Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

Conformation III: Free-Range Eggs

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

There is much confusion about organic eggs and free-range eggs. They are mostly interchanged but of course, there can be a difference.

1. The term “organic” can only be applied after a certification has been obtained from an accrediting agency. The term “free-range” is the method by which the eggs were raise.

2. Not all brown eggs are free-range. Neither are they all organic. Not all white eggs are “commercial” but there is no breed at present in the Philippines that is white and free-range.

3. If there is no white chicken in the Philippines to lay free-range white eggs, then there is no white organic eggs in the Philippines. Why? Because the certification for an egg to be organic requires it to be un-caged. Bluntly put, in the strict sense, there are no organic white eggs locally produced!

Many will be caught by surprise by these above statements, but that is how the egg rolls. So please check your eggs. The best way would be to go to its source—the farm itself.

In the Philippines, only the colored chicken from Superior F1 Genetics and the native chickens are certifiable free-rangers. No white chicken has been certified to lay free-range eggs.

Free-range eggs are cream to dark brown in color but sometimes, variances occur. Magenta, pink, off-purple and and cordovan are accepted.

Free-range eggs are usually 55-65 grams per piece. But sometimes, in 5-10% of cases you will find <50 grams or >70 grams.
Eggs are usually harvested 3-4 times a day to keep them fresh. 1 hour of excessive stay in the coop is equivalent to a day of freshness lost. They have to be brought promptly to a cool but relatively humid place.Free-range eggs are porous. Air exchange is possible. This is the reason why there is an air cell inside the egg on its broad end. 10% air cell volume is acceptable. The smaller it is, the fresher is the egg.

Check for the “bloom”. this is the outer surface layer of the egg that gives it a matte finish. It is not shiny. This protects the egg from contamination by germs. In the picture above, the bloom was purposely wiped off to give you a picture of the active pores. With the bloom on, the pores hold the layer in place.
Some eggs are waxed, especially if they have been dipped in cleaning fluid, to seal the egg. More so if they have to be kept for long period of time before selling. Free-range eggs should not be waxed because, being in its all-natural state, they have to be promptly consumed. And that’s another point for the consumer: the fresher, the better!

At Reina Helena’s we re-stock shelves and orders every other day. Eggs arrive from the farm every other day.
Free-range eggs should have smooth, evenly colored shells. Splashes of darker pigments and dots on the shell are sometimes seen.
Because of their healthy diet, free-range birds should lay thicker shelled eggs.To test, knock two eggs lightly against each other and compare with white commercial eggs. Which gives a lower note and a dull sound?

All this would mean nothing if the nutritional content is the same as other chicken eggs. Being free-range, this is what it is all about:

Our eggs are tastier, healthier, and simply better.

Conformation II: The Carcass

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Differences between commercial battery chicken and free-range chicken may be enigmatic to some. Aside from the bones as written in a previous blog (conformation I), these elucidated features can help you validate the chicken’s claim to fame. Know your free-range chicken and choose well. Knowledge is power.
1. The picture above shows carcass conformation. It is evidently longer than rounder. Gone is the roundish look of a young commercial chicken. Chest muscles are full but long in its axis. Leg muscles are about a third longer on the long axis but plump if compared to commercial chicken. the torso is rather elongated. This conformation is a product of age. as the chicken grows to the standard 81 to 90 days old, its sex hormones kick in and set the carcass to its true physiologic ratios, as dictated by nature, not the roundish form of 30-35 days chickens that die young. Mind you, whether male or female, this conformation is unchanged in free-range.
2. Leg muscles of free-range chickens are well-developed for obvious reasons. They range! Yet the muscle remain tender due to the type of muscle they develop which is dictated by breed. The leg is rather long. the length:width ratio is about 5:3. Much longer than the 3.5:3 to 4:3 in younger birds. Less fat, more lean protein.
3. The skin acquires a yellowish tinge. This is from the plant pigments of their predominant diet that sequesters in the cells of the skin. It is this tinge that indirectly points to better fat profile in free-range chicken. Lower cholesterol, higher omega 3′s, more Vitamin E and A. Commercial chicken do not have time to develop this tinge because they die young. There is no time to deposit enough good nutrients in their fat cells.
4. The feather follicles are well-developed. Also a product of sexual maturation. In the picture above, these are the raised papilla-like structures, rather rough, on the skin from where feathers were plucked. If they are smooth with undefined borders, they do not comply with the age standard. Nor are they a free-range breed.

