Adam Parks: How To Select & Prepare Sustainably-Raised Meats

Our past podcasts with food experts like Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, and Mark Sisson have made it abundantly clear that the quality of what we eat is of paramount importance to good health.

For those who include meat in their diet, sourcing your beef/pork/chicken/lamb from local ranchers who graze their stock using nature-based, sustainable farming methods is the best way to do this short of raising the animals yourself. Our past interviews with Joel Salatin offer deep detail on what these nature-based (and much more humane) methods are.

But what specifically should you look for when choosing a provider to buy your meat from?

Additionally, most folks don't realize how important the butchering process is to how well meat tastes. What qualities are important to look for in a butcher?

Former rancher and current meat-repreneur, Adam Parks, joins us for this week's podcast to give practical guidance on these questions, as well as recipe and cooking tips for how to get the most out of the meats we eat. After all, if you go to the trouble to select the healthiest product and get the best butchering, you want to ensure the meals you make from it are prepared well, too.

Parks runs Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, a meat CSA, which sources from the plethora of small-scale sustainable ranches and farms throughout Sonoma County, California. (Full disclosure: I've served as an advisor to his company, as well co-run a much larger CSA with him in the past)

We understand if dedicated vegetarians prefer to skip this podcast. But anyone who includes meat in their diet really should listen all the way through -- out of care and respect for your own health & palate, as well as for the animals you eat.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Adam Parks (56m:28s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Here are links to several of the recipes Adam Parks mentioned during the podcast:
Adam’s Easy Osso Buco
Park’s Pulled Pork
Chicken Masala

Adam and Adam – Thanks for this initial primer on getting sustainably raised meat from the field to the dinner table. Definitely something we all need to do if we move toward non-participation in a system that is not consistent (maybe antithetical) with our worldview here at PP.
I especially liked the discussion of quality in quality out – where the composition, management and treatment of the pasture has as much impact on the quality of meat as the treatment of animals. The trophic pyramid is one system, whether observing up a rung or down a rung.
I also enjoyed the mention of heritage breeds and their differences. I would even encourage you and Adam, in a future podcast, to explore this subject even more. Just like certain breeds of dogs fit with a family’s lifestyle, or a varietal of wine fits a dish or personal palate, knowing the breed from which meat derives offers key insights into its flavor and other properties. We all know this—in these days some would think its crazy to say “Its all wine” and fail to appreciate the difference between a Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah. Similarly, if we care about our meat, we could learn to discern differences between Tamworth, Mangalitsa, and Berkshire pork. Hopefully you can go into these distinctions across poultry, pork, beef and maybe even less common meats in a future discussion.

I started raising chicken last summer. I started small with a flock of 12 SASSO roosters. I quickly realized that one of the roosters was actually a hen. So, I kept one couple for reproduction and avoid buying new chicks next year.
The SASSO is a hybrid breed to be free range raised and it has the “Label rouge” label. I confirm the meat is firm, tasty, on top of having heavy chickens (3 to 3.5Kg). We are enjoying them on the table.
The hen started laying eggs around Christmas, and we got the first chicks three weeks ago. Knowing that the parents are hybrids, we expected that the offsprings will be different from the parents. Well, it turns out we got something very different.
One chick died the first day after hatching. It was quite weak, so no surprise. The second one died three weeks later from what looks like a heart attack. Also, at week one, this chick had feathers on his entire body, a very long tail, long feathers on the wings, and was able to fly, I think that internal organs were not able to follow the growth progression of the rest of his body.
Below 10 days old SASSO and 4 days old Ross.
This week-end (Sunday) the rooster died also from what I think is a heart attack. It was a big bird (Almost 5Kg). Below, the rooster.
I did some googling, I found out that many hybrids are “designed” for one goal: eggs, meat, etc… Don’t try to use them for anything else. Failure is coded in their genetics by the “manufacturer” that own the “design” (IP).
A common breed for meat sold in Quebec is the Ross. A white chicken that must be killed no later than 12 weeks otherwise you will see some severe issues: bones fractures due to the weight, heart attack (yes, they have a child heart in an adult body), ligament problems, etc… These too are designed for one purpose.
The end goal is to lock the consumer to buy each and every batch to the chick producer, thus ensuring constant revenue.
Same business model as some seeds companies.
What they don’t say, is even if they raise the chickens responsibly (what they anyway don’t do), the product (I use this word in their context. The small chick that died at 3 weeks old was clever and very interactive with me.) is flawed with genetically coded sicknesses.
My lesson is this one: I will stay away from these “industrial” breeds. Instead I will get rustic and heirloom breeds. I will (try to?) keep some relative independence from the agro-industrial cartel and do a small contribution to preserve these almost forgotten breeds.
Anyway, at home scale, there is no productivity requirement. Just quality and respect of life. I have no reason to encourage this business model.

