Author Archives: cartermere1

Traditional & Heritage Chicken

This week we began selling “Traditional” (Cornish Cross) chickens. For the past two years we have only raised and sold Heritage “Poulet Rouge” chickens, so it was with a great deal of thought and consideration we decided to begin raising traditional birds.

Traditional Cornish Cross chickens are the standard white bird which the chicken industry has raised since the 1940’s when they were developed. We veered away from this bird for years in large part due to our understanding of how these birds are raised in the modern industrial poultry complexes. Up to 75,000 birds packed into a house where they never see the light of day and never get to live the life of a chicken – we didn’t want any part of it, so we focused instead on old-world breeds of chicken. However, after much soul-searching, and feedback from our customers and restaurants we made the decision this Winter to begin raising Cornish Cross chickens as well. I want to explain the decision process and in doing so describe the histories and differences between these two chickens.

THE HERITAGE CHICKEN

Heritage Poulet Rouge Chicken

Prior to the 1940’s all chickens were grown on small to medium farms like ours. The chicken business was in large part a local endeavor, and the birds which were produced were hearty farm breeds, such as Delaware and Rhode Island Reds – those which could lay eggs decently but also made a great meal. In fact, John Tyson started his early career as a farm-to-farm purchasing agent traveling around negotiating chicken contracts with small farms. Back then chickens were mostly a secondary or supplemental line of income for farmers.

These farm birds were strong and active and fit well in a farm setting. Their slow growth allowed them to develop rich and complex flavor and their active farm life oxygenated and built muscle texture. They were the birds old-timers speak of when they say, “chickens just don’t taste the same as they did when I was a kid.” And they don’t!

THE TRADITIONAL CHICKEN

Traditional Cornish Cross Chicken

In the late 1930’s and 1940’s breeders discovered the 4-way cross; a particular set of four heritage breeds “crossed” as grandparents, to produce a hybrid set of parents, then “crossed” as parents to produce the (f2) Cornish Cross. This chicken was a marvel in that it grew 2-3 times faster than the typical heritage breeds and had a greater proportion of its body dedicated to white breast meat – the cut more Americans preferred. In addition, this bird was LAZY, absolutely content to lay around and only get up to eat and drink. as such, they burned fewer calories and didn’t develop muscle texture resulting in a very tender bird.

Fast forward 75 years and this bird is now churned out by the billions (that’s not a typo) each year in the United States. Nine billion to be exact, and the vast majority of them are controlled by just four massive companies. The whole system is ugly; the treatment of the workers and the treatment of the growers, the verticalization and contractual control…not to mention the treatment of the chickens. One of our biggest issues was that these birds were no longer raised on farms, but rather in automated, climate-controlled industrial buildings. No grass. No sun. No bugs. No dirt, no life for a chicken. We wanted better.

As we began raising our heritage Poulet Rouge birds we found ourselves selling into more and more restaurants. The sort of open, experimental and highly talented chefs we work with were able to transform our birds into some amazing dishes. In doing so they were able to work around some of the challenges heritage chickens bring, namely their denser muscle texture. Trough slower cooking techniques, or sous vide, or whatever the heck kinda magic Matt McAllister does at FT33, they were able to capture the richer flavors of our heritage chickens and create stunning plates.

Still, one by one our chefs began telling us they needed the Cornish as well, for faster cooking applications; grilling, frying, stir-frying, etc. Additionally, the larger breast of the Cornish lends itself to stuffing, tenderizing and so on. Where the bird lacks in depth of flavor, it wins in tenderness and culinary flexibility. And, it’s simply what people are used to, a fact that does not go unnoticed to a discerning chef.

We had similar feedback from retail customers; folks cooking our heritage drumsticks, and wings, or breasts too quickly and finding them tough. They wanted something they could throw on the backyard grill or drop in a deep fryer.

Therefore, we decided to raise Cornish in addition to our heritage birds. However, we were not going to give up our ideals of how to properly raise a quality chicken; on pasture with lower densities, access to fresh air, sunlight, grass and insects, and soil in which to scratch around. We still feed them non-GMO, all natural feed and we move them daily around the pasture so they constantly have new forage and don’t have to bed down in their own manure. I once heard a farmer say, “We want every day of our animal’s lives to be the best they can possibly be… except the last.” Unfortunately the last day is unavoidable, but all the others should be utter chicken bliss!

