Todd and Amy Carr are chicken folk.
They are also beef folk, pork folk, and in general, farm folk. But mainly, they are chicken folk. In fact, Todd has “always had some kind of chicken running around” as long as he can remember and he has been caring for the animals for more than 30 years.
To the Carr’s, raising organic animals isn’t about trying to capitalize on a niche market (thought there surely is one) or making millions of dollars (which they certainly don’t), but it is about a traditional way of living and a traditional way of doing things.
Todd raises chickens just as his parents did. They are not stuffed full of supplements and hormones, but they are fed a balanced diet and encouraged to exercise, thus living healthy (and possibly happy) lives. At least until it is time for the slaughter.
The Carr’s raise two types of chickens: The “roasters” are chickens specifically bred for, well…roasting. The roasters are only a few months old when the Carr’s send them to the butcher. The Carr’s butcher between 2,500 and 3,000 roasters each year.
The laying hens (a Rhode Island Red variation) are what Todd refers to as cheap, but efficient, brown egg layers. In fact these cheap efficient brown egg layers, along with the roasters, are the most profitable portion of the Carr’s business.
While other animals take long periods of time to reach the age of slaughter and require costly butchering fees, chickens grow fast and produce eggs with little to no maintenance required. The doors to the coops get opened in the morning and they are fed in the yard.
Even though Wisconsin winters can be cold, the Carr’s always feed the birds in the yard to encourage them to come outside and get exercise. Todd assures me that the chickens who stay warm in the non-heated coops throughout the winter through their body make-up and because they “know how to cuddle” can handle, and indeed get health benefits from going outside as opposed to being caged all day. One can only imagine an animal living a healthy life will produce leaner and tastier food; at least that is what the Carr’s are banking on.
The organic/free-range crowd swears by the notion that the food they buy is not only healthier for them, but that it tastes better as well. Indeed it must. Ideals alone are not enough for this chicken writer to spend an extra $2.50 on top of the $.99 I usually spend on eggs.
So do the eggs taste any different? Barbara Stiefvater from Madison thinks so. She has been shopping at the Dane County Farmers Market on and off for 25 years and says at least half of her groceries come from the Dane County Farmers Market (one of three markets the Carr’s sell their meats and eggs).
“They are real eggs,” said Stiefvater. “If you go to a chain place for breakfast they (other eggs) taste like rubber by comparison. These have a fresher taste, the yolk has a heartier taste…there is just more flavor to it.”
Stiefvater says it is worth paying a higher price. She pays for groceries knowing that her money goes into the local economy and it stays in her local economy. While Stiefvater does not necessarily buy 100% organic products, she says that she is committed to clean and local producers. Apparently ideals can go a long way into influencing our food buying habits.
The laying hens, unlike the roasters, live to the ripe old age of about two years old (chickens on average live to be about seven years). This is the age, Todd says, when the chickens start laying eggs at a slower pace. Since laying hens do not generally provide the tastiest or most tender meat, they will likely become stew.
The methods the Carr’s practice are not new, they are doing what their forefathers did; they are raising a reasonable number of animals on a small, yet sustainable, family farm. They don’t see a future where they will succumb industrial farms, but one where they will continue to produce food like the generations before them; a future where they will continue to be chicken folk.