5. The skin is thinner and more transluscent than a commercial battery chicken’s. Free-range chickens get to exercise. It is their characteristic. Looking for food on the ground and in clumps of plants and running after live bait keep them healthy. This feature explains their excellent fat profile.
6. The picture above shows the entrance to the body cavity. I chose to show this area because this is usually so fat-laden in commercial chicken! [Chicken chicharon comes from this part]. So much so that fats gathered here can give you enough cooking oil to fry with. Talk about a chicken cooking in its own lard! Features: the muscle lies right under the skin without the intervening layer of thick fat. Fat pads are also usually seen right under and around the vent. Here you see only a streak of fat devoid of deposits.

That makes free-range chicken heart-friendly!

And oh, by the way, less fats in your food source means less chance of ingesting fat-soluble toxins.

It’s in the Bones

Monday, June 21st, 2010

This a chicken shank bone (tibia) cut at about the 1/3 distal to the knee joint. They are from regular commercial chickens. Notice the cortex, the outer layer of the bone. The cortex is thin, splinters upon cutting and is cracked (as opposed to a clean cut), much like a linear fracture when stress is exerted by the cutting knife.

This is a free-range chicken bone. Harder, because it has more calcium deposited on its cortex and the web-like trabeculae inside. Cooks will swear that they are more difficult to cut and produce sharper splinters.

Free-range chickens stay in the farm 2-5x longer than commercial caged birds. They receive more sunshine and vitamin D. They run around and forage. All these contribute to thicker bones. From the chef’s point of view, they add up to more taste and deeper flavor.
Try doing this to a free-range chicken bone that’s still raw. Then, try it with a 32- to 40-day old commercial chicken. Position the bone as shown through your fingers. Brace them as you slam your hand down on a flat surface. Bones of commercial chickens have less calcium deposits, being younger and caged in cramped conditions that do not permit exercise and movement. You may not be able to break the bone but being pliant, you may exhibit bending.
Free-range chickens bones will not give way to the same pressure easily.
Translate that amount of minerals and vitamins found in free-range chickens (bone, meat and all) and you will have a glimpse of how healthy a choice Reina Helena’s chicken is.

The different breeds of free-range chickens

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

There are different breeds of chickens used for the free-range or cage-free poultry method.

What to include in the farm depends on many factors such as local climate, availability of forage, environmental conditions, farmer preferences and customer preferences among others.
Some breeds grow faster than others, getting to the 1 kilogram weight in 45 days, others in 56 days and still others some time later. Some get to the 1 kilogram mark at 6 months (like our own native chicken).

Some farmers are so caught up with a certain breed to the exclusion of other breeds, and therefore missing out on certain nuances and preferences of the market. It’s like hitching onto the caboose and missing the dining train.

At Reina Helena, we hold on to different breeds as much as we can to cater to as wide a range of clients as possible.

Today, we had visitors looking for 6 month-old hens weighing 5 kilos or more. (Emphasis on the “hen”. Why they want such? It’s a secret. suffice it to say that it’s valid, legal and ethical.)
Good that we have a few of those in the farm.

We’ve had others looking for 45 days or younger and less than 1 kilo [(these are not strictly free-range. But what the heck, the client wants "clean" antibiotic- free spring chickens for dinner)]. And there’s the old Asian doctor asking for 120-day old lean cockerels to make a certain dish. And one government official asking for the plumpest active layer for a certain kind of soup. Good that we have permutations of breed, weight and gender.

In all these things, we have Dr. Erwin Cruz to thank who remains true to his promise 3 years ago that he would provide free technical support and assistance to every farmer he serves. After 3 years he still comes to the farm to check on the livestock, free of charge. And being a vet, he gives consultations too with regard to our dogs, goats, pigs and ducks. (BTW, our ducks are not his pekin ducks yet. They are the local bibi. Dr. Cruz has brought in pekin duck breeders. hopefully, by december we’ll have their ducklings in the farm, too).

What breeds to keep and what to do, he always gives advice, to the chagrin of those who think they know a lot already about free-range farming and marketing such products.

