On Wednesday mornings, the chicken man comes to South Shore Organics, delivering poultry and eggs to fill our customer’s orders. His husky, six-foot frame clad in signature denim dungarees fills the doorway, but his demeanor is that of a true animal lover, approachable, friendly, and kind.
Largey’s Cornish Rock Cross birds, which he raises and slaughters himself, are sold under the Feather Brook label here at South Shore Organics, but also Simpson Springs in Easton, butcher shops Formaggio in Cambridge and South End, and M.F. Dulock in Somerville. It is an investment that chefs who work with his product will easily defend to retail customers. Heberlein said, “There is a thicker layer of fat under the skin, keeping it moist, which is a good selling point because people have the tendency to overcook chicken.” When Heberlein samples the chicken for customers, he roasts it with just a little salt and pepper, yet people are quick to assume that the birds were brined. With only 48 hours separating Monday slaughters from Wednesday deliveries, “it is the freshest chicken [customers] will ever have unless they have their own.” Other local eating establishments supporting Tad’s efforts are a real feather in his cap, and a testament to the quality of his offerings. Cream Etc. in Abington, and Shepard, Parsnip, Alden and Harlow, and Spoke Wine Bar all located in Cambridge, and Townsman in the heart of Boston are but a few. Largey has quite a chef following.
On Largey’s 14-acre Raynham, Massachusetts farm, a driveway is all that separates his abode from his animals and a combination slaughterhouse-packaging shed. Dressed in his trademark overalls, the 51-year-old Largey speaks with measured cadence, punctuated by outsized grins that break across his ruddy face as we navigate snowdrifts, side-step arm-sized fallen icicles, and walk by a poultry house that didn’t survive one of the toughest New England winters on the books. He lost 300 meat birds this season, a considerable hit for a farm that cycles through 125 meat birds and 800 egg-layers.
Largey is so effusive about his livelihood—even its pitfalls—that it is hard to imagine him doing anything else. It turns out that he has only been farming for a decade. Previously, he designed and brokered cabinets for Boston area CEOs, condominium, and apartment complexes. Being on HGTV and in magazines “was great for the ego,” but there was little satisfaction in designing $100,000 kitchens for families that used them to consume takeout. “I was feeling like one of those stockbroker guys that just touches money,” said Largey.
Largey began raising chickens as a hobby that put dinner on the table. He quickly “fell to the sickness of farming,” and became resentful of the time he spent on cabinetry. When the recession brought real estate projects to a grinding halt, Largey’s soulless career could no longer pay the bills, and farming called. As the outdoors became his “office,” he got a bit carried away. Like Noah collecting specimens for his ark, he added beef cows, milking jerseys, and pigs to the farm. “We’d go farm hopping, and somehow he’d come home with another cow in the truck and my mom would be like, wait, where’d you get this one?” said daughter, Shannon, a college student who assists with social media and deliveries. Said Largey, “Everybody who starts farming, in the beginning, you’re like I need to feed myself, so you have every type of animal.” In jest, he chalks it up to all the apocalyptic talk in 2012. Although the cows are gone, it is still a struggle for him to rein in husbandry projects such as “pet” goats and Rhinelander Rabbits—New Zealand crosses with their “insane” musculature and huge hind legs.
As for the chickens that are his calling card? They aren’t the farmer’s first choice. If Largey had his druthers, he’d be a beef producer and dairy farmer. “I didn’t inherit my land or my business, I had to build it,” said Largey. “So you buy your chickens, you spend a lot of money on infrastructure, but you are able to generate revenue,” quicker than with his beloved cows, which take 18 months to grow from calf to finished beef. While Largey has had to grapple with economic realities that de-romanticize farming, there remains an overriding sanctity to his enterprise. This especially hits home for him on slaughter days. With the help of assistants, he suspends the birds to be slaughtered upside down, this dazes them and keeps them very calm making the process very humane. “I don’t care how tough you think you are, if you have anything going on between the ears, you think about what if I was raised to feed some other species,” said Largey. “Would I want to be kicked around first and spat on, and then have my life taken? Or that they at least respect my life, do it quickly, and with care for me? So that’s what I try to do.”
It is this nurturing approach to the business of farming, and what I would call a sacred outlook to husbandry and has built a system of farming centered on care. It is this system of care that makes farming a vocation in the true sense of the word for Largey. “Farming has fed me far more than cabinetry: my soul, my belly, friendships. Life is operated on a completely different level,” said Largey
Adapted from Jonisha Levi’s article titled ‘Chicken Man’