Jun 15, 2009

chestnut farms open barn

This weekend, a crew from pika headed over to Chestnut Farms, the farm from which pika buys meat, via a CSA.

About 6 months ago, after some serious research, I signed pika up to receive 40 pounds of meat every month from the farm. Given that I'm a very committed vegetarian, this may seem like a strange move. But since I live in a house of 30 people, about 50% of whom eat meat, and since we're a co-op, my housebill is used, in part, to purchase meat. Because of that, and because of my concern for animal welfare everywhere, regardless of whether or not I make any financial contribution, it made sense to try to work out a system that both made the omnivores happy and addressed some of my concerns.

Chestnut Farms was recommended to me by some old friends, and looking at their website and speaking to the owner on the phone convinced me it was a good farm. But I still wanted to see it for myself, and I felt I had some responsiblity to make sure that the deal I got pika in to was a really good one. It was somewhat sad to be there, knowing that all the animals I was playing with would end up butchered and shrink-wrapped in a big freezer in the basement. But that's the way things really are, and even for me and other vegetarians, I think it's important to see.

Overall, I was very impressed with Chestnut Farms. The cows and sheep frolicked in large pastures, the calves were not separated from their mothers, the pigs had a huge mud pit and field to play in (except for the pregnant sows, who each had their own "spa pen" in which to give birth), the chickens lived in a very large pen, in which sat a full-size school bus, converted in to a chicken-coop-on-wheels... It looked pretty idyllic. The owner, Kim Denney, took a great deal of time to explain how the animals are raised and handled, and the many steps that the farm takes to take care of the land properly and ensure that the animals are happy. She was unfazed and unoffended by the fact that 3 out of the 5 pikans visiting the farm were actually vegetarian.

The adult sows live in a very large pen that is partially a field and partially a large puddle/mud pit. All of the pigs were hanging out in the mud pit looking very happy. Pigs like mud because they don't sweat, so the must have mud on them in order to keep cool. The sows were actually remarkably friendly and gentle - they came right over to say hello to me, and they made all kinds of noise when petted and spoken to.
The rooster, crowing.
The sheep were the least entertaining of all the animals. They lived in a nice big field, didn't like people very much, and ran away when we tried to get close.
The chickens live in this large pen. Their nesting boxes are in the school bus, which actually still works - the farm drives it to a new location every now and then so the chickens don't mess up the land too much. (There are actually 2 school buses, each in its own pen.) Some of the chickens had been debeaked, but not all of them. This concerned me, so I asked about it, and it turns out that normally they don't have debeaked chickens, but they got some recently from a supplier that does debeak. :(
Chestnut Farms didn't used to have goats. All of the ones they have now are male "rescue goats". Male goats are not valued in the dairy industry because, of course, they give no milk, so male kids are usually clubbed to death at birth. Chestnut Farms got their goats from a neighboring goat dairy and they are now being raised for meat. Apparently goat meat is now in demand as people broaden their palettes and learn about ethnic food.
These are the cows in their pasture. They were pretty active, running all over the place. There were lots of babies left in the mix. The rubble in the foreground is from the old abandoned barn that fell apart when the current owners bought the farm - they have rebuilt a very nice, larger barn.
These were the hardest animals for me to visit.... this year's Thanksgiving turkeys (poults). Although nearly all the animals we saw on the farm were destined to be eaten, knowing exactly when nearly all of these birds would be roasted and eaten somehow made it worse. Especially when I got to hold one.
The piglets are really, really adorable. They're pretty shy, but if you stay in their pen for a few minutes they get curious and come over to sniff your hand and nibble on your pants.

Pictures, except for the last picture of the brown piglet (taken by me), by Brian Kardon.