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Killing chickens in Medina
Bradley Cramer says his slaughtering method is humane.
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Food writer Michael Ruhlman was moved by the experience of killing a chicken.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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The chicken that lands on our plates often looks so good that we forget the hell it went through to get there. In today's Quick Bite we meet a chicken slaughterer who objects to the industry method and believes his way of killing is humane.
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"The whole process pretty much from start to finish is very humane,” says    

Bradley Cramer.  

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. 

Listener Comments:

I grew up with the Cramers as family friends. All these years later to see the Brad and I are on the same page I must say is awesome. We raise our own animals to feed our family, and to support our small growing farm. Farming is far from easy, but my family and I believe the rewards are worth the effort and work. Our birds are all npip certified, range free during the day to chase bugs eat grass and enjoy the sunshine. Given how commercial birds are raised kept and slaughtered, I will choose to eat my own birds and not buy into the commercial processors. Brad - Keep up the good work man

Posted by: Matt Becks (Alabama) on December 1, 2012 1:12AM
Wow, consciousness. You disgust me. People like you that have to force their beliefs on others are worse then anyone else. Could you be any more narrow minded? Do you have some obsession to wit you have to use your religious beliefs on the topic of food? Please do stop eating meat, I for sure won't loose a minute of sleep over it. By your own logic, these animals were put here to sustain and feed us. You think that pictures of chickens being killed is offensive? I find it offensive how commercial poultry is handled and processed in this country. I too am a farmer, by choice not nesesity. Down here every day you see semi trailers full of chickens in cages, packed so tight they cant even right themselves. I choose to raise my own pigs turkeys chickens and ducks to feed my family. I know how my animals are raised, how they are fed and how they are treated. Can you even answer a single one of those questions to anything you have eaten in the last week? I'm guessing not. Your comment has just proven you are not but a mindless lamb, waiting to be led to slaughter.

I am deeply offended you have such a problem with out countries military that is protecting YOUR freedoms. Again, if you have such a problem with it, get out. Go live in a 3rd world country. See how long you last without all your spoiled american ways. Globally you obviously have no clue. I am ex military. The fact you are spineless enough to call a soldier a murderer is astounding. Go live in your messed up crazy little blinded delusional fantasy. You personally don't deserve to be an american. Freedom isn't free.

Posted by: Soldier (AMERICA) on December 1, 2012 1:12AM
If this news story caused you to stop eating meat, you need to continue your education on the subject. This article took the time to share with you someone locally who is taking the time to care for these animals before they are slaughtered and doing it to the best of their ability.
Someone the other day mentioned to me that, after watching a chef prepare rabbit for a meal, they didn't think they could eat rabbit anymore. I think for someone to make this statement shows they are uneducated about where their food comes from and how it is slaughtered.
And if you don't like how animals are slaughtered, then don't eat them. I commend you for your strong convictions, as long as you are educated on the matter and understand that meat has been consumed by humans since the beginning. Meat doesn't have to be apart of our diet, but for most people, our bodies enjoy meat. The most important thing we can do in this day of the global food industry is take a moment, look around, and learn where things come from. Eating local will generally give you the least harmful, most nutritious, best tasting, meat and produce around. Plus you're supporting you local farm or neighbor instead of some mega farm owned by a bunch of foreigners.
Eat meat or don't eat meat, you should always support and buy local!

Posted by: FoodLover (Ohio) on August 31, 2012 12:08PM
Amen to Consciousness' comments.

Posted by: vegetarian runner (Port Clinton, OH) on August 31, 2012 9:08AM
I would just like to add that it's less about the way they are slaughtered, although that is important, the life they live is much longer than the time they are frightened or disoriented by the process at the end of their lives. These chickens have fresh grass and bugs at their disposal through their lives. They get to live as chickens are meant to live-- but protected from wild predators. Hawks, raccoons, possum, mink, fox, owls-- to name a few here in NE Ohio.
I understand completely the feeling that Consciousness expresses, and respect the feelings of any vegetarian or vegan, but if we ARE going to consume meat as humans, it is important to be responsible for the life that the animal that becomes our food lived. And if you are going to eat meat, seeing this process is important. the meat we eat is not created in a factory without feeling or instinct, just as we buy a loaf of bread, sliced and packaged. It lived and breathed, in the case of chickens, chased bugs and pecked at worms and plants.
The chicken we pick up in the supermarket meat aisle lived its life packed in a cage with other chickens, in most cases unable to even turn around comfortably, the only thing for them to peck at might be each other.
At the end of their lives, there is not a person handling them with concern for their comfort, trying to minimize the panic and the pain. They are handled minimally by humans-- the process is largely mechanized--hundreds a day go through the processing plants that supply mainstream grocery stores.
Everyone-- vegetarian or meat eater-- should read Michael Polan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and see the documentary Food, Inc.-- very enlightening.
Small, local farmers are better for the earth and our health as consumers.

Posted by: Cynthia (Montville township) on August 31, 2012 7:08AM
Looking at these pictures does it.
I see what is wrong with humanity. We find it easy to kill each other because all animals kill each other. We feed birds, gain their trust, then stuff them in killing tubes upside-down and slit their throats. Somehow, after this, we're supposed to have a respect for each other's lives. Yet our population is filled with murderers who were sent to fields in far corners of the world by politicians who assured us there was a good reason to violate the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." And those murderers who shot at our murderers had equally been assured good reason existed to murder.
Let's face it: religion is not just a way to make our eventual deaths less frightening, but also the way to allow us to feel good despite the killing we do every day of the week. You see a beautiful deer eating grass at the edge of a forest, you shoot it, you watch this beautiful creature look for the last time at life, and die. Then you dismember it, seeing its body structure similar to ours with ribs and a heart and legs and muscles, and you cut this body up, trying to forget the beautiful picture you saw of this creature eating grass gracefully and silently. And you remember your religious book that someone wrote, who claimed it was the words of our Creator, the Great Politician in the Sky, who said in this book that all other creatures were created for us to kill. And we hope this is true and hope we are not instead killed by a bear.
I believe there will be a surprise waiting at the pearly gates: God, per Christian thought, is neither male nor female, but an it, that can take any form as It desires, and will upon our arrival at the pearly gates, appear as a chicken.
I don't know if I will eat an animal again. These photographs are troubling, just too troubling. I think I'll stick to vegetables. A creature that opens its eyes and looks at this existence with wonder and awe just as I do, whether a whale or a buffalo or a chicken, to rob such a creature of its life to be my food, does not seem correct.

Posted by: Consciousness (Ohio) on August 31, 2012 3:08AM
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