"The whole process pretty much from start to finish is very humane,” says
He works at a music store and grew up in suburbia.
When we asked Cleveland Heights food writer Michael Ruhlman to join us in Cramer’s killing field, Cramer told us he’d spent the last three summers slaughtering chickens.
"I was raised disconnected from my food. I didn't do this till three years ago. I didn't know much about what they ate or how to even process a chicken.”
“Why did you change? Why are you doing what you do?” Ruhlman asked. Cramer credited reporting by Ruhlman and others.
“That documentary Food Inc. was instrumental in it too. All of a sudden I just kind of had a wakeup call."
A new understanding of the process
He’d learned how most chickens die in this country. Clamped at the feet, they are suspended upside down and stunned with electric jolts, before a rotating blade lops off their heads and they suffocate.
The end comes after a short life in a cage and a long ride in a truck.
"You want to talk about huge stress on an animal,” says Cramer. “Load them on a truck with 20,000 other chickens, ship them 3 and a half hours to a processing facility on the back of a flat-bed truck. These guys got pulled up here on a wagon. They lived 500 feet away from here."
But they are not cage-free. His birds are not allowed to strut around.
"I tried free-ranging them. I thought it would be nice to let them roam and I got decimated by hawks. Yeah. So where’s the humanity in that?"
So he keeps them safe in portable pens that he rolls around the pasture.
"So they're on grass and I pick the pens up and I move them, chickens and all, once a day. So I don't have to deal with tons of manure building up. They're outside. They're getting fresh air."
On this sunny Saturday morning at the Schmidt Family farm, Cramer has a lot of help killing 111 chickens. A group of refugees from Bhutan, Nepal and Burma join in the slaughtering and butchering.
Son inspires dad
Along with Bradley’s father, Larry Cramer.
“I’m part of the disconnected generation. I bought all my groceries at the supermarket. Brad told me about why it’s so important to learn where your food comes from. And I’ve just followed and learned from him ever since."
The chickens struggle frantically at first but they calm down after they are turned upside down and put in the killing cones.
“From there,” says Cramer,“ It’s a quick cut to the artery. They cut behind the windpipe. It’s pretty quick. I don’t want to call it painless. I don’t know that. I’m not a chicken."
A sobering moment
The slaughtering is almost over when food writer Michael Ruhlman decides to put down his notebook.
He kills a chicken.
“And my heart’s really beating. Yeah it means something when you kill an animal. “
Ruhlman says too many of us have stopped caring where our food comes from.
"And it’s made us sick and we’ve only become conscious of it now because it’s in peril. What we once took for granted is in peril.”
He says Cramer’s chickens will taste better than a supermarket chicken.
“Absolutely it’s better. But some people may not like it because they’re used to the blandness of grocery-store chicken. So this is going to be richer, more flavorful chicken because it’s been eating bugs and worms and stuff in the field. So yeah, it’s going to be more flavorful but if you don’t like flavor then maybe you’re not going to like it. It’s going to be a little tougher. You’re going to have to cook it a little differently."
Cramer offers his recipe.
“I just like slathering it in olive oil and salt and pepper and shoving minced garlic and butter underneath the skin, in between the skin and the breasts, and just roasting it. I like that . That’s my favorite way to do it. “
Bradley Cramer's chicken season is almost over. All 600 of the day-old chicks he got from Meyer Hatchery in Ashland County in the spring will have grown to about 4 pounds and be destined for dinner plates after the final slaughter in late September.
And that's this week's Quick Bites. Next week we'll rejoin the refugees from Asian Services in Action in another field at the Schmidt family farm, where they're growing specialty greens.