Happy, stress-free, healthy chickens simply produce a better product for our family and our customers. Like a home-grown tomato – the quality speaks for itself.

Traditional Cornish Chickens on Pasture at Cartermere Farms

So, as an overly simplified summary:

Heritage Chicken is full of deep, rich flavor with a golden fat that some describe as self-basting. They have more dark meat with highly developed legs and thighs. They lend themselves to slow cooking applications and are unparalleled as slow roasted whole birds. They are excellent sous vide or in soups or any other culinary application which allows the muscle texture to be slowly broken down. Think of a beef brisket – terrible grilled as steaks, but has no equal when slowly smoked – it just needs the time to reach its full potential.

Traditional chickens are plump and tender and offer close to 18% of their weight in breast meat. A more mellow flavor and whiter fat, but typically very moist and supple. They can be cooked very quickly and won’t tighten up, so they are more flexible from a culinary perspective.  Additionally, since these birds grow to weight faster they are cheaper to raise for the farm and therefore they are less expensive for the consumer.

 

 

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Our Favorite Slow Roasted Chicken

We often get asked how we cook our chicken and this is one of our favorite recipes by far – slow roasted whole chicken. It takes a few steps, but most of the prep is not active, but simply time waiting for things to be ready. Patience is the key to exceptional chicken, both raising them and cooking them.

BRINE:

  • 1 Gal Water
  • ½ Cup Kosher Salt
  • ¼ cup Sugar (Molasses is nice as well)
  • Few tablespoons of preferred Spices (we like “Herb du Provence”, but Italian is nice as well)
  • Tablespoon of whole peppercorns

Bring to a quick simmer to dissolve the salt & sugar, let cool to room temp and toss in the defrosted bird (we defrost over a couple of days prior in the frig). Leave in the frig for 24 hrs.

BAKE:

Dry the bird with a paper towel and then rub it down with olive oil. Sprinkle with more spices, some cracked pepper and a small amount of salt (it will have plenty of salt from the brine). We also fill the cavity with split lemon/lime and fresh rosemary if we have any on hand.

Bake low & slow covered for 3 hours at 225-230. After 2 hrs take the bird out and drain off all renderings into a sauce pan. Put the bird back in the oven and finished baking for approximately 1 hour uncovered. Keep an eye out for proper browning.

GLAZE:

Simmer the renderings on the stove top to reduce liquid and begin to thicken. Strain the liquid clean and return to pan (to be clear, it’s the liquid you want to keep). Add ¼ cup of honey and continue to simmer a bit, thickening it further. Finished with a knob of butter whisked in and use to glaze the finished bird.

AMAZING!!!

Four Ponds Ranch Grass-Fed Beef

We wanted to introduce everyone to our friends Mike & Cindy Purdy of Four Ponds Ranch. We are excited to be partnering with Four Ponds Ranch as a source of locally raised all-natural, grass-fed and grass-finished beef.

A small family owned and operated ranch in NW Collin County, Four Ponds Ranch is committed to raising beef the way nature intended… 100% grass fed without the use of hormones or antibiotics.  Cattle at the ranch graze on lush pastures that are never treated with fertilizers or pesticides.  Mike & Cindy practice sustainable pasture management and are dedicated to providing a stress free environment where their small herd can grow and thrive at a natural pace, finished only when they are ready.

We have had so many requests for beef over the years, we feel this partnership is simply Heaven sent. We will be carrying Four Ponds beef in our online store moving forward, and will keep inventories updated as available.

Grass fed beef is healthier than traditional store bought beef with more heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Locally raised grass-fed beef is even better!  Food directly from the farm (not the feedlot) to your family!

Uninformed consumers are just more profitable

I make it a policy not to wade into politics here at Cartermere Farms.  It has always kind of annoyed me when companies become political – if you sell a good product, just be the absolute best at selling that product. Drawing lines in the political sands normally just alienates people and takes the focus off producing a great product. However, an issue is currently being shoved through the congress which affects everyone who values clean food, and openness and honesty in our food system. At the risk of cannon-balling into the political deep end, I have fired off a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee currently deciding how much we are allowed to know about the food we eat.

