KOOKOOLAN FARMS
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148 ... email kookoolan@gmail.com ... phone Farmer Chrissie at (503) 730-7535
organic farming practices ... pasture-raised poultry, meats, and eggs ... cheesemaking classes and supplies ... mead and kombucha

Sustainability Practices

KOOKOOLAN FARMS - 15713 HWY 47 - YAMHILL, OR  97148 - (503) 730.7535 - kookoolan@gmail.com

We are a diverse, integrated, pasture-based, natural farm in Yamhill, Oregon.  We produce incredibly small volumes of a large number of very different premium food products.

We raise our chickens outdoors on pasture, which increases their vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acid profile.  The chickens control insects, pick up windfall fruits to prevent fungal and insect infestations in the orchard, and eat vegetable thinnings and overripe pickings.  The orchards provide shade for the chickens, and the chickens provide manure/fertilizer and insect control for the orchards.  We compost all our cow and chicken manure, and all our poultry processing plant byproducts (offals and feathers), and keep almost all our compost here on our farm.  We have never purchased pesticticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.  We rotationally graze our pastures so that in Year 1 the chickens graze one major pasture and the cows graze the other major pasture (we still use intensive management practices so that the animals are restricted to a fraction of the area which changes weekly), and the animals are reversed in Year 2.  We use all organic farming methods for managing pests and disease in our vegetable garden and orchard. 

We pride ourselves on humane husbandry and handling of our livestock.

We’ll look forward to meeting you sometime soon.  Welcome to the community of Kookoolan Farms.


KOOKOOLAN FARMS - 15713 HWY 47 - YAMHILL, OR  97148 - (503)730.7535 - kookoolan@gmail.com

 

Kookoolan Farms Reinvents Itself for 2009

Summary

This email is a very long way of saying that in 2009, Kookoolan Farms will not be raising meat chickens for fresh weekly sale to New Seasons Markets, farmer's market, and restaurant customers.  We have 1500 birds already started which we will butcher between March 10 and April 7, and which we will sell directly from our farm, and at the March 22 and April 5 and 19 Hillsdale Farmer's Markets.  This is roughly 10% the number of meat chickens that we produced in 2008, so they'll go fast, and we recommend stocking up for your freezer. 

During 2009, we will sell everything we produce almost exclusively from our farm store at our farm in Yamhill, focusing our efforts on chicken eggs, cheesemaking classes, a five-family CSA vegetable garden (two shares are still available for at-our-farm pickup), establishing our young mixed fruit orchard, and development of a more natural, comprehensive system for raising poultry meats. We will offer 125 Red Bourbon heritage breed turkeys at Thanksgiving which will be sold directly through our farmstore or the Hillsdale Farmer's Market and must be reserved in advance. We will also offer beef, pork, and lamb shares in the summer from custom-processed animals which must be reserved in advance.

Check our website for details (www.kookoolanfarms.com).  Watch for the reincarnation of Kookoolan Farms chickens and poultry meats in the not-so-distant future.

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Reinventing Ourselves

2009 is our fourth year of farming.  We are still farming novices, but since buying our little farm in October 2005, we have accomplished much:  building half a mile of fences, three barns, two greenhouses, and a poultry processing plant, almost all with our own hands and little hired labor; we have learned to milk cows and to raise and butcher chickens; we have obtained all the necessary licenses; we have established a brand-name presence for our premium poultry and raw dairy and eggs.  We believe that we have done an excellent job of bringing a specialty niche poultry to Portland, and we appreciate very much that so many of you think so too.

Another aspect of what we've accomplished is a large amount of research on the status and history of American poultry production over the last hundred years.  We have learned that "ethical and sustainable" farming, especially as applied to livestock farming, is not "black or white," but rather a continuum.  And not just one continuum, but several:  housing, genetics, chick procurement, feeding, handling, slaughtering, and processing, are each a continuum.  In January 2009 we began to receive our weekly shipments of day-old meatbird chicks again, and this quieter time on the farm allowed us more time for reflection and discussion; more time to analyze what went well in 2008 and to dream and aspire to what we'd like to do better in 2009. 

Our introspection and analysis led us to the realization that there are many aspects of this "ethical farming continuum" for Kookoolan Farms that we'd like to change.  After five weeks of receiving 300 chicks a week, we decided to stop with the 1,500 chicks we already have, and to use 2009 to completely reinvent our poultry offerings.

