Chicken is one of the most popular food items at UMass, and it is important to think about where we are buying this chicken from. During the next two years, UMass Dining plans on shifting where we purchase chicken to support farms within our region who are doing the right thing. In turn, this is more sustainable and humane.
In the April installment of The UMass Healthy and Sustainable Food System Blog Series, we will examine why this is so!
In the United States, chicken production is serious science! There are now meat birds that can grow to full size and be ready for harvest in 6-8 weeks. These animals are raised indoors, often in confined spaces, so producers can ensure that animals are getting a certain type of diet. This can
be a pretty unsustainable practice. The feed, often consisting mostly of soy and corn, has to be produced in another part of the country from where they are raising the chickens. Also, the manure produced in these chicken facilities often times end up in manure lagoons that can seep into the surrounding areas’ soil and water sources. Then, once they are ready, birds have to be transported to off-farm slaughterhouses and the meat is again moved all over the country to the consumers. This creates a need for pollution causing fossil fuels.
Phew, that’s a lot of unsustainability!
Farms that use a pastured system for raising chickens change this system to become more sustainable. In this system, meat birds are moved from one area of pasture to the next each day so that they gain some nutrition from the land that they are on, and they are evenly spreading their manure across the land. In small amounts, this manure acts as a fertilizer for the pastures instead of a waste.
misty knoll farm
One farm that UMass Dining is purchasing a portion of our chicken from is Misty Knoll Farm in Vermont. While this small operation does not pasture their birds, it supports sustainability in several other ways. It has an onsite slaughtering facility that eliminates the need to transport birds to harvest. Unfortunately, most of the federal regulations that dictate how animals are treated during transport and harvest do not apply to poultry so this allows Misty Knoll to ensure how its animals are treated during this process and eliminates the demand of fossil fuels. Also, since there are
less birds being produced, there is less crowding in the facility and birds can be given more individualized attention making their operation more humane.
If you've never had the opportunity to get to know a chicken personally, I would suggest that you change that! A chicken remembers who you are when you walk into a coop and If you treat with them respect, they will come up to you and maybe even jump on your lap for a nap. If they are treated without care and respect, they will be fearful and nervous around people.
Our decision to purchase from local, humane chicken farmers takes into consideration the
well-being of the earth, local communities, and these amazing animals.
On April 16th from 5-8. we will be featuring Misty Knoll chicken at Hampshire Dining Commons.
Also, keep an eye out because for the rest of the semester, all of Hampshire's rotisserie chicken will be locally sourced from Misty Knoll!
Entries are submitted by project staff and UMass students.