A tentative agreement in the the Ag Committee will allow large food companies to hide the inclusion of genetically modified organisms in our foods. The political “compromise” will allow GMO ingredients to be scuttled behind QR codes and 1-800 phone numbers, rather than clearly stated on the ingredient label.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a simple matter about keeping the American people in the dark so large agri-corps can make more profits. It is all about withholding information from us so we cannot easily make informed decisions. I find it offensive when folks in ivory towers sell my rights to the highest bidder, so I was compelled to offer my point of view on the matter…


United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

328A Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC, 20510

June 27, 2016

Dear Senators,

As the owner of a small farm, I rarely have the time to weigh in on matters of national politics. Feeding hungry chickens or nursing a sick lamb simply carries a greater demand for my attention than that of the latest political wrangling. However, a subject has crossed my email so many times recently I am having a difficult time ignoring it – GMO Labeling.

I am quite certain each of you has received more than your fair share of canned letters scripted by lobbyists and various associations representing all sides of the issue. So, I am not writing to regurgitate the position of some consortium, but rather offer you the perspective of a consumer and small farmer striving to make a living in an increasingly difficult industry.

While I don’t claim to grasp the inner workings of the Legislative Branch, I am perplexed by the degree of debate and wrestling on this subject. Please allow me to provide some insight on how issues such as this are perceived by the folks back in the districts.

The matter seems to be a simple tug-of-war between consumer rights and big business. This is not a complex issue relating to international trade deficits or Middle-Eastern military strategy. This is not an emotional social issue relating to religious rights or racial equality. This dispute is merely whether or not the common man should have the right to know what is in the food they eat. Seems like a pretty basic right, does it not?

As representatives of individual states and citizens, I am baffled as to why there is such a scramble to thwart states’ rights and hide knowledge from consumers. In a season in which politicians are less popular then used-car salesmen, I would think there would be a particular sensitivity to perception. The perception is the Senate is in the pocket of big business, and is happily selling out their constituents as part of political self-preservation.

Step back and consider how this issue is interpreted back home. The people must not be competent enough to make their own decisions about what they put in their mouths, so the facts need to be hidden behind QR codes and 1-800 numbers. Can we imagine the Surgeon General embedding tobacco or alcohol warnings behind QR codes? Would this be a reasonable compromise? If GMO ingredients are a good thing why do they need to be hidden? Should these ingredients not be highlighted and celebrated by their respective manufactures, rather than concealed? As legislators, is there any aspect of your decision process in which you would prefer to have the facts hidden from you?

In full disclosure, my farm is organic. My market niche is underpinned by open and honest relationships with my customers. I tell them everything about the food I am producing for them, down to the ingredients of the feeds, fed to the chickens, which lay their eggs. In reality, the more the government manipulates the food system in favor of big business, the more customers I gain – people desperately in search of food providers who will just be honest with them. So, selfishly, a federal bill hiding GMO labeling ironically helps me. I am not writing because it benefits my farm. I am writing as a husband, and a father, and a consumer who arrogantly believes he is smart enough to make sound purchasing decisions when all the facts are given.

I think this issue is representative of the chasm which has been established between America and Washington D.C.  A handful of influential companies have again trumped the most basic rights of hundreds of millions of people.

Please reconsider the tentative “compromise” of hiding genetically manipulated ingredients from consumers. We were smart to elect each of you; indeed we are equally smart enough to make educated purchasing decisions regarding the food we eat – we just need the information to do so.

With sincere regards,

Nelson Carter

Cartermere Farms, LLC.


There was a time when honesty and openness were valued qualities in our country. Here are a series of ads from the Heinz company from the turn of the last century, espousing the purity of their products. No chemicals, no drugs, no artificial preservatives. The company warns consumers to “read the small type on the labels,” to ensure the food they are buying contains nothing impure. The company goes on to say that if manufactures truly believe unnatural ingredients are good, “then they should blazon it in great letters on the label instead of whispering it in the smallest type he can find!” They also ask, “it is for you to choose whether the food brought to your own table shall be drugged or not?”

Almost a century later, in 2012 Heinz spent a half million dollars lobbying to oppose GMO labeling in our food. Is it still for us to choose what is brought to our own table?

