By Laura Rogers
It’s no secret that backyard chicken-keeping is catching on in neighborhoods and hobby farms across Whatcom County. I can’t walk down a single alleyway in my neighborhood without noticing a backyard coop or hearing the pleasant sound of clucking. Our county is a hotspot for all things local and organic, and it’s hard to get more local than your own backyard. Perhaps we come by it naturally, as our county is the agricultural leader in Western Washington when it comes to economic value. Our farmers bring in roughly $230 million, just for the livestock industry, according the 2012 census.
Chicken and eggs have always been staples at the American breakfast and dinner table. And whether you buy these products from a supermarket, a farmers market, from your neighbor, or gather them out of your own backyard, one thing is true across the board: these chickens must be fed.
Most of us, when we were growing up, heard our parents say “you are what you eat.” But at one revolutionary, local, animal feed manufacturer, they take this adage very seriously and to the next logical level. Scratch and Peck Feeds believes that “you are what your animals eat,” and their dedication to this principle shows in everything they do.
Scratch and Peck makes feed for chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, and more, right here in Whatcom County. Though there are many organic animal feed companies, Scratch and Peck stands out in a big way. Their feed is Certified Organic, Non-GMO Verified, and Local. Scratch and Peck is the only feed company on the market that is doing all three of these important things.
If this wasn’t enough, add to that list that their feed is high quality, raw and minimally processed, and their locally sourced grains are purchased Farmer-Direct. All of their feeds are also 100% soy free and canola free. They also carry a line of feed called Naturally Free, which is corn free. You might be wondering at this point what is so critical about avoiding all of these ingredients. The answer lies mostly in their core tenet of producing Non-GMO feed. Finding non-GMO corn is difficult and finding non-GMO soy, nearly impossible. Scratch and Peck’s F.A.Q. page explains, in addition, that soy has been recently shown to adversely affect peoples’ health. Scratch and Peck does carry a line of feed that contains corn (and recommends it for winter months), but all corn is stringently tested in accredited laboratories to verify that it’s Non-GMO before they buy it. Read more on the Scratch and Peck Blog.
Scratch and Peck Origins
Scratch and Peck began in 2009 when owner, Diana Ambauen-Meade, began making her own feed as a result of not being able to find any high quality, organic feed. Diana began making it in a borrowed cement mixer in her own yard. But the demand for high quality feed quickly outgrew the cement-mixer model and she and her son, Bryon, set out to create Scratch and Peck. Their mission: “To start being the change they wanted to see in the food system.”
I spent some time interviewing Scratch and Peck’s Director of Sales & Marketing, Mariah Ross, to get more of the inside scoop. The biggest thing I took away from our discussion was that the value of their product and employees was tantamount to that of their profit. There are no corners cut at Scratch and Peck, and that means everything from finding a new source of grubs (chicken treats normally imported from China) that can be locally sourced, to a regular staff meeting where everyone is encouraged to share ideas, and even staff birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated.
It is clear that Mariah enjoys being part of such a values-driven business. “Even though we are a staff of over 20 people, Diana still bakes homemade treats for every employee’s birthday and picks out a gift that is really personal.”
Mariah also shared with me how grains are typically handled, and just how different their process is, from farmer to feed. “Grains are both high risk for GMO’s and they are some of the most chemically treated crops. Then, more chemicals get applied in storage and processing.” In contrast, Scratch and Peck works with only organic, farmer-direct, non-GMO, raw grains.
And the company has taken great measures to make their mill a pleasant place to work. “We have a super nice mill,” Mariah explains. “Most mills out there are dark, nasty places. Our facility has lots of natural light coming and is really clean. It’s a really safe and nice manufacturing space to work in.”
Scratch and Peck Feeds
My own family has taken part in the DIY-chicken boom. Three years ago, we had laying hens and this spring raised 12 meat birds in our backyard. All of these chickens were raised on Scratch and Peck feed. Our meat birds are now residing in our chest freezer, after one fateful day of backyard processing.
I’m not an expert on chicken feed, but I can readily attest to how voraciously and completely our chickens ate Scratch and Peck feed. We chose to ferment our feed (which is actually much less complicated than it sounds). It mostly just means adding water to the feed. Because we took this route, every bit of the “fines,” or the non-whole grains included in the feed, got soaked into one oatmeal-like meal. Our chickens would happily gobble this up, climbing over each other to get to it.
I felt confident our chickens were getting a top-notch product, that was much easier to digest due to the fermenting process, and I was saving money because there was no waste (losing the fines into the ground). The end product has been, by far, the most delicious chicken meat and organs I’ve ever tasted.
And, we started and ended this process with all twelve chickens, which is unusual in the world of raising meat birds. I attribute so much of their health and tastiness to the Scratch and Peck feed they ate. There is even a mix called “Broiler” (higher in protein) that is specifically formulated for meat birds.
After my personal experience feeding my birds Scratch and Peck, talking to Mariah Ross about what it’s like to work there, and going to visit the facility myself, there is no doubt in my mind that Whatcom County farm animals (and those who eat them) are lucky to have a business like Scratch and Peck around.
Learn more about every product on the Scratch and Peck website which includes not only a complete list of ingredients, but also explains how to feed, lists frequently asked questions, and has customer reviews for that specific type of feed.