Everyday Acres is the homestead, sanctuary, and working farm in central Ohio that my husband, Derek, and I have called home since January 2016.
What’s Everyday Acres all about?
We are passionate about preserving heritage breed livestock genetics. Industrial scale livestock farming has developed just a few specific breed of livestock to produce most of our animal products, which are bred for dealing with confinement conditions. This leaves many breeds of livestock developed pre-1950 spiraling toward extinction. Our farm is a part of the Sustainable Poultry Network‘s (SPN) Farm Mentorship Program. My SPN mentor helped me choose the Dorking as a heritage poultry breed to work with.
What the heck is a “Dorking”?!
According to the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection (the guide published by the American Poultry Association which lists the characteristics of each poultry breed), the Dorking is one of the most ancient breeds of poultry, brought to Britain by the Romans with Julius Caesar. Dorkings were first recognized as a breed by the American Poultry Association in 1874. They are a dual purpose breed, which means they can be raised for both egg and meat production; however, they have been coveted for *thousands* of years as the absolute best tasting meat chicken.
If Dorkings are so great, why haven’t I heard of them before?
Before the mid-twentieth century, chicken meat and eggs were produced on what today would be considered small scale operations using standard breeds (think New Hampshires, Delawares, Rhode Island Reds). Industrial scale poultry production began in the mid twentieth century, when the availability of vaccines and complete feeds (like the bagged chicken feed you buy at the store today) led to the development of only two major “lines” of mass produced poultry – an egg laying line and a meat producing line. These lines grow faster, lay more eggs, produce more meat, and all around maximize efficiency and profit for producers – sounds good, right?
Not so fast.
Industrial meat birds grow so rapidly they can’t breed naturally and often have trouble standing by the time they are ready to slaughter. Egg layers have exceptional production for a year or two, after which they are often exterminated and the next batch of layers are brought in. Part of the efficiency is also raising these birds in huge warehouse type structures, 15,000 to 50,000 at a time, where they rarely have access to the outdoors. The use of these industrial production lines has left many heritage breeds of livestock, including the Dorking, in danger of going extinct. Additionally, birds like the Cornish cross, which are used almost exclusively for meat production today, have proprietary genetics owned by only a handful of companies. Farmers must purchase each group of birds they raise from these companies instead of breeding them on their farms.
Well, that doesn’t sound appetizing. What alternatives are there to industrially produced meat and eggs?
Glad you asked! The key is to go local and know your farmer. Do some Googling, ask your neighbors and co-workers and find out where your local farmer’s market is. Find family farms around you selling eggs, veggies, freezer beef, pork and chicken. Contact them. Ask questions about how they produce their wares. You’re not being nosy and not bothering anyone – you’re building a relationship with the person who provides your food. Your business allows them to continue to support their families and provide you with food that benefits you, the local economy and the earth. It’s a beautiful thing!
Okay, as a consumer I have choices I can make. What is Everyday Acres doing as a farm to preserve heritage poultry and to provide an alternative to industrial chicken production?
One of our primary goals is to establish a top-notch Dorking breeding program. This will allow us to create excellent dual-purpose chickens (good for both egg laying and meat production) and provide well-bred chicks to breeders, eggs from pasture based hens, and possibly the best tasting meat chicken you could hope to eat. By creating a market for these birds and their products in central Ohio, we can preserve this lovely breed for generations to come.
If this endeavor sounds interesting to you, please feel free to bookmark our page, like us on Facebook, and keep up to date on when we have delicious chicken and eggs from pastured chickens, as well as really cool additions to your backyard flock available for purchase. Thank you so much for your interest!
Take care out there,
Maria and Derek