Goose Pond Farm Tour

A few Saturdays ago, the Be Well Girls had the opportunity to check out a local farm where chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows are humanely raised by Charles Ritch. I first learned about the farm in Hartselle, Alabama from a friend who was telling me about Goose Pond Farm’s antibiotic free chicken. I signed up for the newsletter out of interest but never actively participated until the turkeys came into the picture. I love the idea of visiting this farm often for meat purchasing, but it’s over an hour from where I live so it just isn’t completely doable. Price-wise, it is totally doable! I was so happy to meet Mr. Ritch and have him show us around his wonderful farm and home. His take on food and nutrition as a whole is inspiring and his main goal is to connect the consumer to the farmer.

Farmer Ritch feels like our current generation is “romantically ignorant” when it comes to food and farming and I would have to agree. We are all enamored by the farm to table trend until we learn how much work is involved on the farm end. More specifically, the price or lack of convenience it takes to get the animal from the farm. We are a generation of fast food and convenience with little thought given to where our food actually comes from, how to make it from scratch, or what is involved in creating a sustainable food environment. While I love a good Trader Joe’s visit, myself, I do think it’s so important for people my age to learn how to make food for themselves so that one day, they can teach their families and continue traditions so many great grandparents started years ago. Can we all have our own farm? Of course not, but we can all learn how to make good, healthy food at home and create a more sustainable environment for our families.

Mr. Ritch met us around 8 am. Our tour was just getting started, but he and his crew had already been busy that morning with farm work. We started with chickens where we really learned a lot. One of the most surprising things I learned was that chickens aren’t actually “free roaming” animals. If using chickens for meat, they prefer the shade and small spaces. 

Did you know that theses coops are moved every morning by the farmer? Which makes sense there is a ton of feces each day…nothing you want your meat to be ingesting! The coops have gliders and they are slightly pushed forward each day. This helps keep your chicken healthy while being drug free.

The chickens are fed a mix of vegetable and animal protein that Farmer Ritch mixes on the property. He also sells his own non-GMO mixes for others to feed their animals. He buys individual ingredients and compiles himself to make his own feed. He mixes each a little different based on what animal it is intended for and their specific needs.

Farmer Ritch said he can always tell if someone has served one of his chickens at a dinner party as the phone calls come flooding in at once after they have tried his chickens. They are so much more flavorful than the store bought chickens and you can tell such a difference. 

These chickens are bred for meat, not eggs, so they are happy not being “free range”. They are “double breasted” meaning more meat will be available from one chicken. The term “free range” simply means that these chickens have access to the outdoors, there are no other specifications involved in regards to amount of chickens allowed in a certain area, or overall environmental quality. Just a fact to keep in mind when you’re shopping for your chicken.  As Farmer Ritch says, they don’t need to be “free range”, they want the shelter, they also; however, want clean cages to sit in.

The guardian of the coop says “hello”.
It’s a ruff job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Next, we met the pigs; which were much cuter than other pigs I have seen before. These pigs will get up to 250-300 pounds! 
This little piggy cried “wee, wee, wee” all the way home!
The pigs are also fed a vegetable and protein mix that Mr. Ritch makes especially for them. They have a pretty big area to roam and moved pretty quickly around. 
Their (very verbal) donkey friend keeps them safe from predators. 
That’s his intimidation stare. 
Most other animals are kept safe from coyotes and other predators by dogs. Each fenced in pen area has it’s own guardian dog; some old, some young, but all loyal and adorable. 
The laying hens had a significantly larger roaming area than the chickens. They lay around 1 egg per day and are busy clucking about most of the time. 
But, sometimes, they need their privacy.

Farmer Ritch does not keep the hens and roosters separate and says fertilized eggs are fine as long as they are refrigerated to halt the hatching process. He gifted us with a dozen eggs when we left and the consistency and texture resulted in the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made! He also gave us a tip in regards to keeping your eggs fresh: if you keep your eggs in the carton and flip it over every time you open it to use an egg and it will keep them fresh for up to 6 months!

He has dozens of eggs for sale all year round for $5.00. 

Thank you, ladies!

They have to keep up their energy! They are fed with the same vegetable and protein mix which gives them a good source of fish protein to help with healthy Omega 3 fat intake. The same Omega 3 fat intake that makes Omega 3 fats available to the consumer through the meat of an animal that consumed those fats.

Finally, we met the turkeys! I had never seen a turkey before and  I honestly pictured them to look more brown and chicken like with huge, feathered tails, and a large giblet. The giblets did not disappoint, but these birds are white!

So, why buy a pasture raised turkey instead of a grocery store turkey? According to a recent article in The Pastoralist, pasture raised meat is more tender and moist thanks to fresh air, exercise, and a complex diet. 

Farmer Ritch discourages stressful environments for the animals and states that a large difference between farm raised and conventionally raised animals is the stressful environment in which they are forced to live. He cautiously grabbed one for us to get a close up since every time we inched closer, the whole herd turned the other way.

And close, we got. Ready for your close up, Mr. Turkey? Work it.

 My, what big eyes you have!

See you in a week, buddy!

These guys sell out really quick! Farmer Ritch says as soon as he sends out an email to his suscribers that they are ready, he sells them all shortly after with everyone reserving their Thanksgiving feast ahead of time.

This is the part where we talk about processing, so if you were only here for sweet farm photos, this is probably a good time to stop reading. Thanks for stopping by! For the rest of us, who recognize one must kill an animal in order to eat it, here is a step by step flow of how the poultry is processed on the farm. The beef, lamb, and pork are processed off site.

1.  Killing Cones; purpose: cuts jugular to allow for the autonomic system to take control so the chickens’ nervous system stops feeling. The chickens lose blood here before moving on.

2. Scalder; purpose: to loosen feathers.

3. Picker; purpose: helps remove the remaining feathers. 
4. Then comes cutting the heads off and hanging the bird in order to remove the innards. An interesting point to note is that Farmer Ritch hangs the birds right side up. Most conventional production lines hang the birds from their feet making cross contamination more likely while removing the insides. I witnessed this first-hand in college and it makes since how bacteria spreads more easily when the chickens are hanging upside down.
5. Control Table; then Chill Tanks; purpose: the control table is a checkpoint to ensure all of the processing was done accurately. The chill tanks harbor the birds until they are sold. 

 The meat is sold at affordable prices that are typically cheaper than natural food store prices. For example, farm fresh chicken from Goose Pond farm is sold for $4.36 per pound. As a bonus, the neck and feet are left on the chickens and poultry for collagen purposes. Bone broth craze, anyone?!

Mr. Ritch prides himself in keeping animals how they were meant to live. He spent years developing his farming techniques and always keeps the animals interest in mind. It took him around 5 years to perfect the feed combination for his beef and he continues to work to make sure the animals get what they need. He employs local farm hands and helps out the community all in an effort to connect people to their farmer. With that said you have to come to him to get any meat, he does not do farmers markets or delivery as his primary goal is to once again connect the people to their farmer.

For more information, or to join the mailing list, visit the Goose Pond Farm website by clicking here.

Join the email list to get information on reserving chicken, pork, beef, lamb, or turkey. The meat varies with the season, just like nature intended, and I am looking forward to a Christmas turkey from Goose Pond Farm!

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  1. Nearly all of my meat comes from Goose Pond Farm. Charles is a wonderful man, I am so happy I came upon this farm while searching for healthy meat sources about 5 years ago. I am so glad we have this farm as an option!