We recently took a tour of Barrington Natural Farms – and by recently I mean a couple months ago, because it takes me that long to wrap up my thoughts :) We went on a tour with the Paleo Chicago group and I came home with this 5 pound chicken. I used that chicken to make this Whole Tandoori Paleo Chicken recipe and I was excited to be able to cook fresh chicken, never frozen, which came straight from the farm! :)
Many people don’t think about what happens to an animal between the time of it’s birth as it goes through life, goes to slaughter and eventually hits your plate. Having known where the chicken I cooked for dinner came from, what it was fed, how it lived it’s life roaming & foraging is just so interesting to me. Personally I wish I was able to know that more often but between big businesses and huge grocery stores where most people buy their food it’s just not possible to know how much processing went into your meal unless you do the research or buy straight from the farmer.
It’s taken me a long time, a lot of research and a lot of new experiences to get to the point where we’re at, with where we source our food. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t run out to the grocery store and pick up meat when my freezer runs out of the good stuff. :)
There are plenty of documentaries, books, blogs, etc. that talk about the mass production route of cows and chickens and such but it’s much harder to find resources that promote farmers who are doing it right. That’s because the farmers don’t have time to update a blog, document their work or write a book because they’re busy working their asses off to keep their animals healthy which in turn keeps us healthy as well. The people who are taking care of their animals and feeding them well are who I want to hear from, which is why I was so excited to take the tour with Cliff at Barrington Natural Farms.
Cliff McConville and his family run Barrington Natural Farms. He is a “self-made farmer”, those are his words. :) When I asked Cliff how he got his start he said he had read some books to learn the ropes. Although he didn’t just jump right in, for 10 years prior to picking up their first 5 cows, they raised layer hens. Now he has 20-30 cows, a whole host of goats and hogs and layer hens and broiler chickens and we were able to meet all of them on our visit to his farm.
During our tour of Barrington Natural Farms I took a bunch of notes on my iPhone, which you can see in the video since Jeff caught me on camera. Plus, this is the same video we submitted (and won!) for the MDA Grokfeast competition on Mark’s Daily Apple this year.
As we were walking around meeting the animals and listening to Cliff tell us about his experiences and how he runs the farm, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Of course I also wanted to share what I learned. Taking notes when people talk always helps me listen and also helps me to go back and recall what was mentioned in the moment. So, here’s a few little tidbits I picked up from Cliff. :)
What animals do you have on your farm?
Cows, goats, laying hens, hogs and broiler chickens.
What type of cows do you have?
Jersey cows, Beefmaster cows and Herfers. (Apparently the beefmaster breed were developed just for grass grazing.)
Why do the chickens need a shelter?
Cliff built a shelter as a weekend project, with help from one of his clients who is a contractor. It was built on rails so it can be moved easily with his truck, twice a week. Prior to having some cover for the layer hens he was loosing 15-20 hens to hawks and owls.
What do the chickens eat?
The feed the chickens are provided are an organic soy-free fish protein. Chickens are omnivores and around 40% of their feed comes off the ground. The chickens follow the cows during rotation, when they move the fence for grazing. This process is in place because the chickens will spread out the fertilization of the cows as they look for worms and bugs. This happens every 2-3 days.
How are the eggs we eat different from eggs that produce baby chicks?
Fertile eggs are mixed in with the mix. The hens produce a natural protective coating once the eggs are laid. If you don’t wash them, the eggs won’t need refrigerating and will sit for almost 3 months. Conventional farms clean their eggs in chlorine so they remove this natural protective coating and therefore require refrigeration. (And this is the explanation I was looking for, for why the eggs in Spain and Italy are kept on the shelf and not refrigerated.)
If you’re looking for grass-fed beef, pasture raised chickens and pigs in your area I’d highly recommend checking out Eat Wild and Local Harvest for what farms and options are available in your area. If you’re in the Chicagoland area I’ve done a little research already. The list below are those who I’ve ordered from and also who are on my recommended list to try. All of them are a great resource for high-quality meat.
Where to Buy Grass-fed / Pasture Raised Meat
Grass-Fed / Pasture Raised Farms Near Chicago
(I’ve yet to try)
I guess I should preface my recommendations above with a little note. In the list of resources that I’ve yet to try I have to admit that I’m slightly design-biased. :) With each recommended source you will notice each farm has a pretty straight forward ordering process. I’m also drawn to websites that are designed with ease-of-use in mind and are also visually interesting.
There may very well be farms that are closer to me than the ones I’ve mentioned above. If you’re a farmer or you know of a location I’ve not mentioned in the Chicagoland area, definitely leave a note in the comments below.