Let's keep organic bird sales flying and clip wings of fowl alternatives
Ever since we stopped rearing and killing our own chickens for the table at home, I have searched for what I would call a proper bird. By that I mean a bird that has grown as nature intended and tastes like chicken should.
I wanted one that had been fed with natural foods and allowed time to mature while spending its life scratching in a field instead of being jammed with thousands of others in some overcrowded hot house.
I've watched documentaries showing birds being grown in such awful conditions they would put anyone off ever buying them.
I've also tried out chickens from supermarkets that were so small they looked as if their genetic make up included a sparrow somewhere in their lineage. When cooked, the meat had an almost slimy texture .
Even worse is the manner in which some of the chicken on sale appears to have been injected with up to 50pc water along with other strange concoctions to increase its weight.
There are numerous books available, including Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence, that tell us what is really being done to many of the food products currently on sale. It makes scary reading and reinforces my belief in the benefits of eating only natural foods without additives and preservatives.
I was getting desperate in my search and even gave up on chicken for a while and ate pheasant and mallard for variety. At least they grow up in the wild, so their meat contains no nasty surprises and is delicious too.
However, these are only available during the shooting season and require plucking and dressing. Eventually I found some oven-ready chickens at a country market that were of a decent size and had been highly recommended.
These birds were organically reared, which guaranteed they contained no unwanted ingredients in their make-up and were produced by Margaret McDonnell along with her husband Jimmy and son David on their farm at Ballysax, near the Curragh, in Co Kildare.
I have been purchasing chickens and the Christmas turkey from them ever since and long may they prosper because these fowl are the best I have ever eaten.
Jimmy formerly ran an electrical contracting business and also trained racehorses, enjoying success at Cheltenham and around Ireland.
However the pressures of both enterprises meant that their weekends were no longer their own and the couple started to look for a means of livelihood that would allow them more time at home.
They started in 1999 with some free-range chickens and then gradually increased the numbers and eventually became accredited as organic producers.
As the business expanded, the horses were reduced in number and demand is now increasing steadily as more people seek what I would call proper food for their families.
Most chickens sold in our supermarkets and butchers take six weeks to grow from day old to maturity, but Margaret's birds are allowed three months to develop which is surely one of the key factors to producing a better table bird.
Naturally it costs more to do it this way, but then quality always comes at a price.
When I visited the premises at Ballysax I saw turkeys strolling around happily in a large paddock.
The chickens also had ample room and access to fresh, green grass so that they can grow in a stress-free, close-to-nature environment.
There are a number of other producers around Ireland also selling wholesome, healthy and naturally reared chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigs and we must support them if Irish farming is to survive the competition from cheap and inferior mass-produced produce from abroad.
Although they opearte on a small scale, the McDonnell's premises are impressive and they have invested in a state-of-the-art slaughtering facility on site, which ensures the birds do not suffer from the stress of transport.
On reaching maturity they are humanely killed, wet plucked, dressed and then moved to the chilling room. When chilled to the required temperature they are then packed and delivered by refrigerated van to individual customers, restaurants and sales outlets.
These birds can also be purchased at some country markets or contact Margaret directly at 087-2108895 or email email@example.com.
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