|Emmett Frary, the fifth-generation with a two-|
week old chick.
This was all a little confusing to me, a suburban hockey dad, but Elizabeth Frary, Owner of Copicut Farms with her husband Vince, helped me to understand how a family-run poultry operation works. Elizabeth is a fourth-generation farmer, her father owns E.L. Silvia Farms, a successful fruit and vegetable farm in Dighton, MA. She and her husband, Vince, returned to the area several years ago and purchased 80 acres of land that had been used for a dairy farm in recent years, to start a pasture-raised poultry farm.
Vince has a degree in Biology and an advanced degree in Wildlife Biology, while Elizabeth has a degree in Environmental Studies and an advanced degree in Education. Even her father is a thesis away from an advanced degree in Horticulture. These are smart, nice, educated people trying to grow and provide good, healthy, local food for the community. While I will rave about the chickens and eggs here, the father's nectarines, apples, corn and squash have been wonderful too.
Why am I writing about chickens instead of plants? I absolutely love their eggs and chickens and this is a very cool model for sustainable farming and learning how to get back to raising food that is healthy and local. I would have thought that all chickens were raised in big fields with lots of grass, water and sun, but I would be very wrong. Since Vitamins A and D and antibiotics were brought to the market, most chickens we eat never see the light of day.
Also, they sell their products at local farmer's markets (Winchester, Westwood, Framingham and Milton) and I hope you have a chance to try their tasty offerings.
|Jacob Sylvia, the egg-picker, helps out Elizabeth|
at the Winchester farmer's market
During this past summer they had about 1,000 laying hens on the farm, that produced about 75 dozen eggs per day. A young high school student, named Jacob Sylvia, comes after school every day to pick the eggs, since you can't leave them out too long. These egg-layers are are a cross between Rhode Island Reds and Leghorn chickens, both of which are considered excellent egg-producing chickens. Of course your don't want any roosters in this group, since only the hens lay eggs and unfertilized eggs are most typical in the market. This reminded me of a Seinfeld episode, as most funny things in life do, where George's father tries to figure out the hen, chicken and rooster quandary
Another comic aside, you may remember Foghorn Leghorn from early Saturday morning cartoons, maybe one of the most famous of the Leghorns.
|An egg-layer checking me out|
Right now, in the fall, they are culling their crop of laying hens to 500 for the winter, and the local Portuguese community loves the hens for eating. They are great in stews and soups, but are leaner than the other meat chickens and have a much stronger flavor, not traditionally enjoyed in the marketplace. They even have the chicken feet, which are excellent in soups, but I haven't crossed that line yet. Might be a while before I am caught chewing on some chicken feet.
Next spring they will purchase another 500 or more laying hens as they have to keep the stock young since the birds typically stop producing eggs reliably after two years.
|5 week old Cornish chickens enjoying some pasture|
As mentioned earlier, they receive a new crop of some 300, day-old chickens every three weeks. The bird is a Cornish Cross, a common fast-growing bird in the industry. In eight-weeks they have a bird ready for market. Elizabeth and Vince both agree that the key to a tasty and healthy bird is to feed them quality feed but not so much that they don't forage and eat what is available in the field. Because of the healthy conditions they have no incidence of disease and only lost one chicken in their last batch. This is well-below what is average in the industry for pasture raised chickens.
Unlike the large commercial growers of chicken, these birds live in clean, natural surroundings that doesn't breed disease, and the quality of their fresh feed, with minimal preservatives, keeps them healthy. Often, inferior feed will make the birds eat too much to get their nutrition, and this can lead to significant health and weight issues as they won't forage and eat the natural aspect of their diets.
|These girls are not in a cage, we just lifted the egg|
protector so I could get a shot of these beauties
They had a pair of Cooper's Hawks this summer that tried to take advantage of the bumper crop of chicks, but the birds were able to ward off the attacks by finding cover in their house. This is a real risk for living out in the open. More recently, a skunk has found a way to enter the fence at night to terrorize the chicks, and since the birds are night blind, the advantage definitely goes to the skunk. Vince has stayed a few nights on the farm to try to figure out how the skunk is entering the houses, but it remains a mystery for now. Losing a whole batch of chicks could be devastating, so vigilance is important to keep everyone safe.
|Feeding time is no time to mess around... these|
girls are tough
|Young Emmett likes to hand-feed the chickens, wonder|
if there is a market for that, they also have a family
member who is a yoga instructor, who want to make
them little yogis
They also process all of the chickens, right on the property when it is time, this minimizes stress from transportation and decreases their costs. Some chickens are sold fresh, but most get frozen immediately for farmer's markets and to keep for sale over the winter. They also have about 200 turkeys that will be ready for the holidays and currently have Cornish Game Hens, a 4-week old, version of their regular chickens.
I got hooked on the chickens when I split one in half and cooked it on the grill this summer, and Kathy and I now eat their eggs soft-boiled and poached. You will notice the difference immediately. Look for Elizabeth at the market and she will tell you all about it and how to prepare her chickens.
They will also be at the winter farmer's market at Mahoneys in Winchester all winter, so you don't have to go without during the cold months.