We Really DO Eat the Bones

//We Really DO Eat the Bones

We Really DO Eat the Bones

I was getting new shocks for my farm truck, sitting in the waiting room, when this commercial came across the television:

The scene: three friends wolfing down chicken during their lunch break. One guy eats so quickly that he suddenly stares at his empty box, and screams in horror: “I think I ate the bones. I ate the bones! I ATE THE BONES!!!

Don’t worry, champ. A euphonious voiceover quickly explains that KFC has removed the bones in advance, creating the ultimate poultry-pounding experience. The voice goes on to explain that there’s no skin either, just pure protein and spices. If only we could unhinge our jaws like a python, the ad stops just short of saying, we could even circumvent all that time-consuming chewing.

Apprentice Cullen Smith from Louisiana, showing off some fancy footwork.

Apprentice Cullen Smith from Louisiana, showing off some fancy footwork.

As an organic livestock farmer who sells free-range chicken at farmers’ markets each weekend, I’ve grown numb to these types of commercials over the years. We live in a culture where Cheaper-Faster-24/7 food exists in direct contrast to the seasonal, sustainable offerings I grow. For a small family farmer, trying to battle mainstream fast food head-on is completely pointless. Instead, I simply grow what nature provides, and offer customers an authentically different food experience.

And yet, every once in a while an ad like this causes me to raise my eyebrows. Hey dude… so what if you DID eat the bones? What’s the big deal? On our farm, we eat the bones all the time. And the skin. And the feet. And just about anything else we can glean. It’s a little thing we call “respecting the whole animal.” And it’s precisely how humanity has operated for thousands of years.

When we process a free-range chicken on our farm, we don’t just save the breast meat. We save everything. Feet are packaged by the pound, and sold for broth and chicken stock. Bags of livers and hearts sell out almost as quickly as we can put them in the display cooler. We even save the necks, tucking them into the body cavity for use in rich, flavorful soups.

Believe it or not, beef marrow bones are one of our biggest sellers on the farm. Ironically, we have a hard time keeping them in 'stock'.

Believe it or not, beef marrow bones are one of our biggest sellers on the farm. Ironically, we have a hard time keeping them in ‘stock’.

(Believe it or not, we even offer that rarest of birds: whole 5 pound chickens. When a customer recently asked why we don’t cut up our chickens, our apprentice Cullen Smith replied “because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This kid has a real future at farmers’ market.)

What about all the rest: The heads, feathers and entrails? Surely we don’t eat those things…?

I’m glad you asked. We haven’t perfected a chicken McNoggin recipe—yet. But I’m getting a-head of myself. All of the ‘inedible’ parts of the bird are composted right here on the farm, and a year or so later are spread onto our pastures as fertilizer. Fertilizer, of course, makes the grass grow. And free-range chickens love grass. Combine this with a little rain and sunshine, and it’s a totally sustainable system. So yes… even though we don’t technically eat the feathers and guts, our grass certainly does. And without grass, we can’t have free-range chickens!

But what about those bones? Do people really eat them?

Yes, people really do eat them. I’ve had dozens of customers over the years tell me that our free-range chickens are so good, that they literally ate the bones. (If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a blog that gives a few culinary tips: Chicken Bone Snacks). Suffice to say, as long as the bones are thoroughly chewed, there’s absolutely no harm in doing so.

In his poem Old Bones, Gary Snyder writes:

Out there somewhere

a shrine for the old ones,

the dust of the old bones,

         old songs and tales.

What we ate—who ate what—

         how we all prevailed.


‘How we all prevailed.’ Surely, this is something worth remembering. My ancestors didn’t eat their dinner from a boneless skinless box of chicken, and I’d wager that yours didn’t either.

So, instead of acting like a screaming ninny and shouting “I ATE THE BONES!!!”, how cool would this be: An actor looks straight into the camera, gnawing on a half-eaten wing bone, and says with satisfied nonchalance: “Yeah man. I ate the bones.” Now that’s a commercial even a free-range chicken farmer could enjoy.

Check out my books!

Gaining Ground Growing Tomorrow Start Your Farm

By | 2018-08-04T09:38:45-04:00 August 9th, 2013|Farm|41 Comments

About the Author:

Forrest Pritchard is a full-time sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, holding a BA in English and a BS in Geology from William & Mary. Smith Meadows, his farm, was one of the first “grass finished” operations in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in the Washington DC area for two decades. Pritchard's books have received starred reviews from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, NPR, and more.