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Free-Range Poultry Housing

Nearly all poultry in the U.S. is raised indoors in confinement, in completely artificial, crowded, man-made environments.  For about six months out of the year, our meat chickens were raised outdoors on grass pasture, better in every way that the industry standard practices, and raised to 9 weeks of age rather than industry standard age of 5 weeks; for the other six months of the year, our meat chickens spend their lives indoors in our large, bright, and airy barn.  

For fully 12 months of the year, our egg-laying chickens are raised outdoors.  In a joint venture with Baird Family Orchards, we raised one batch of heirloom breed "Buckeye" broiler chickens outdoors under their peach orchards for 16 weeks.  In 2007 in a joint venture with Barbara Thomas Wines, we raised one batch of heirloom and Livestock Conservancy/Slow Foods Ark of Taste "Delaware" breed chickens outdoors in their vineyard for 18 weeks. 

The outdoors birds are a joy to watch, and they largely take care of themselves.  The indoor birds are a lot of work:  people must bring them their food and water and clean bedding, and must remove all their wastes.  

All three families were far happier with the health and quality of life both for our chickens and for ourselves, when the chickens are raised exclusively outdoors from as young as three weeks old, in a completely natural environment, and when we keep them with very low stocking densities.  In our climate, it is only possible to keep young birds  outdoors from May 15 until about the end of October.  Further, on hot sunny days, chickens need shade.  This summer we used portable tarps, but we were far happier, and so were they, with the natural shade provided in a fruit orchard.  Our open grass and clover pasture currently has no shade, but this month we planted a young orchard for the integrated purpose of chickens providing pest control for the fruit trees, and fruit trees providing shade and windfall fruit for the chickens.  Unfortunately these young trees will offer little shade in 2009.

The photo shows a thousand or so chickens under tarps in summer 2008.  Not bad, but we think we can do better.

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Organic vs Biodynamic

All of our housing and raising practices qualify as certified organic; all of our slaughtering and packing plant practices could be certified organic.  Here the term "organic" really just refers to the absence of chemicals.

We have begun working in the realm of biodynamics as well, incorporating vermiculture (worms) and investigating pond-raised tilapia (fish).  We believe adding these enterprises to our farm goes a long way in continuing to compost all poultry wastes and to continue our 100% natural prevention and control of diseases. 

So far our poultry feed has not been certified organic -- more on feed sources a few paragraphs later.

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Poultry Genetics

There has been substantial media focus on the rapidly-reducing number of species and varieties of foods available to humans.  A huge amount of our own species' calories comes from just corn, soy, wheat and rice.  Within these plant species, genetically modified varieties exist for all four, and a number of natural and heirloom varieties suited to particular climates, resistant to particular diseases, and possessing certain characteristics that were valued by the people who selected them (such as flavor, color, and nutrition) are either lost or threatened. 

It is the same for livestock breeds.  Modern domestic breeds of cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are bred for rapid growth and docile temperament.  Older breeds that had been selected for high butterfat, good mothering skills, excellent taste, hardiness in certain climates, and strong immune systems are rapidly going extinct.  

Nearly all of the chickens that we raised in 2008 were Cornish Cross chickens.  These are the same broad-breasted chickens that are raised by virtually everyone in America; exact statistics are hard to come by, but well over 90% of all American chickens are Cornish Cross.  By the early 1950s, more than two-thirds of all commercial chickens in the United States carried the bloodlines of the winners of the "Chicken of Tomorrow" breeding contests of 1948 and 1951.  The poultry breeder who placed second in the contest developed the hybrid chicken:  female and male breeders are bred separately for different characteristics, and then bred together for egg and chick production in confinement factories.  The hybridization ensures that second-generation chicks will not produce good meat chickens, guaranteeing buyers for the hybrid chicks just as sterile seeds from Monsanto guarantees seed buyers.  

Commercial broiler chickens today grow to twice the finished weight in less than half the time and on less than half the feed, compared to chickens available in 1935, as shown in Table 1.  Summarized another way:  prior to the hybridization and industrialization of the poultry industry that began around 1935, the natural growth pattern of a meat chicken was a 16-week growth period to a finished carcass weight of less than three pounds.  Rapid growth in modern chickens has come at the expense of the birds' immune systems, resulting in weaker legs, more heart attacks, green muscle disease, and the need for antibiotics and medications to prevent large-scale outbreaks.  

Table 1, Broiler Productivity, 1935-95

Reproduced from Boyd, "Making Meat:  Science, Technology and American Poultry Production," published in the journal Technology and Culture, Volume 42, Number 4, October 2001, pp. 631-664.