I would respectfully submit that while “nature-based” farming methods may be less destructive than conventional methods, “sustainable farming” is an oxymoron.
Further, I would offer that any notion of “doing” differently or better is not a solution to anything. The only reasonable alternative to the destruction of the biosphere by industrial human society is to “not do”. To the absolute extent personally possible, begin to walk away from the trappings of industrial society, a little at first and then more and more as time goes on.
Don’t do what? I have a beginning list of about twenty easy things to not do. For example, don’t be fearful of being poor, don’t vote, don’t participate in commercial recreation, and don’t follow rules.

I’m confused. You say that you are going to use a hybrid variety bird for reproduction. Is that correct?
I am supposing that you would be more successful with a heritage variety.

I’m not so sure that sustainable farming is an oxymoron.
Building top soil at ~1 inch per year seems sustainable. Joel Salatin and Singing Frogs Farm seem capable of doing this. The Savory Institute is working on a broader scale to educate people on reversing desertification. That seems sustainable.
How many tons of carbon are sequestered in 1 inch of top soil over an acre? Seems to me that in order to save the biosphere from the harmful effects of global warming more carbon needs to be sequestered in the ground in the form of top soil.
Slow, spread, sink. The 3 S’s of Permaculture rainwater harvesting seem sustainable. You can dig earthworks by hand and would be a great community building project.
As Adam and Adam say in the podcast, vote with your dollars. Every time you buy meat from a local producer who cares for their fields, every time you buy vegetables from an organic, local market, you are voting. It seems much more important to me to vote every day than to vote once every 2 and 4 years for a group of people that act like sociopaths.

We raise Lowliine Angus mini cattle that do really well on pasture, large rib eyes and their claim to fame is 30% more beef per acre as they convert forage very well.
We do not have a USDA inspected butcher in the state of New Mexico and that requires us to sell the whole animal. We can sell it to a group of four and have them split it. There is more demand than we have animals to supply.
Adding chicken to the mix this year, pasture raised like Joel. Fortunately the processing requirements are less restrictive.
When we start localizing our food supply, our local and national laws can hamper the process.

