Monday, November 14, 2011

Mobile Poultry Processing with Pete and Jen

By Elliot Hohn 
This Fall I was lucky enough to be able to join Peter Lowy and Jennifer Hashley, founders of Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds, on their beautiful farm in Concord, MA to help with the harvesting of their flock of chickens.  Jen and Pete regularly invite volunteers to come out and get their hands dirty (or rather, bloody), and to get an up-close look at our food system in action. 
Jen and Pete started raising chickens in 2003, and the farm is now home to over 600 hens, as well as pigs, rabbits, and sheep. All of the animals on the farm are pasture-raised, with humane and sustainable practices being essential aspects of Jen and Pete’s farming philosophy. Additionally, Jen and Pete are state licensed to slaughter their birds using something called a Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU), which is a custom-built trailer outfitted with a killing-room, a feather-plucker, and set of processing and cleaning stations.

The long day of chicken harvesting starts early, with volunteers arriving before 7am for coffee, home-baked bread, and a quick briefing from Jen on evisceration techniques and hygienic practices during the handling of freshly killed birds. Joining me for the day were a handful of other Tufts students, a half-dozen students from the Cambridge Culinary Institute, and a random assortment of folks from the Concord community and from around Boston. 
For the next six hours, we worked hard to process around 375 birds, including capons, Freedom Rangers, Cornish Rocks, and even one large (and handsome, I might add) turkey. Surrounded by good company and the feeling of being a part of what is, in my opinion, one of the more impressive and respectable operations that exists within our food system, we enjoyed a long day helping put tasty, humanely-raised  chickens on the tables of Jen and Pete’s loyal customers.
To anyone who is interesting in getting gaining a deeper understanding of where the food they eat (or don’t eat) comes from, I would highly recommend making a trip out to Jen and Pete’s place. They are a wealth of knowledge, and the experience just might change the way you look at the food on your plate.

For more info, visit their website at


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