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The best feed for the best food

When we started Cartermere Farms we knew from the very beginning we wanted to produce the absolute highest quality we possibly could. During first few months of raising chickens we bought standard commodity feeds but soon realized they were not in keeping with our vision of an organic farm. After some of our more discerning customers began to ask us about the ingredients in our feeds, we set out on a mission to better understand animal nutrition, and organic feeding.

Almost all livestock feeds in the United States are genetically modified. If the feed contains corn there is an 88% probability it contains GMO’s, If it contains Soy there is a 97% likelihood is contains GMO’s. These two grains alone represent the main protein additives in almost all livestock feeds. In addition to the GMO’s, one can be certain these feeds contain grains grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, 30% of which test positive for chemical residue post-harvest.  If all that isn’t enough organic kryptonite, the “controlled atmosphere fumigation” in storage probably guarantees the raw materials have been exposed to enough poison to ensure nothing will ever healthily grow in it… or from it. As such, it is generally impossible to raise organic eggs or animals on commodity feeds.

So, we set out on a mission to find a truly organic feed for our chickens, and a challenging mission it was. There are feeds out there which purport to be organic, but they are actually batch-milled in large commodity mills which run non-organic materials through their equipment daily. There are actually very few mills which have a genuine commitment to true organic feed.

After extensive research and interviews we settled with Hügelland Feeds out of Llano, TX. They are an independently run family mill, which never allows non-organic materials into their facility, strictly avoids the use of soy, and runs independent non-GMO verification tests on all raw materials as they are delivered to the mill. They personally know the farmers who grow their grains, and they are never fumigated. They procure natural additives from as far away as Greece to ensure they are mixing the very best. Hügelland also has a contracted nutritionist which we can bounce ideas off of and even adapt our feed mixes in balance with the current conditions of our pastures.

Zane Deckmann, along with his wife Anne Deckmann, own and operate Hügelland Feeds

Zane Deckmann of Hugelland and Nelson Carter of Cartermere Farms at the mill in Llano, Tx. Zane, along with his wife Anne, own and operate Hügelland Feeds

“Hügelland”, which is German for “Hill Country”, has a web address of “www.nongmofeed.com” – that says it all!

 

When we switched to Hügelland we noticed a significant improvement in the quality of our eggs, as well as increased laying rates in our hens. Today we also exclusively use Hügelland Feeds for our heritage meat chickens and we also supplement our ewes with a custom ration to ensure they have the optimal nutrition to breed and lamb well (our lambs who are destined for processing are grass fed).

Hopper auger full of raw milo ready for crimping and transport up to the main mixer.

Hopper auger full of raw milo ready for crimping and transport up to the main mixer.

It stands to reason, if we are going to produce the best food for our families, friends and customers, we must feed the best feeds we possibly can. As the old computer programming adage goes, “trash in, trash out”. How can we expect to produce the best in our animals if we are not feeding them the best? Cartermere spends about 30% more to use top quality feeds. Since our feeds are not fumigated we have to feed them faster/freshener to ensure they are not spoiled by insects, whose larva is inherently present due to the lack of pesticides in the cultivation of the raw grains. All these aspects create challenges for a farm, but we believe it is the right thing to do, even at a cost to the bottom line. We believe the end product; be it an egg, a chicken or well-nurtured lamb, will be exceedingly better for the extra effort.

 

Hugelland feed sacks ready for fillling

Hugelland feed sacks ready for fillling

March of Dime Charity Dinner

We hosted a March of Dimes dinner this weekend and it was great! Chef Matt McCallister of FT33 and Filament restaurants brought his team out to prepare the meal. We spent the first half of the day foraging for wild onions and other native crops, as well as harvesting some Cartermere produce we currently have available. We gave the 54 guests a tour of the farm and showed them how we operate. Near the end of the tour – on the way to the tables – the guests picked edible flowers which the chef used in the meal. Most of the cooking was done on an open fire, utilizing some of the driftwood left behind from the floods last year – even the floods offered some blessings for the charity.

We were honored to be part of this event and to have such a renowned chef and crew out to the farm.

