February 3, 2010
Since nobody’s physical body is going to leave this planet, Tom Delehanty wanted to give something back to it.
A sixth-generation farmer from Wisconsin, Delehanty moved to Socorro about 15 years ago to start Pollo Real, a pastured poultry farm. He said the concept behind pastured poultry is to help replenish the organic matter in soil.
“In the Rio Grande Valley, it’s typically 1.5 percent organic soil matter (that) you’ll find,” he said. “We got our organic matter now to 5 to 8 percent.”
Delehanty uses portable yurts to move his poultry around his 30-acre farm. He sells his chickens, turkeys, ducks and guineas exclusively in New Mexico.
“It’s powerful to move a small group of birds daily on the ground and watch the soil change,” he said. “They’re different than intensive grazing cattle because they actually put their beaks in the soil and they’re going after stuff and exchanging the microbials.”
Delehanty processes about 15,000 poultry in one year on the farm. He said New Mexico state law allows on-site processing of 20,000 birds per year. After a farm exceeds 20,000 birds per year, it becomes a USDA farm and can no longer process the chickens at the farm.
“The USDA came in here two years ago and went around to every plant in the state and converted it to USDA, inspections, the whole works,” he said. “Since we’re USDA exempt, I didn’t worry about it. We got no paperwork from them.”
Delehanty said two USDA agents came to his farm about a year ago for an unannounced inspection.
“I told them I wasn’t processing anything and said, ‘What are you here to inspect?’” Delehanty said. “They said ‘We don’t have to tell you.’ They asked if they could drive in. I said ‘No, you’ve seen the sign at my gate that says ‘No trespassing under penalty of law.’ They looked back at me and I said, ‘I haven’t ever received any paperwork from you. I’m still licensed by the state. Where’s your authority? What’s your authorization to be here?’ And they said, ‘We don’t have to show you.’”
Delehanty said he escorted them off his farm and sent a letter to the regional USDA representative in Denver, Colo. explaining what had happened.
“We just wanted to make the record first before they drove off and made their own,” he said.
Delehanty said former Sen. Pete Domenici, a fan of the farm’s poultry, helped them clear the air with the USDA. The USDA wanted the farm to have contact information (name, phone number and address) for the individual customers they sell to.
“Pete argued that was totally ridiculous. He asked, ‘Does Tyson have to do that?’” Delehanty said. “And we beat that one down. So we backed them off and they were
Gary Mickelson, the media representative for Tyson chicken, said Tyson has contracts with farmers who raise the chickens, and then the chickens go to a Tyson-owned processing plant. He said they have plants all over the world.
“We have approximately 6,000 contract family farmers for chicken for Tyson Foods,” Mickelson said. “In total we have 63 chicken plants. Those are primarily plants in the United States but we do have some poultry plants in other countries such as Mexico, some in Brazil and India.”
He said Tyson’s chicken plants processed about 41 million chickens per week in the fiscal year 2009.
Delehanty said he used to process more than 15,000 birds per year, and it has a negative effect on his product.
“The scale (of a farm) is really important to learn and to figure out,” Delehanty said. “It’s not simple, but we went to the maximum of something you could possibly do with something like this, without huge buildings. And then we brought it back down to about 15,000 birds a year, and we’re making more money and more time and we’re more organized and have a better product than ever before.”
Delehanty said the smell of a poultry farm is a good indicator of how healthy the farm is.
He said he could take blindfolded people out to his farm on a day after it had rained and they couldn’t smell the chickens.
“Those huge buildings, they don’t let anybody near them,” he said. “And they say it’s biosecurity, but they don’t want you to see their production, and they definitely don’t want you to see inside.”
To find out more, go to PolloReal.com.