blackeagle wrote:
I started raising chicken last summer. I started small with a flock of 12 SASSO roosters.... The SASSO is a hybrid breed to be free range raised and it has the "Label rouge" label. I confirm the meat is firm, tasty, on top of having heavy chickens (3 to 3.5Kg). We are enjoying them on the table. ...My lesson is this one: I will stay away from these "industrial" breeds. Instead I will get rustic and heirloom breeds. I will (try to?) keep some relative independence from the agro-industrial cartel and do a small contribution to preserve these almost forgotten breeds.
Black Eagle's advice on heritage birds is spot on. However, I wouldn't give up on all "production birds". It depends on whether you're homesteading to feed a family or farming to feed a community. We have access to a "local" (75 miles distant) chicken geneticist who went to France in 2007, brought the "Label Rouge" breed back to Colorado, and has spent the last 10 years developing them to thrive at high altitude. The birds are good foragers, meant to grow on pasture (eating bugs & grass, with supplemental broiler feed). His Label Rouge bird has been renamed "Colorado Gold" this year. Several of my farmer-friends have raised them, and this year we'll be raising 100 of the Colorado Golds to sell locally. We will process on farm, as Colorado has finally allowed small producers (<1,000 birds/yr) to process and sell directly to the consumer. Last year, we processed about 60 birds and sold them for $5/lb. Not sure we made much money, but we learned a lot in our first year and are developing a local market and teaching people about local food. That's what 2017 looks like for us: 100 production meat birds. When will fossil fuel become so scarce that driving 75 miles to pick up 350 chicks (we've combined orders) becomes impossible or unthinkable? Hatching chicks at altitude is difficult. The hens do it best, but it's difficult to manage the timing of hatching for even small scale production. I believe we will all eventually revert to having our own small flocks of heritage combo birds (meat & eggs). Not everyone in the U.S. is ready to do that yet. But we need to start somewhere. If you want to learn how to raise meat birds, how to set up a brooder, what to feed, how to butcher, what to watch for... start now! I recommend Harvey Ussery's book "The Small Scale Poultry Flock". The book provides good recommendations of chicken breeds for homesteading (meat & eggs) and lots of practical advice. I agree with Black Eagle that many of the production breeds are genetically inferior and not suitable for breeding. But what does transition look like? If you and your neighbors want to get together this summer and raise 50 birds to feed 5 families, perhaps buying specialty meat birds (Red Rangers, Colorado Gold, Pioneer/Dixie Rainbow, anything EXCEPT Cornish X [pronounced Cornish Cross]) is a good way to start. Just raising some meat birds and butchering them in 10-15 weeks might be enough for now. Then look into breeding your own birds next year or after that. Harvey Ussery's book provides really good advice on setting up a breeding program. He doesn't recommend random breeding, you need to pick the best and healthiest 10% - 25% of your flock and harvest the rest every year. That is the only way to develop a hardy sustainable flock for your site. I wish I had a crystal ball to know just when the entire system will slide into chaos, and we'll really have to feed ourselves.

A while back I contributed an article for Peak Prosperity on the advantages of raising rabbits as a meat source for sustainability and resiliency. Find it here:
My contention that Mr. Bunny is the “go to guy” as a meat source is influenced by the value added due to his greater ability to shine in a societal melt down if necessary than other animals like the chicken. Time has confirmed my observations and now I no longer raise beef or hogs, but chicken only for eggs, goats mostly for milk and some meat, and rabbits for meat.
A refinement I would share regards the caging factor. I considered various tractoring arrangements and discovered by accident that while the cages I described were fine for the breeders, raising weaned litters was very convenient on the horse stall floor that had rubber stall mats. I am able to put bulk garden produce and alfalfa in an improvised feeder, thus reducing costs and labor.

I have always lived in the country. At one point I raised Guinea fowl, and I love them. They will drive away predators like bobcats and coyotes because they work as a group. Excellent meat birds, but only seasonal egg layers. Great foragers and bug eaters, especially for ticks. Unfortunately, they usually will eventually go wild when they free range.
I also have ponds that I keep stocked with trout. Not my favorite fish, but in the mountains, it’s good protein and you don’t need to feed them. I plan to try domesticated Khaki Campbell ducks on the ponds this year. They are prolific egg layers, even better than most chickens.
My primary meat source in a pinch, however, would be rabbits because I live at 8,500 ft in the Rockies. Chickens can be raised, but it gets awfully cold up here and they need grain or feed all winter. Rabbits fare better. The biggest benefit to rabbits is that they easily and happily live on nothing but grass or hay. Not an issue if you can buy feed for other animals, but you could actually just cut and store enough tall grass to get them through the winter. Pound for pound, rabbits need less room, gain faster and eat less than any other farm animal. You can use their fur to make warm clothing. And…they taste like chicken.
If you believe you must have a cow, try the miniature cattle. They stay very small, and the big ones can really hurt you if you don’t know what you are doing. My brother has miniatures, and fully grown, they are 1/3 the size of average cattle. If you need milk, goats are an easier animal to raise.
DO NOT GET A PIG! Smoked meat from any animal will taste much like bacon. Hogs eat a lot, and if you have one, butcher it when it is fairly young, less than 200 pounds. Adult pigs can kill or injure you, and that isn’t a joke. They have been known to become vicious and attack their owners, and a full grown pig is as big as a bear. Google it if you doubt the danger. Yes, they eat scraps, but so do rabbits and chickens. Unless you are experienced, avoid hogs. My mother, who grew up during the Depression, had a neighbor whose pigs killed him and ate him. No pigs for beginners! They are NOT Babe!