 

 

1935

1945

1955

1965

1975

1985

1995

Avg market weight (lbs)

2.8

3.0

3.1

3.5

3.8

4.2

4.7

Days required to reach market weight

112

95

73

-

56

-

47

Feed conversion ratio (pounds of feed

consumed/pounds of broiler produced

4.4

3.8

2.9

2.5

2.1

2.0

1.9

 

Koorosh and I are having ethical struggles with nearly every aspect of what we've outlined here.  The delicious irony is that preserving these heirloom animal breeds requires both raising them and creating a market that demands these meats.  Older breeds of chickens have far better immune systems, and they are physically able to reproduce naturally.  Is it possible to grow an older breed of chicken, have our own flock reproduce naturally, raise the birds to the natural mature age of 16 weeks, and market a 3-pound bird profitably?  This is an experiment best done on a small scale, and not with the volume of birds we raised in 2008.

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Feeding -- part one, the natural, whole-food diet

We've all watched wild birds:  they forage for wild bugs, worms, fruits, berries, seeds and grains.  This, or some subset of it for the more specialized species, is the natural diet of most birds.  Chickens are naturally omnivores; they are the descendants of dinosaurs.  They will eagerly eat any kind of meat or fish, and are even natural cannibals.  They are natural foragers, and our laying hens forage widely across our pastures.  This activity is good for them:  for exercise, for diversity of diet, for fresh air and sunshine (needed to obtain vitamin D, just as in humans), and to ward off boredom.  Cornish Cross broilers have been bred for rapid growth, part of which includes a reluctance to expend any calories.  They will choose to be hungry or thirsty rather than walk several feet to a waterer or feeder.  They need the food to be brought to them.  All commercial poultry food is processed (cooked) into a mash or a pellet, obscuring the quality of the input ingredients.  Nearly all chickens eat a diet that is mostly corn and soy, despite the fact that these foods were virtually not present at all in chickens' diets prior to 1900.  Processed food is sterile and is the equivalent of humans existing only on a soft-food diet.  It's not natural for the chicken.

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Feeding -- part two.  Organic vs. conventional

Most commercial chicken feed is conventionally raised corn and soy, which means most of it comes from monoculture corporate-owned factory farms in the Midwest, using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  At best these are high-producing hybrids which require large amount of fertilizers for their high yields; at worst they include GMO varieties.  The Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers drain the bulk of America's bread basket, pouring millions of pounds of chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico.  The unnaturally high levels of phosphorus cause algae to flourish, sucking oxygen away from native plants and animals and causing "hypoxia".  

 These grains come to Oregon through the commodity market, using large amounts of fossil fuels for shipment by barge, train, or truck.  "Organic" grains are mostly imported into the U.S. rather than grown domestically; most come from China, Brazil, or Canada.  Chinese organic grains are of questionable certification and prone to containing unauthorized ingredients such as melamine and other chemicals; Brazilian grains may be grown without chemicals, but the soil fertility comes from unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture of the Amazon basin.  Also, "certified organic" just means the absence of chemicals; lower-quality by-products rather than higher-quality whole grains are generally used in certified organic animal feeds.  Organic feeds can be as much as twice as expensive as conventional feeds, and when we raised small batches on organic feed we found that there did not exist a large enough consumer market to pay the premium required to support 100% certified organic feed.  Again, we're talking about a continuum, but the bottom line is that we have at least some kind of issue with every single feed source we've been able to locate.

The photo shows our 17 acres of custom-farmed, heirloom-variety "Yamhill" wheat, raised with no chemical inputs, less than 1/4th mile from our own farm.

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Feeding -- part three.  Local vs. distant

Whether conventionally or organically grown, most mills are buying their grains on the open commodities market, and the big producers don't want you to know from how far away the grains are coming.  We want to buy local and sell local, and a good source of locally-produced poultry feed simply isn't currently available.  

We and a few other farms are in the tentative stages of forming a farmer-owned grain co-op for the purpose of growing, milling, and selling our own local, organic, sustainable animal feeds.  This too cannot come to fruition in time for the summer 2009 season.

