Meat

Background

Chicken rearing that promises to change the world

New United States firm Cooks Venture is promising a chicken that will change the world through the promotion of regenerative agriculture.

Cooks Venture is a group of farmers, cooks and food professionals who couldn’t find what they wanted from the current food system and so built one themselves based on utilising photosynthesis and healthy soil microbiology to draw down and capture greenhouse gases in the soil.

The firm works with scientists, who measure soil carbon, nutrition and other biological factors on its 800-acre farm in Arkansas and on the farms that grow feed for its livestock.

It tracks year on year metrics to determine how its farming practices are impacting soil health, biodiversity and pest populations.

The initiative is the brainchild of the former chief executive officer of meal kit delivery company Blue Apron Matthew Wadiak.

Heat tolerance/ slower growth

It is just beginning to sell its heirloom-breed, pasture-raised chickens at $3.98/pound – which is akin to current organic chicken prices. The company is raising Naked Neck Free Rangers, a three-way cross bred for its heat tolerance.

It has a hatchery, 30 houses for broilers and 27 for pedigree birds (parent stock for the broilers). The birds are bred for slower growth (55-62 days from birth to slaughter).

It has partnered with Fresh Direct and plans to produce 200,000 chickens per week by the end of the year, or 10m annually, which while being a tiny segment of the 8.5m US broiler industry, is still ambitious.

Mr Wadiak told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was looking to ensure that people could still eat meat but also help save the world: “People aren’t going to stop eating chicken. If you sequester carbon by cultivating an animal food system, you’ll be able to have the best of both worlds.”

One supporter is Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, who plans to sell heirloom breeding turkeys from his farm to Cooks Venture.

“Sustainable agriculture really just means maintaining the status quo and that’s not good enough. We need to focus on the health of what’s happening beneath the surface; that’s what regenerative agriculture’s about.”

Cooks Venture plans to buy the feed from regional growers, who are being paid a premium to follow regenerative farming practices. They are expected to add organic matter to the soil with crop rotations, boost biodiversity through restoring wetlands and planting trees and reduce pesticide use through integrated pest management practices.

There is growing concern about how intensive agriculture is wrecking the topsoil that can be used for farming.

But the jury is far from clear as to whether restorative agriculture can really change the world. While non-profit organisation Rodale Institute argues that climate change could be reverse if all farms followed regenerative organic practices, others beg to differ.

The Food Climate Research Network University of Oxford report from 2017 concluded that even rearing limited number of animals in ways that cause less damage leads to emissions that still outweigh the removals and simply would not be able to produce the protein needed to feed the world.