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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


He may make it sound doable, but unlike Salatin, the Krauses have to deal with an ever-present drought and being a two-person operation. “Salatin’s got an army of interns, we don’t,” Travis said.

With the help of “wwoof-ers,” or volunteers through World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms, an organization that links willing workers with organic farms, Travis built eight covered shelters that held 100 birds each. Early on, Travis and the wwoof-ers would hook the shelters up to an ATV and move it a few feet in a different direction every day.

The farm now uses a new model the Krauses call a Portable Chicken Shelter, or PCS. The triangular shelters are rigged up on wheels so the birds can come and go as they please within a 5,445 square-foot, open-air perimeter. While pasture-raised, even chickens need boundaries—and protection.

One of the farm dogs stays inside the enclosure to ward off predators, such as hawks, owls, coyotes, raccoons and skunks. (Fun note: Peeler described skunks as the Charles Manson of the predator world because they decapitate the body and leave the carcass intact.)

The Krauses only raise meat chickens from April through November due to the harsh extremes of both winter and summer in South Texas. They currently raise 150 meat chickens a week, an economical Cornish Cross and a Naked Neck chicken, which they deemed more sustainable and well-rounded.

“They’re healthier, they’ll fly, they’re a truly functional chicken,” Mandy said. “They don’t get leg problems or diseases.” Naked Neck birds are also better foragers, and take just about the same amount of feed to raise, except they’re raised for 12 to 14 weeks as opposed to about eight weeks for the Cornish Cross. In other words, these sustainable chickens don’t plump up as fast as their CAFO-raised cousins, which are usually slaughtered at seven weeks old.

This translates to a higher cost at the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays and the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market on Sundays: Cornish Cross usually go for $4.25 a pound versus the $5 a pound for a Naked Neck. The birds also look different: The Cornish has larger breasts, while the Naked Neck is a slimmer and leaner bird with more dark meat.

“Americans love big chicken breasts,” Travis lamented; “The reality is, if you want to feed a chicken good feed, raise them right, it’s going to cost money to do that. Our profit margins aren’t huge, people gawk at the prices but we’re eking out a living. We don’t pay ourselves a salary.”

For these ranchers, the ultimate goal is education.

“What we’ve learned through the years is that to save wildlife, to save agriculture, it’s not about research and how one plant affects another,” Travis said. “It’s about educating people to care about things, to show them how it’s all connected and that we need to take better care of the world.

Concentrated animal feeding operations [are] not the way to do it.”

They routinely host groups of Future Farmers of America from area high schools and give tours of their set-up, which includes the nitty-gritty bits like using nitrate-rich straw beds for their garden and to reenergize bare patches in the landscape.

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