There was an article in the old Mother Earth News, back in the 70’s that had plans for raising rabbits in a chicken house, sans cages. The same idea and method as chickens. They said it worked really well! Also, rabbits can live very well on nothing but hay. Great little critters.

Can you publish a link on where to find the Colorado Gold? I’m at 8,500 ft West of Colorado Springs and I really want to have chickens again. I studied the lists online of cold tolerant breeds, but would really like some that have been bred for the Colorado winters. My biggest challenge may be the bear and the mountain lions. But they say bear tastes like pork, so…

… ask your extension agent about the rabbit bot flies. From a friend who grew up in Washington State and would hunt rabbits, my understanding is that the bot flies can be problematic.

… ask your extension agent about the rabbit bot flies. From a friend who grew up in Washington State and would hunt rabbits, my understanding is that the bot flies can be problematic.

WaterDog14, thanks for all these info.
I naively thought that by letting my couple of chicken reproduce, I won’t need to buy anymore. I was wrong. Reality is very different.
We have a local breed in Quebec (Chantecler) which is adapted to our cold winter. I will give a try to this one.
The production brooder in our area told me that I can raise the Ross breed for reproduction, but I have to ration their food as they are constantly hungry. By eating less, they will be lighter and be able to incubate the eggs. I am not sure I want to do that.
Large scale chicken raising is difficult in Canada. There are few differences between provinces. For example, in Quebec, a famer can raise up to 100 chickens per year for his own consumption, or for his immediate family, or to sell directly at the farm. Want to raise more than 100? You need a to buy a quota and then you have to butcher the chickens in a slaughterhouse (higher cost). The market is locked by big agra.
In some municipalities people can raise chickens at home, but there are plenty of restrictions. Example, our municipality allow chickens for lots larger than 10000 SqM (110000 sqft). Smaller lot, nope! No chicken. The coop must be not closer than 100m from any water body. This limits the possibility to raise chickens to large lots far from water. This is the kind of barrier many people need to fight against. Chickens are considered highly polluting living. Environment is something serious here in Quebec and they are putting restrictions everywhere. At the same time farmers are allowed to cheerfully spread hundreds of liters of nasty chemicals into our water tables and rivers. Go figure!
One of my neighbors want to raise chickens. He can’t because his property is less than 10000m2 and it is located on the lake. Another wants to keep bees. He can’t because his property is an hostel (auberge). So, his beehives are on my property. We cannot raise pigs, but our mayor has 10 pigs.
And our federal government is putting in place laws to allow people to grow up to 4 cannabis plants per home. What’s more important: raising and growing his own food? or growing substance that makes you happy and controllable?

A few years ago, I started raising a small herd of grass-fed beef. My beef consumption has since increased considerably. Two takeaway lessons from the past few years of eating.
The first is braising (as Adam mentions in this interview). A crock pot makes braising trivial and it can take tough cuts full of connective tissue and make them beyond delicious. Garlic and onions are your best friends in a crock pot… (One of the best beef meals I’ve had was braised heart, probably not for everyone.)
The second technique does wonders on tougher cuts of steak, like those from the flank (top round) or the shoulder (chuck). First measure the thickness of the steak. Then cover both sides with a heavy layer of coarse salt, which you leave on for 60 minutes per inch of thickness-- a 2-inch steak is salted for 2 hours, a 1.5 inch steak, for 90 minutes). This draws out liquid from the steak, concentrates flavor, and tenderizes it. When the right amount of time has passed, thoroughly rinse off the steak on both sides, pat dry thoroughly, and cook as you normally would. It’s a good way to enjoy cheaper cuts of healthier meat. If you’re like me, you won’t believe the difference this makes.