly (see the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA citation of Tyson Foods as recently as December 17, 2013, after a worker’s hand was severed due to four workplace safety violations), and then, of course, there’s the birds.

If you’ve spared yourself the trauma of Food Inc. since the documentary film’s 2008 release, here’s what we learn in the first 15 minutes: Meat birds are packed inside dark chicken houses or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs for short), hardly ever seeing the light of day. Large numbers of chickens are kept in extremely close quarters usually for about seven weeks where they swiftly plump up on a diet of grains and soy-based feed. These genetically modified birds, bred to gain weight extremely quickly, are often too top-heavy to stay on their feet any length of time. Immobile or not, these chickens breathe in fecal particulate, which requires the use of antibiotics to help stave off health woes such as abscesses and lesions. How nutritious!

No wonder the release of Food Inc., plus several contemporaneous books and exposés in the same vein, has caused the owners of these so-called factory farms to lobby for the passage of “ag gag” laws, which would criminalize photography and videos made on these premises without permission.

There’s a lot that goes into your average chicken breast (or pork chop or skirt steak) that could cause consumers to lose their appetites.

But, even with the veil partially lifted on their unpleasant operations, chicken giants continue not only existing, but making a profit. That should be troubling even for those not phased by factory farm life. As Tyson executives pointed out during a February 27 agricultural conference, shareholders should expect a 10 percent earnings per share increase in 2015 and subsequent years. Turns out Tyson and its peers can strategically manipulate market price for chickens with zero legal ramifications.

If any of this makes you want to swear off the fowl forever, first consider all your options. Enter the “alt-birds,” chickens raised by indie farmers. Within 50 miles of San Antonio, there’s a few such farms, including Floresville’s Peeler Farms and D’Hanis’ Parker Creek Ranch, which buck big ag’s business plan to focus on producing pasture-raised chickens using non-GMO and soy-free feed. Rarely has a hipster trend been so feel-good, or tasty … or expensive.

Breaking (Price) Point

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