When you buy chicken or eggs, it’s best to know where they came from. You want to know, for example, whether they are pumped with nasty stuff, if they were treated well, and just how local the chickens are.
The chickens from Feather Brook Farm in Raynham are happy, clean, and well-loved by their farmer, Tad Largey, who practices what he calls “respectful husbandry.”
“It’s providing the right areas for the birds to grow in, and a lot of that really translates into the amount of room they can grow in, so it’s not overcrowded.”
Meat birds are lazy by nature, so he has to entice them to move, so he separates the water and feed into different areas to force them to walk around. These Cornish Rock broilers are bred to really put on muscle quickly, and have a lifespan of about 6 weeks, from chick to 4.5 pound chicken. In comparison, he said, factory poultry barns are a sensory deprivation tunnel, “where all they do is eat and drink and poop and sit and grow, and that’s not any way to live.”
His chickens don’t get any medication or hormones at all, so some of his chickens do get sick and die.
He laughs at the notion that letting the chickens into the yard provides them with a natural source of protein, like worms and snakes. “That’s all marketing. They may eat a worm, sure. But If there’s a garden snake that happens to come into the area, oh my god, that poor snake, it gets pummeled. It’s a weird combination of a game of tag and snake grab: you’ll have one chicken with the snake in it’s mouth and another one grabs the snake and runs.”
Tad wasn’t born to the farm. “i have no business being a farmer,” he joked. “I’m a cul de sac kid from Raynham who went to prep school, went to college and studied drinking and lacrosse.” He studied economics, but after college, found that he really wanted to make things, and became a cabinetmaker and kitchen designer.
About 20 years ago, he and his family bought a duck farm in Raynham, and he started off with 6 Rhode Island Red chickens. “I discovered I loved being a farmer,” he said.
counter, about 10 years ago.
“I love what I do. I was good at cabinet making, my brain was good at conceptualizing it. But everything is done for a reason. I was in a lot of people’s homes, I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of families, and I saw how they lived, I’ve taken a lot of that experience and put it into what I feel we need.”
So, in addition to egg-laying hens, he started raising 20 dairy cows, a herd of beef cattle, and pigs, rabbits and goats, all raised without hormones or antibiotics. Poultry is his number one product: Feather Brook currently has seven coops, with about 125 chickens for protein, and in another barn he has 800 egg-layers. Largey oversees everything, from egg to slaughter. They process them humanely and package them safely.
When Tad decided to sell beef and chicken meat, he worked in a slaughterhouse for free for three months to “learn how to finish my animals from the inside out. It was a terrific experience, just incredibly interesting, to see just how things are put together. From a rabbit to a 1,500-pound bull, they are pretty much put together the same way.”
His most profound lesson, however, was this Episcopalian’s introduction to Halal practices. “Men would come to the slaughterhouse, we would give them a coat and an apron, they would say their prayers, take responsibility for the animal’s life, and they would slaughter it. To me that was very powerful; it showed a connection that people miss. It’s all about respect, peace, pain-free killing, and giving thanks for the life of that animal.”
Tad since launched his own slaughterhouse, and tries to practice those same principles. When he goes to the chicken coop to pick them out for slaughter, he’s gentle with them as he scoops them up, holding their wings and placing them into the crate before taking them to the slaughterhouse, about 50 feet away. They slaughter about one hundred chickens a week, every Monday.
And every Monday, he practices his version of Halal.
“I ask God to not only nourish the bodies of those who consume them but the bodies and spirit of those who consume them. It’s the connection that reminds us of our responsibility, of our connection to the birds and animals around them. I pray to nourish their minds.”
He has a special connection to his livestock.
“It intrigues me, the partnership you have with the chickens,” he said. “You make an agreement to take care of them and feed them, and they in turn give you eggs, if you treat them properly. If you are milking cows, it’s a bond you build with the animal. For the other part, the protein part, you raise the animal, you take care of it, you nurture it and harvest it for the protein, and that’s where it gets a little heavy, but it’s something you have to feel strongly about. You’ve connected, and that responsibility of maintaining a life and then taking it, there is a respect you need for that. I don’t mean to sound too deep, but it’s not about money, it’s about providing them a proper environment to live, so they are healthy.”
“I think it makes a difference. I know it makes a difference. I think that’s why people buy these. It’s not just a factory line. You can taste the environment in their produce.”
It’s a small operation at Feather Brook. He’s helped by Regina from Bridgewater, and Logan from Somerville, and sometimes his kids, Hugh and Shannon, when they are home from college. Tad was selling his chicken at SOWA when he met the Something GUD team, and he felt that their values about sustainability matched up. He also realized that they could handle the part of the business he liked the least, distribution.
What Tad likes best about working with Something GUD is their shared goal to support local farms. He was inspired to, in turn, help other farmers expand,
and has partnerships with local pig and cow farmers.
“Buying local, you are making your community a viable living entity. We are able to support ourselves. Sustainable has to make sense, and it has to make
money. We are creating a sustainable economy. We’re all in this together. We need to have farmers to create food, and we need eaters.”
Something GUD sells Feather Brook whole and half chickens, thighs, drumsticks, wings and breasts, as well as rabbit meat.
And just in time for cold and flu season, a recipe for chicken stock:
Chicken stock recipe, from Feather Brook Farms
Place 2 packages of Feather Brook Farms chicken legs in a big pot with sautéed onions and garlic with 8-10 cups of water, some carrots celery, onions, black peppercorn, and bay leaves. Let it cook on medium to low heat for 3-4 hours.
Shut off the heat and let it get to room temp. Remove chicken and strain the vegetables and move into the fridge until it congeals. Move congealed stock to a big Dutch oven type pan, add any vegetables you’d like with the already cooked chicken and enjoy some delicious soup.