Below you will find 2 breeds living together. The white ones look like ordinary commercial chickens until you come close and and notice the difference. They are used by those emulating the British free-range standard. The brown ones are slower growing and used by those following the French (some say EU) standard. They are so adaptable and versatile that differences in “fast-grow” and “slow-grow” become blurred once their diet is managed, as market weight and preferred client weight is reached either at 56 or 81 days. The solo picture of a blue-gray hen is a breed from the Czech Republic. It is a layer breed. The other solo picture is a very slow-growing breed from Dr. Cruz’s old stock preferred by many for it’s superior flavor in soups, consommes and stock.
Remember, if you have preferences as to flavor, age, gender of chicken and texture just give us a ring. Or better yet, arrange a trip to the farm with us and we will show you everything you want to know regarding free-range chicken breeds and their native diet that will suit your culinary and health needs.

What we don’t carry are capons. These are cockerels whose testes (sing. testis) have been removed early in life to stop androgen production. The bakla chickens then rely on estrogen alone from their fats and attains artificial gigantism at ages earlier than normal. They reach turkey-size proportions when marketed. First, it is not natural farming. Second it is not humane. Third, it does not carry the spirit of free-ranging .

We believe in empowering consumers.

Facts and Fallacies About Free-Range Chickens

Monday, January 18th, 2010
1. When you say “grass-fed”, all they eat is grass and other green plants.
False. Nor will chickens thrive on grass alone. Chickens need protein, too and leafy grass is not a good source of protein. Unless of course, your chicken has the rumen of a cow…

2. All Free-Range Chickens are “organic”.
False. Organic farming is another category all together. In a nutshell, organic farming means sustainable agricultural practice, no harmful pesticides on the chickens and on the source of their food, no antibiotics, no artificial manipulation to induce growth, etc.
NOT ALL FREE-RANGE POULTRY IS ORGANIC unless it is tested or certified (read previous blog). If you will ask me, test everything on the farm you visit or in every chicken you buy. That will be the best certification: personally done by you, the consumer. BTW, you can consult me with which animal part to test for the contaminants you want to validate as present or absent in the other chickens you buy.

3. All Free-Range Brown Eggs are “organic”.

Not so. Look at this picture:These chickens produce brown eggs but based on set international criteria and the proposed domestic criteria, they won’t be “organic”. At Reina Helena Farms, layer hens are out in the field (not caged or restricted) with the prescribed 2 square meters per bird as foraging area.
In some markets, what you will get are brown eggs classified as rejects from breeder farms. They are neither free-range nor organic. Surely, hens from these places are caged and/or receive antibiotics.

4. Free-Range Eggs are more nutritious than Battery chicken eggs (white eggs).
Yes. Yes and YES! But let us qualify. In random tests in the U.S. and U.K. several things ran clear: The chickens should be ranging and foraging! Free-range eggs have higher vitamin A, D and E, DHA and omega fatty acid content compared to commercial layer eggs. On the cholesterol scale free-range eggs are 1/3 lower.

Brown eggs should come from freely foraging chicken if you want to benefit from them. If they are brown and they don’t forage, you don’t get the benefits mentioned above. Allowing the chickens to forage as they please is what we do at Reina Helena Farms.
As for white “organic” eggs, if they say they are organic, go check on the farm personally. White chickens in the Philippines are not known to be ranging chickens and as such are fed prepared feeds. Therefore, the eggs wont show this beneficial profile. If they don’t range, what’s the point?

5. Free-range chicken meat is tough to eat. There is not other way to prepare them but boiled.
Yes and No. At 56 to 180 days, the breed that Reina Helena Farm uses for meat production
remains fork-tender no matter how it is prepared. After 1 year of ranging or if we talk about culled hens, the eating quality is different altogether.

Age for age, the newly-imported layer breeds and the heritage breeds that are at the farm have proven to be not as tender as the Grimaud breed that we use. And talking of this breed from Grimaud, the meat is not at all fibrous.
In summary, be sure of the breed and age if you want tender meat..

6. Free-Range Chicken is Hypoallergenic?
No. Qualified. From the strict definition of “allergy” it is not.
But what constitutes the allergy? Based on international data, while 15% is the reported incidence of allergy to chicken meat, eggs or chicken products, only 5% of these is TRUE allergy. The other allergic reactions are due to the contaminants present in the chicken meat.
So, why don’t people, with known allergy, exhibit allergic reaction when they eat Sta. Ignacia chicken by Reina Helena? Maybe we don’t have the triggering contaminants, which commonly are: fish meal and fish by-products added to the feeds, hormone-like compounds, base pair disruptors, irritating insecticides that persist in grains used in the feeds, mycotoxins that contaminate feeds (and disrupt our liver’s metabolism), by-products of other animals that are rendered, etc.