  1. paintedhandfarm August 9, 2013 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Several years ago one of my Eid customers brought a quart of soup back to the farm a few days after slaughtering a goat for the holiday. I was amazed when they burned the hooves popping off the outer covering to reveal the gelatinous inner parts. “These make the best soup,” he told me. The soup was made with not just the feet, but the leg bones cut into chunks the size of dice and then pressure cooked turning them soft enough to eat. Yes–people even eat goat bones! By the way, the soup was delicious.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 10, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Imagine, a little farm in Pennsylvania intersecting with international culinary wisdom! It’s truly a small world. I’m not even sure if my grandparents ate goat bones, however, ha ha :^)

  2. Ali August 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Love this!

  3. Sandra Clark August 12, 2013 at 7:27 am - Reply

    My mom used to roast the breast bones after the meat was off them until they were really crunchy (with some seasoned salt on them). I remember them fondly as one of my favorite snacks.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

      My mom was more of a “let’s make Sloppy Joe’s tonight” kind of cook, but I can imagine that well-roasted and salted bones might taste delicious. Thanks for the memory, Sandra.

  4. Jeremy Goodwin August 12, 2013 at 7:29 am - Reply

    Properly cooked quail, I eat everything except the end of the drumstick. Chicken and duck bones for stock, but the neck and backbone gets roasted with rest of the spatchcocked chicken as a chef’s treat.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Jeremy! When I finally get down to Texas, I’m definitely visiting your kitchen :^)

  5. pazooter August 12, 2013 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Great article. Thank you. Dem bones gunna rise agin!

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 9:05 am

      I know it, know it… indeed, I know it brother!

  6. Andrew Zollman August 12, 2013 at 7:51 am - Reply

    “Respecting the animal” would be not unnecessarily taking its life away from it, only for money or a moment of your personal “pleasure.” Seven years ago, I made the decision to respect all sentient beings (as well as my health and our planet) by becoming vegan – it’s the best decision anyone can ever make in their lives!

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 9:04 am

      Andrew, thanks for the feedback. While I choose not to be vegan, I certainly respect your choice, and to a certain degree empathize with it. We all participate in the circle of life, whether we respect the life of a carrot or a chicken. I’m grateful that forums such as these can be destinations for civil discussion on the path to greater understanding. However, I have certainly never used the word “pleasure” to describe taking the life of a sentient being, so I feel that quote is unwarranted.

    • Andrew Zollman August 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Forrest, I didn’t mean to suggest that you derive pleasure from the act of killing animals, I was referring to the “pleasure” of eating the animals (though ultimately there’s not much difference).

      Also, I’m sure you understand that there’s a big difference between a plant and a sentient being who has emotions, needs, desires, and a will to live.

      If you’re comfortable with taking the lives of others for self-gain, there’s no need to sugar-coat or misrepresent the process or motivations.

    • pazooter August 12, 2013 at 10:01 am

      Who says plants don’t have emotions, needs, desires, and a will to live?

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Agreed, Pazooter. Speaking for myself, what I don’t know about biology will forever outweigh what I do know.

      As a farmer, there’s a certain peaceful surrender in that :^)

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Andrew, I never said I was comfortable with taking the life of anything, and I’ve certainly never sugar-coated anything. Well, other than a ham.

      But if you’re interested in learning how I feel (instead of placing additional assumptions on me), check out Chapter 8 of my book. I spent a lot of time writing it precisely for this topic of discourse.

    • priyajackson2016 March 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Um…I hope you’re not being serious about people only eating animals for pleasure LOL. Applying that logic to the animal kingdom means that everyone eats for pleasure. News flash, we eat to survive.

  7. Teresa Noelle Roberts August 12, 2013 at 8:07 am - Reply

    We the bones for soup, but one of our friends dines with us, he gnaws most bones until they crack and then sucks out the marrow. Impressive, although it raises some eyebrows.

    • Teresa Noelle Roberts August 12, 2013 at 8:08 am

      That would be we USE the bones for soup. One of those days, I guess.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Yes, the vast majority of our customers use the bones for stock and soup as well… but occasionally a customer tells us that they roast/boil and eat the bones whole! (These are primarily chicken bones, not beef or lamb bones). I’m always happy to hear the feedback from hungry market-goers :^)

  8. John Wrang August 12, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Thanks for speaking out on behalf of so many small farmer’s like me. We do pastured poultry also and I feel like more educator than farmer at our farmer’s markets and that’s ok. It feels good to bring people back to real food and sad at the same time that we even have to.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 12, 2013 at 10:39 am

      You are very welcome, John. Thank YOU for the good work you’re doing!

  9. Maggy Rogers August 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    Love reading your thoughts and gleaning from your educated practices. In Canada we are having the same difficulties with understanding food farming and it is difficult to find and purchase grass fed anything. Young farmers like yourself are to be listened to and revered. You are the hope for the future in helping to feed our communities even if they don’t know it.
    Also, Mr. Zollman needs to give his head a little shake. Sentient beings indeed. Much research is being done regarding plants and how they interact and communicate with one another. It is wonderful to imagine that cognition is not limited to a brain like our own. Veganism is a choice like any and just because the plants don’t cry out or bleed red, doesn’t mean it is any less a death.
    Aboriginal peoples all over the world have a ritual that asks forgiveness in the taking of a life as well as preparing and consuming all food is a reason to be mindful and grateful to where that food came from. We unconscious North Americans have gotten so caught up in our consumer mentality that we have forgotten about Nature’s ways and how to respect that.
    Thanks for allowing comments here…I will continue to learn from you anyway I can.

