One of my goals as your grocery store dietitian is to help you, the customer, cut through the marketing and see what’s really behind the products on your grocery store shelf. That’s why I set out to investigate Smart Chicken and find out if the company really lived up to its name. What I found was a company, Tecumseh Farms, founded on the idea that the best tasting chicken would come from humanely treated birds and a concern for the welfare of its employees and the environment. The company is now a responsible farm system that produces some of the highest quality chicken on the market.
Better than local
Local works when the community has the resources to support the business. Utah lacks the abundance of water and feed required to grow chickens on a large scale. Tecumseh Farms are located in the Midwest, home to the Ogallala aquifer, the biggest natural underwater aquifer in the nation, as well as the largest producers of corn and soy, the primary feed of chickens. Since it requires 2-3 pounds of feed per pound of usable meat, reducing the miles traveled by the feed actually does more for the environment than reducing how far the final chicken travels. By situating themselves in the ideal area to raise chickens, they can produce them in a more environmentally friendly way than any large local operation could.
2-3 pounds of feed per pound of meat not only means it’s better to grow the chickens near the feed, it also means for every pound of organic chicken, you’re supporting the growth of 2-3 pounds of organic crops. Some Tecumseh Farms chickens are not organic but even those are raised with a higher degree of sustainability than industry standards. Tecumseh farms achieved a “Great” rating from Howgood, a third-party organization that rates food companies based on their sustainability and business practices.
Humane animal treatment
Tecumseh Farms is certified humane through the Humane Farm Animal Care program, a third party certification organization recognized by Consumer Reports Greener Choices. Being certified humane, Tecumseh Farms is subject to periodic audits to ensure minimum space requirements and facility requirements are met. These requirements are designed to minimize the boredom and stress of the animals while ensuring their comfort. Standards also ensure that animals are killed in a way that minimizes pain and discomfort.
Higher quality meat
According to the USDA, simply being organic doesn’t mean the chicken is any more nutritious or better tasting than conventionally raised chicken. It’s not through its organic practices, but rather those that go above and beyond organic that led to Smart Chicken being identified through an independent university study as tenderer than a competing brand. The secret, according to Tecumseh Farms, is its more humane mode of slaughtering the chickens which avoids bruising and bone breakage as well as a meticulous quality assurance program.
While not all of the chicken produced is organic, all chicken produced by Tecumseh Farms is raised without antibiotics. Antibiotic use in animal production has been identified by the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and a variety of other organizations as a serious public health concern due to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria through its abuse. All chickens are also 100% vegetarian fed. They meat is also air chilled rather than chilled in a highly-chlorinated ice bath with other chickens as is the industry standard. This reduces the spread of bacteria and also improves the taste of the meat.
While the price of organic and sustainably raised chicken is higher than conventional chicken, the value in terms of taste, sustainability, and animal welfare, truly make Smart Chicken a great buy. If you are on a budget, start small. Substitute one meals every week or two for Smart Chicken and gradually increase frequency as you are able. Buying whole chickens may also be a more economical option than purchasing chicken breast or other trimmed meat. Stop in to your local Associated Food Store and get yours today!