BTW, you can get in touch with our regular clients who can testify to this fact. After years of not being able to touch chickens on the table, they can finally savor the real chicken deal.

New Chicks On The BLock

Friday, January 8th, 2010
We have new chicks. 600 of them! all from the Czech Republic! They are slim and wild!
They arrived December 7, 2009. Hardy and bred by Dominant CZ for harsh conditions.
Their behavior is very much like the native ranging chickens. They are not clones nor genetically modified chickens but line selected.
This is an all-female batch destined to lay cream to dark brown eggs by the middle of this year.
My farm has tried several breeds since 2005 for meat and eggs the natural and organic way: white commercial, kabir, sasso, the fast growing ranging, the slow-growing ranging, etc, etc and then this one. But comparing this with my chickens for meat production, they are smaller, gain weight slower, consume much less food and water, they range farther from the coop, they fly higher, scratch more, more tolerant to heat, about as docile and twice more active.
All in all, I hope that they will lay good quality brown table eggs at a lesser cost. They will surely love it here. lots of grass and plants, earthworms, insect, bugs and fruits.

Accreditations and Certifications

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

The year 2009 saw us entertaining a lot of visitors in the farm. The main reason: since the country does not have its own rules or guidelines, whether legislated or regulated, with regard to free-range poultry production consumers just have to see for themselves how the farm is managed.

Accreditations and certifications are usually carried out by third party groups. But lacking that we have to rely on first- and second-party methods. Meaning, it is the producer who lives by his word (first party) and the consumer (second party) who scrutinizes the product and where it comes from until the consumer’s personal standard is satisfied.

At Reina Helena, we are committed to keeping the flocks healthy the natural way. In the way it was traditionally practiced. For our consumers, we encourage them to visit. As Farmers’ Choice strives to educate farmers, Reina Helena Farms strives to educate consumers.

Looking at the way we manage the farm, the consumer is enlightened as to why other brands are not free-range, or why other brands are expensive or some ridiculously cheap. They then understand how rational our pricing scheme is and why health is wealth. (More of these 2 areas in future blogs.)

The farm visit usually starts from the chicks in the brooder and ends with a walk-through in the layers coop.

We usually allow our guests to touch the fluffy chicks.They are hardy anyway. They come from Farmers’ Choice Superior F1 (Grimaud of France bloodline). The certification from the breeder farm and it’s history is also shown and discussed. There is no foot baths and disinfection coming in. That’s very noticeable.

And the chicks happily acknowledge a loving touch.

We then walk our guests thru the different huts housing flocks of different ages showing them the feeding program for each batch. Aside from the lush grass that is within their pasture area, herbs, legumes, vegetables and fruits are also shown within the perimeter of the poultry area.

The next stopover is the layer coops. We allow our guests to pick the eggs themselves. What is commonly noticed here is the quiet nature of the layers, odor-free environment and again, no foot bath.

We tell them to take note also of the greenery within the perimeter of the coops. Already occupied for a year and the flora is still lush— that’s what we mean by proper flock density. No overcrowding, no overgrazing.

On the way back to the parking area, we ask our visitors if there is a particular area they want to test. If they say yes, we actually tell them to collect samples themselves for anything they want to test against.

Historically, someone has asked for chicken blood and chicken feathers to be tested for arsenic (of course is negative), eggs for salmonella, plant sample for pesticides, corn ears for mycotoxins (speaking of corn, they are given as boiled corn on the cob to big chickens or cooked grits to the younger ones), soil for mercury, chicken manure for a host of things…. Oh well, that’s what 2nd-party certification is!!! (if it’s important to you, go ahead and test it.)

Which is the strongest form of validation then? The consumer relying on a non-existent or an un-reliable certifier? Or the consumer believing the producer? Or the consumer relying in what he personally sees and observes?

If you are what you eat, please come over and see for yourself where healthy chickens come from. Know how naturally we rear our chickens and how different we are from other raisers. We follow international standards, we raise their food right in the farm without pesticides, we are antibiotic-free and we believe our chickens are immunologically strong enough to withstand frequent farm visits from consumers who value health.