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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

“I’ve had people say, ‘How can you kill chickens?’ My thinking is, somebody’s gotta do it, and at least I know it’s done right. No, I don’t like it and it’s kind of gross, but I do know that it’s done very well and it’s clean,” Peeler said. Whereas each chicken is processed individually in the metal cones, big ag chickens are dipped into electrified water from their ankles and then bled to death after having their throats slit.

Peeler delivers fresh birds on Wednesdays to Austin eateries including the upscale Jeffrey’s, a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and three CrossFit gyms.

Delivery to San Antonio restaurants runs throughout the week to Restaurant Gwendolyn (Peeler’s first client), Lüke San Antonio Riverwalk, Cured and Uncommon Fare, which both sells the meat and uses the birds in their prepared foods. Birds not delivered to these restaurants are vacuum-packed for Saturday’s Pearl Farmers Market where Peeler and two of her kids sell whole chickens at $4 a pound.

“I go to Whole Foods and look at their prices and stay either at that same mark or slightly under if I can,” Peeler said.

“It doesn’t escape me when I’m at the market that I’m a higher-end vendor—all the meats at the [farmer’s market] are. You have to be aware of that,” Peeler noted. She tries to facilitate the process for market-goers on a budget by offering leg quarters and other economical cuts such as drumsticks. “I try to find something so everyone can afford to eat well,” Peeler said.

Money Talks

Even during a late February visit, there’s plenty of scenic views of Parker Creek Ranch’s laying hen coop on the south border, colorful blooming garden and nocturnal Great Pyrenese mix farm dogs that laze about during off-duty hours. Parker Creek Ranch proprietors, Mandy and Travis Krause, are almost as bucolic.

Both 27 years old, the Krauses have been at this for some four years, first as chicken farmers exclusively, though now they’re experimenting with grass-fed beef and rabbits. The couple met at Texas A&M University while they both worked toward bachelor degrees in wildlife and fishery sciences.

Travis went on to work in India and South America while Mandy worked as a field technician in Texas and Montana. But a life-changing read drove Travis back home to reinvigorate his family’s 500-acre ranch.

“You’re not really encouraged to come back to the ranch … You’re supposed to go off and become a lawyer, a doctor or an accountant because this isn’t the most profitable business for the amount of work you’re putting into it,” Travis said.

After reading Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits, Travis decided to give chicken farming a go. Salatin is best known as a sustainable agriculture leader who pioneered alternative farming in the ’80s at his Polyface Farm, and has been featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma as well as Food, Inc. He preaches transparency in farms, pastured livestock and poultry, individuality for animals, community building and the use of earthworms. His book describes ways for entrepreneurs to give farming a shot.

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