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Helping Shaun Stand on His Own Two Feet

As farms grow they typically do not have the luxury of time to spend on individual animals with various aliments, challenges, etc. In fact, efficient farms foster those things that grow and survive well in their particular environment, whether it be a specific animal breed, crop or plant variety. We certainly endeavor to be a very efficient farm, but our hearts also creep up on us and we find ourselves from time to time nursing animals back to health (with little or no financial argument to do so). Our sister, Jennifer, has often brought back sickly bottle lambs from the brink of death, or pulled a calf during birth minutes before all hope was lost. Such was the case with a little chick who recently came to the farm with a horrible case of splayed leg.

Splayed leg is a condition where a chick’s muscle structure does not hold it legs straight and they end up either stuck in the spits left-and-right or front-and-back. The chick normally cannot walk in this condition and in a commercial setting would almost certainly be killed by the other chicks or would die of starvation and/or dehydration. However, there is an easy fix.

We recently moved a group of 100 chicks into our brooder, and buried at the bottom of the pile was “Shaun” (my kiddos named him a few days later ;-). Shaun could not walk was facing a very short life. The following article describes how we helped Shaun learn how to walk…

Baby chicks normally get their feet under them within minutes of hatching and are up and walking in less than an hour. Chicks with splayed legs don’t have the muscle strength in either one or both legs to properly walk. If you catch it early enough (first 2-3 days of life) the condition can be corrected.

"Shaun", a 2-day-old chick unable to walk with a condition called splayed or sprawled legs.

“Shaun”, a 2-day-old chick unable to walk with a condition called splayed or sprawled legs.

In the past I have used one of my daughter’s small hair bands to create a sort of soft leg shackle to hold the legs in place. This is made by simply taping the center of the hair band to create a small semi-rigid tether with a loop on either end. You can see an example here.

While this approach does work well, it is a little difficult to apply and it is not always rigid enough for really bad cases. Legs that are sprawled left-and-right can be pulled back together with a soft brace, but legs split front-and-back need something firm to keep the legs aligned up under the bird. For Shaun, I decided to make something a bit more rigid, reusable and easily applied and removed.

Materials required to build a simple but functional splayed leg brace of chicks.

Materials required to build a simple but functional splayed leg brace for chicks.

This is the final brace I made from a Lego and two hair clips.

This is the completed brace I made from an old Lego, two tiny hair clips and a tube of super glue. The whole thing is about 1.5″ wide.

I used a small Lego, two tiny claw clips from my daughter’s hair drawer and a tube of super glue. I carefully glued the clips to the Lego and then applied a few additional coats of glue just to make sure it was all held together well. The final result was quite clean and very easy for just one person to use. Not only is it functional, but it can be stored and used for years.

Once I had the brace built I let it adequately dry and then placed it on the Shaun. I then put the chick in a small box lined with a clean paper towel, a rolled up washcloth (dry), and a jar lid of food; all under a warm desk lamp. For the first few days I took Shaun our periodically and tried to encourage him to take a drink while sitting on his “new legs”. By day three I was able to move his water into his box and he could hop over, stand up and drink on his own initiative. It is now day 8 and he is almost jumping out of his temporary cardboard box house.

The little claw hair clips are perfect for holding the chick’s legs for the first week or so of life. It was loose around the ankles on day one and a little snug on day 7-8 (but not too binding). I guess it could be used for close to two weeks if necessary, but the legs should not take that long to correct anyway.

Here is "Shaun" the chick with his brace on. He quickly figured out how to move around once it was installed.

Here is “Shaun” with his brace on. He quickly figured out how to move around once it was installed. Noticed the curled foot on his bad side – it corrected itself once he started using his leg properly.

I kept the brace on for three days without taking it off. By day three his bad foot had opened up and he was able to hop around on his own accord and drink and eat as he pleased. (you can see his right foot curled up in the picture).

After day three I started taking the brace off to see the progress. While it looked more promising each day, he still needed a little more time to strengthen up. In the past this process has normally taken only 2-4 days, but Shaun had a really bad case.

The final thing I will do is increase the size of his box a bit and add a couple of other chicks (from the same hatching) in with him to re-acclimate him to the “real world” and let him learn to keep up with the others. It might be a bit too much to just throw him in with 100 other chickens and expect him to integrate immediately; after all, he’s spent his entire life in a box!

Below is a video of Shaun when we first took his brace off and he was able to walk successfully on his own. He’s now running all over the place.