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Raising Lectin-Free Chicken. Interview with Dan Walter, Owner and Farmer at Pastured Steps in Dallas

When a member of our community, Margaret, wrote me to ask if I’m interested in pre-ordering 100% lectin-free chickens raised in the Dallas area, I had no hesitation: I ordered immediately five whole chickens. I would have ordered more but I live in a small place and have a small freezer. Few months later, when my chickens were ready to pick up and after coming back from a month long holiday in Europe, my husband and I went to visit Dan at Pastured Steps. There was a delivery option available, but I really wanted to meet one of the very few farmers in the US and the world who decided to raise lectin-free chicken. And I’m so glad I did. There is something about knowing the farmer behind our food. We arrived just before sunset and were even rewarded with a beautiful Texas golden light.

I wanted to share with everyone interested about Dan’s experience with raising 100% lectin-free chicken. Sometimes we forget how much work and dedication there is behind our food, so I hope my conversation with Dan is a reminder of that. Prices of food reflect the amount of work, the values, the responsability for environment and all the good practices that go behind the scenes. So next time when we think food is expensive, let’s remember this and instead of looking to buy and eat more, better eat less of a higher quality and support farmers who are commited to give us healthy food while practicing regenerative agriculture and caring for the environment. It’s a win-win.

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Dan Walter, owner and farmer at Pastured Steps Family Farms, about raising 100% lectin-free chicken

If you call or visit Pastured Steps Family Farm, Dan will likely be the first one you meet.  A mechanical engineer turned farmer, Dan pursues his passion in regenerative agriculture as the building blocks to farm design and decision making.  Dan enjoys producing high-quality nutritious foods while building an ecosystem that promotes soil health as well as animal health.

CC: Raising lectin-free chickens was a unique experiment, and one of the very few not only in the country but also world-wide. What made you undertake this project?

DW: I undertook the project because I had a few potential customers asking for it.  Dr. Gundry recommends only eating pasture-raised chicken that isn’t loaded with lectin-heavy grains.  While we do sell pasture-raised chicken which are moved to fresh pasture daily, their foraging is supplemented with non-GMO grains containing things like corn, soy, and wheat.  This is standard practice among pasture-raised producers.  The chickens just don’t get enough protein eating grass and bugs alone.  Simply put, pasture-raised chicken is a much healthier choice then typical commercial raised chicken, however, it does contain lectin.  So I was being asked to raise pastured chickens without the lectin heavy grain.

CC: Tell us more about this project: how many lectin-free chicken you raised, what did you changed specifically in the way you raised pastured chickens? When did you start? How long did it take? What are they fed? Is it hard to find a lectin-free feed? What did you learn from this experiment? Tell us about cost, resources, anything in particular you noticed and you’ll implement next time? How long it takes to raise them (what period of the year?). How much they cost?

DW: The biggest difference was in the supplemented feed.  I had to work with a grain mill and chicken nutritionist to create a custom feed ration made from ingredients on Dr. Gundry’s “yes” list.  The ingredients included things like milo, millet, flax, olive oil, and organic fish meal.  This custom feed ration cost nearly three times my normal feed.  I raised a batch of 75 chickens which finished at an average dressed weight of 2.6 pounds.  For comparison, our standard pasture-raised / grain-fed chickens finish at 4.5 to 5 pounds in the same amount of time.  I would attribute the much lower weight gain to their restricted diet.  In any event, with feed three times the normal cost and chickens that finish nearly half the normal size, it makes for an expensive chicken.

www.pasturedsteps.com

CC: Will you do it again? What would you do different next time? How can we – the consumers who want lectin-free chickens – can get involved and help with?

DW: If I have enough interest in lectin-free pasture-raised chicken for 2020, I will likely try it again.  I would make a few small tweaks to the feed ration and probably raise them in the spring this time as the pasture conditions are more favorable.  The last batch was raised in the fall and we had an unusually warm and dry fall in 2019.  If people are interested we can start taking deposits of $20 / chicken.  I would expect the price to be on the order of $9 / pound for whole chicken.

CC: What are “normal” pastured chicken fed? Is there such a thing as 100% pasture-raised chicken? If not, why? (That’s one of the biggest confusions in the community, people are looking for 100% pastured chicken and they are surprised to find out chickens are supplemented with grains). 

DW: I looked around and found two farms claiming to sell pasture-raised lectin-free chicken, one in California and the other in Florida.  I know a number of poultry farmers that belong to APPPA (American Pastured Poultry Producers Association) and none of them are raising pastured chicken without grain.  It really doesn’t work very well.  Chickens don’t receive enough protein from grass and they use a lot of energy catching bugs.  While someone may be able to raise a small backyard flock primarily “free-range,” it just doesn’t scale to the needs of a small farm poultry producer who needs to raise hundreds of birds at a time just to be profitable.

CC: How can we find out you have available lectin-free chickens and when / how can we order them?

Anyone in the Dallas – Fort Worth area who is interested in lectin-free chicken can email me (dan@pasturedsteps.com).  It would help if they let me know how many they would be interested in purchasing in summer of 2020.  If I have enough interest to raise a batch of 100 or so next spring, I will do it again.  Once the interest is there, I will put a listing on the website for deposits to reserve the number they are interested in.

DW: What other products / services you offer for a consumer who is willing to support local and organic farming? 

We also sell 100% grass-fed / finished beef.  Our cattle get NO grains and we even go through the trouble to source special minerals that don’t contain grain by-products.  We also sell pasture-raised chicken eggs and have a small u-pick berry and fruit operation that runs late May through June.

CC: Anything new you are working on?

DW: I just started a batch of 500 pullets (hens for egg production) on certified organic feed.  They will be ready to start laying around April.  I plan to sell around half of them and keep the rest for eggs.  If any of your readers are backyard chicken enthusiasts, they will be able to buy a nice ready to lay pullet in late March ($25 ea.).  I’m also heavily considering making the transition from premium non-GMO feed to a certified organic feed on all of our chickens for 2020.

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Check the above article for more ressources on how to find pastured-chicken in your area and a selection of recipes using pasture-raised chicken. If you are lucky to find 100% lectin-free chicken in your area, even better. As per the chicken bought from Dan, we already made two, one whole, for Christmas, and one spatchcocked, last weekend. We love them.

And if you live in the DFW area and want to encourage Dan to raise more lectin-free chickens next year, please send him an email. The more requests, the more chances we will get more lectin-free chickens in 2020.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Stacey Walter
    December 16, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for your blog post and support of our family farm. I’m Dan’s wife so I see first hand how hard he works on the farm. I appreciate your comment on how easy it is to forget how much work and dedication goes into farming this way. We’re excited to provide high quality meat and eggs and grow our customer base in the coming years so that many more people can enjoy our delicious (and nutritious) meat and eggs.

    • Reply
      Claudia
      December 17, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Stacey, thank you so much for your comment and everything you and Dan do. We appreciate you. Happy Holidays!

  • Reply
    Karine Larochelle
    December 19, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Wow ! I’m a farmer. Thank you for this article!

    • Reply
      Claudia
      December 28, 2019 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Karine, thank you so much for reading this and for what you do. Happy New Year!

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