The way Sebastien Bonneau sees it, there’s no bad meat; only bad cooks. That’s why, on his Countryside Family Farm in Bastrop, you’ll find varieties of meat that are unfamiliar to many American palates. His message is one that encourages people to try meat from animals they’ve never eaten before. Countryside Farm offers a wide range of high quality meat, from the exotic-sounding feral hog, to guineas and even pigeons, and familiar standbys like ducks and chickens.
Before he immigrated to America, Sebastien Bonneau never bought his meat from a store; instead he and his family in France raised animals for their own consumption. It was a shock, then, when he took his first trip to a grocery store in the States and found that the quality of meat was nowhere near what he was accustomed to eating. He decided to return to the small farming methods he’d grown up with, raising animals himself and having complete control of the quality.
At the same time, he was working as a chef and knew what a difference it makes in the kitchen to have a good relationship with a farmer that can provide consistent, high-quality ingredients. Word got around to area restaurants that Bonneau raised quality chickens and geese and even duck and guinea, which restaurants love but is more difficult to find. Eventually, Bonneau and his family left the restaurant business behind in favor of being full-time poultry farmers.
Hybrid birds bred to grow quickly can often perish quickly in Texas weather that can change from rainy one day to pushing 95 degrees the next, to facing a cold front the week after. For the past five years, Bonneau has selectively cultivated the finest purebred geese, guineas, ducks, and chickens available for purchase in Austin. He employs the husbandry methods he learned from his parents in France. He chooses only the best, hardiest birds with the genetic traits he seeks, and those animals breed newer generations which are best suited to life in the changing climate of central Texas. Other farmers turn around birds when they are between six and ten weeks old. The animals at Countryside Farms take considerably longer to reach their slaughter weight, but at fourteen to sixteen weeks old, they have the opportunity to slowly digest their diet of whole grains. Their hips are not going to break under the weight of their heavy muscles. They have a consistent and desirable fat content that makes for a better flavor.
The birds on Countryside Family Farm are truly free-roaming. This acreage is devoted entirely to the creature comforts of several thousand ducks, a few dozen geese, and a broad variety of chickens by the score. Some of the chickens follow me around as I check out the grounds, which feature two ponds, trees, and all the cozy nesting opportunities a fowl could want. In these conditions, it’s easy to see that there is really no such thing as bad meat. I might even be tempted to try some pigeon.