    • Bren August 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Maggy, I am a vegan and I totally agree with what you have said. Well said!

    • Forrest Pritchard August 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks Maggy, you said it very well :^)

  10. Bren August 12, 2013 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    Though I too have given up eating meat, I applaud you for showing respect to the animal by using every part of it’s body! If only the rest of the meat eating world would do the same. Thanks for posting this article, it was a very interesting read.

  11. smarquis52 August 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Forrest, just learned of your book and have ordered it. Tremendous that you are getting your 15 years of experience and thinking to a wider audience. We all have much to learn. Regarding the eating bones/all parts of the animal, we’re still doing our part using the bones and more interesting cuts. The one thing we cannot buy in the farmers market in Santa Monica is hog jaw/jowls. To this day I appreciate you bringing these to market so that we could make our own guanciale. I have been able to get fresh pork belly and have made some decent pancetta.

    • Forrest Pritchard August 26, 2013 at 7:46 am

      Susan, so good to hear from you! It’s amazing to remember that you not only ride up to the butcher with me, but also helped process chickens… You are a true food adventurer! Hope all is well in CA, I’ll be in Los Angeles next April for the LA Times book festival. Lets make plans to he together. All the best to Chris, too!!!

  12. smarquis52 August 26, 2013 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Excellent!. I sent you an email to info@smithmeadows……..with more detail about CA. You are welcome to stay with us in Venice when you are in LA. We can continue this through email, and I hope to see you before April in VA.

  13. Janel B September 3, 2013 at 5:15 am - Reply

    I feed raw chicken bones to my dogs (raw chicken necks, backs, feet). Dogs can digest them, and the backs are great workouts for their teeth and jaws. I use roasted chicken frames (what’s left after cutting all the chicken off after roasting it) in making stock in a crockpot – great usage to not let anything go to waste!

  14. Leilani N October 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    So apropos! My husband just cracked some thigh & leg bones from a roast chicken last night and my daughter scraped out the marrow with her teeth. She loves it!

  15. Josh January 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    The fact that plants may be sentient and communicate with each other does not for me justify that it is okay to eat meat. I believe if possible to do so one can live the most healthy life from plant based diets. There is a great deal of research to show it is healthier and your risk for many diseases is much less. Just know what you need to be healthy. There is much confusion as to what is a healthy vegetarian diet and everyone is a little different. I am following the advice of Jameth Sheridan cofounder of Healthforce Nutritional’s.

    • Blaise February 24, 2014 at 11:16 am

      There has also been research done on a meat-only diet and the researchers were quite surprised that they were as healthy as omnivores/vegetarians. There have been many studies like it that all produced similar results.

  16. Diana September 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I actually bumped on this website when I was searching the Internet for information on chicken bone consumption by my preschooler. I make bone broth once in a while (simmering it over 8 hours) and serve a small cup to my kid with some salt and lemon …so one evening I saw her munching happily on a couple of small bones I had left on the table. While I thought “why not?” I always had a slight concern. So thanks for the info!

  17. Beth November 6, 2014 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    I loved this article. Ive eaten chicken bones and marrow since I was a kid and still to this day will chomp on every chewable peice of bone possible. The marrow is delicious! In fact I might enjoy the bones as much as the chicken itself. Nice to know Im not the only one. I also love how you use all parts of the animal. My mom has a small organic farm and she is the same way.Never let anything go to waste!

  18. Aries March 17, 2015 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Eskimos only eat meat and blubber

  19. Sharon Hill-Walker April 29, 2015 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I’ve been making chicken bone broth for awhile now and just recently thought about eating the bones after doing some research on it. I suppose that you would get the same vitamins and minerals from the bone itself just as you would from the broth. I ran across an article that had a recipe for grinding up pastured soy-free egg shells (after a small drying process) into a powder which can the been taken as an excellent source of calcium. I wondered if I could do the same for chicken bones after I make a broth. Any thoughts on this? I don’t like taking vitamins in pill form, so I’m always searching for DIY remedies with what I already have on hand, especially with food stuff people normally throw out (like eggshells and chicken bones)!

  20. Gayle May 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    I grew up poor, and now I am not.I still love eating bones for snacks,soups and just after I’ve eaten the meat. So thank you to all the smart farmers out there!

  21. Greg October 13, 2016 at 4:35 am - Reply

    As a kid they taught me about elements in school. We are made of them, basic science, where we get them to grow into what we are is of no concern but your own. Just get them into your body your body will know what to do with them, it is essential to life. (Old saying) you are what you eat! bones is made of essential elements too.

  22. Rick March 14, 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    My wife uses a ham bone to make pea soup. When done, the joint ball in very soft and porous, I usually gnaw on it, til it is a stub. Question, Is there any nutritional value in this?Or any dangers?

    • Forrest Pritchard March 15, 2017 at 8:38 am

      No danger, and some nutritional value. Enjoy!

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