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Handling, Slaughtering, and Processing

This part we feel that we do very well.  At Kookoolan Farms, "trucking to slaughter" involves a 200-yard-long, two-minute tractor ride.  Our birds undergo minimal handling stress, are killed humanely and with respect, and are processed cleanly, chilled rapidly, and delivered within 24 hours fresh to our customers.  We handle our birds so gently that more than 95% of the chickens we processed in 2008 were sold as fancy-quality (absolutely blemish-free with no bruises, dislocations, or broken bones) whole broiler/fryers.  However, and this probably is not a surprise to any of you, killing chickens, burying their offals for compost, and cleaning the slaughterhouse are not our favorite farm chores.

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Summary

Thanks for your attention to this rather-too-long email.  We hope to see you at the March 22 Hillsdale Farmer's Market (www.hillsdalefarmersmarket.com) and at our farm (please call ahead for an appointment, 503-730-7535).  We remain committed to using the best, most natural farming practices and raising the best-quality foods for our family and for yours.

In good health,
Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor
and Kookoolan Farms

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A farm essay and our 2009 availability for larger animals…

I’m inspired again to pull out my soapbox.  Truly, I’m offering this information as price and quality benchmarking and an education process.  Great meat -- healthy, delicious, humanely raised, environmentally responsible meat doesn’t come just from seeing the words “grassfed” or “farm raised” or “custom processed.”

Even animals that have been beautifully raised can turn out to taste terrible if the animal is loaded with stress hormones at the time of slaughter -- for example, if the lamb jumps over the retaining fence and races around the pasture for 20 minutes while being chased by a man with a gun – it happens.  The animal is loaded with adrenaline and stress hormones, and the meat is loaded with lactic acid, and no matter how well the animal was raised or how carefully the meat is processed, it’s going to be tough and taste terrible.  The only responsible action is to reschedule the kill for a different day.

Another scenario is meat that is well raised and well slaughtered, but mishandled during processing as in the real example of bone chips in the ground meat.  This story was told to me by a well-known local Portland celebrity in the Nourishing Traditions movement which led her to throw out her entire share.  It happens.

Another scenario is a good farmer taking an exceptionally good carcass to a disreputable processor who exchanges carcasses – a prime beef carcass can be sold to restaurants who pay extra under the table for the best meat, and a subprime carcass swapped to the original farmer.  It happens.

And these anecdotes don't even begin to address the real issues of food safety. 

There is no substitute for raising the animal yourself, being present at the time of the kill being willing to say “this animal is not dying today” if the conditions are not right, and having personal trust of the best local processor.  If you can’t do that yourself, you have to hire a farmer to do it for you.  You have to have enough trust and rapport with your farmer to be able to ask these kinds of questions, look the farmer in the eye, and have a good feeling that you’re getting honest answers.  There is tremendous variability in the quality of all foods available in all venues, and by and large, the best quality foods cost more to produce. 

All our large animals are pasture-raised and pasture-killed.  They are never in a feedlot, never trucked live to slaughter, and never in contact with any herd other than the small herd they're raised in.  I personally inspect the organ meats of every large animal we slaughter, and so I can assert with absolute confidence that the animal was perfectly healthy at the time of slaughter.  I personally manage every slaughter to make sure the animal is calm and the kill is both humane and hygienic.

Three years ago I was a manager at Intel with cholesterol of 420, HDL:LDL of 0.33, daily taking six patent prescription drugs, and using my albuterol inhaler for crisis asthma attacks about five times a week.  Today I use no prescription drugs at all, my cholesterol is 240, my HDL:LDL is 1.4, I haven’t used my inhaler *at all* in more than a year, and I have gone two winters with no colds or respiratory illnesses at all.  Honestly I chalk it all up to the quality of the food we produce and have access to with our new lifestyle.


We’re very proud of what we produce.  We are not a bargain farm, but we are dedicated to producing the very best meats, using the most humane and sustainable practices, following the spirit of “Nourishing Traditions” and grass-based agriculture as much as we possibly can, and looking for ways to put ever-more Omega-3 and trace minerals into every bite of food we produce.  Yes, there are shortcuts we could take to reduce the price by 10% or even 20% -- but decades of a long series of such quality-cost tradeoffs is exactly what got the American commodity/factory food market into the situation it’s in now.

 

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Some Thoughts on Chicken Farming
from Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor at Kookoolan Farms
www.kookoolanfarms.com

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Chicken Farming in the News and on the Web

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In the past few weeks, I have seen more bizarre reports in the media and on the web regarding the incubation, raising, handling, harvesting, and selling of chickens and poultry than I ever would have believed. 

As best as I can tell, these show actual photos and footage of animals in horrendous conditions both before and after they are dead, and the news stories tell of abominable practices related to incubation, handling, hygiene, and trucking -- except the one about China seems to be a hoax.  But no wonder people don't trust their food sources, and no wonder more people are becoming vegetarians.

Not in the news is one of my current "hot buttons," which is the sale of processed chicken rather than whole broiler/fryers.  Although boneless skinless breasts, and thighs, and ground chicken, and chicken nuggets all seem like harmless convenience foods, they hide the story of why they exist.  If you have the stomach to watch the chicken-harvesting scene in the video "Eating Mercifully," you will see that the chickens are battered appallingly as they are "harvested."  Obviously most of these chickens suffer bruising, dislocations, and broken bones.  This is the reason that most poultry in the U.S. is sold as parts rather than whole birds.  The damaged limbs are cut away from the carcass and "processed" into ground chicken and chicken nuggets.  Broken bones are removed for "value added" convenience products such as boneless skinless breasts.  Unfortuantely, buying processed parts buys into this kind of treatment for poultry.

Our chickens are always gently hand-caught and gently hand-loaded into coops.  The coops are designed and sold with a 15-bird capacity; we never put more than eight in a coop.  These coops are $40 each and we own 40 of them.  It's a significant investment in capital equipment to have twice the "recommended" number of coops, but it's gentler and safer for the birds.  We slowly catch our birds one at a time, and place them one by one into the coops.  Judging by the video, our labor cost for catching birds is about 15 times that of "industry standard."  We typically have less than 5 percent of our birds with bruises or other injuries -- some 95% of our poultry is fancy-quality, undamaged, undiseased, uninjured, perfect broiler/fryer carcasses.  Right there in the unblemished bird is direct evidence of our gentler handling procedures.

Commercial poultry is so over-medicated and so diseased at the time of "harvest", and typically trucked very long distances to slaughter, that this has now become a ventor for animal and human health issues.  Studies have shown that when these trucks drive past, they leave a comet-trail of antibiotic-resistant disease germs in their wake.  When you follow such a truck on the highway for a few miles, these germs enter your car.  When the truck drives past a farm, it deposits these unwelcome visitors on the farm property.  Antibiotic-resistant disease germs are spread among wild birds nesting or resting on the side of the highway.  Birds are often trucked hundreds of miles, in the coldest and hottest weather, with no food or water for up to 36 hours prior to slaughter.

We've all read that the USDA's standards for "free range" are ridiculously permissive, allowing a single door or a few minutes of access to the outdoors to qualify.  Apparently now the "raised without antibiotics" tag is also misleading.  The hatching eggs of meat chickens are routinely injected with long-acting antibiotics that stay in the chicken's system right up until the slaughter date.  When Tyson was caught doing this, they objected to removing the labelling because "it's the industry standard" and "everybody does it."  Kudos to the USDA who for once seems to be pressing the point that such chickens are NOT antibiotic-free.

Yikes.

We have confirmed that our hatchery does not inject anything into the eggs, ever.

We have never given antibiotics to any chicken, at any stage of its incubation or growth, ever.

We have never deliberately mistreated or roughly handled any chicken, ever.

Koorosh and I participate in the catching/harvesting of our chickens, always.

Our chickens are raised and killed on the same farm.  When we "truck" our chickens to slaughter, we're talking about a 3-minute tractor ride, 64 chickens at a time (eight coops of eight birds each is all our little Kubota tractor can move in one trip).  Our chickens are caught at sunset and killed before dawn the next morning, minimizing their discomfort.

Our licensed and inspected poultry processing facility is clean and exceeds the standards of both the Oregon Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division inspector, and the standards of the meat director at New Seasons Markets, both of whom have observed our slaughtering and packing operations.

And every week you get to vote YES for this better kind of farming by buying our chickens at New Seasons Markets or directly from us at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market.  The question is not really why are our chickens so expensive.  We believe we raise chickens the way they used to be raised, and the way they should be raised.  The real question is, what corners are the big guys cutting to make commodity chickens so cheap?

I'm not done yet, but I'll stop here and call this Part One.  I still have a lot to say about environmental practices, the cost and quality of animal feeds, diversified farms vs monoculture farms, grass-based farming and omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs ....  but for now it's a sunny afternoon with an hour and 45 minutes of daylight left, and I need to go collect eggs and feed the cows.

At your service,
Farmer Chrissie
Yamhill, Oregon

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© 2008 Kookoolan Farms

 

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