He went through a period of trial and error, experimenting with different methods, but was at last successful in 2002 when he implemented his own formula of all-vegetarian chicken feed, with corn and soybeans as the main ingredients.
Wei stressed that his poultry are “vegetarian-feed chickens,” as they are raised “without animal feed proteins, no animal fat additives and no growth hormones.”
He said that most of the poultry industry uses feeds that contain bone meal from animals and ground fish meal.
The bone meal, he said, is usually obtained from discarded hogs, cattle and sheep, and so “it is difficult to guarantee the safety of [meat from] the chickens feeding on this stuff.”
Wei said as far as using bone meal in feed is concerned, he is most afraid of the infectious agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, because even a cooking temperature of 120oC cannot eliminate it.
In fish meal, Wei is afraid of dioxin residues and other toxic chemicals that cannot be metabolized by animals and remain in their bodies, so if they end up in chicken feed, they enter the birds’ bodies and are transported to the people who eat those chickens.
Wei now operates a ranch in Houlung where he raises about 30,000 chickens. He is proud that all his poultry are “vegetarians from birth” and he feels happy to sell all the ranch’s produce — from eggs to “silkies” (black-boned chickens, 烏骨雞) and black-feathered chickens.
Since he does not use any antibiotics or medication, Wei’s chickens require more care than those from other poultry farms.
To gain a foothold in the burgeoning organic market, Wei started his own brand, Healthy Free-Range Chickens.
His brand of poultry products has obtained three main certifications — TAP, or Taiwan/Traceability Agricultural Product 農產品產銷履歷), Taiwan Native Chicken (台灣土雞) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), which is the primary food safety standard. With these three certifications, Wei’s chickens are becoming increasingly popular and are enthusiastically received in the organic market.
Wei said that the nutritional values of different types of chicken do not vary much, with the exception of silkies, which are highly favored by Taiwanese consumers.
“Meat from black-boned chickens contains twice the amount of iron found in other types. Their meat also contains a variety of trace elements and the meat is slightly alkaline,” he said.
As such, silkies are very suitable for women in postpartum care — the traditional month-long rest and recovery period for mothers following childbirth, that is customary in many Asian cultures, he said.
Wei’s advice to consumers is that before purchasing chickens, they should first take a good look at the bird — a rooster’s cockscomb should be red, while the skin should be yellowish and shiny.
If the skin is grayish-white or dark red in color, it may be a diseased chicken whose blood coagulated below the skin and could not be discharged when it was slaughtered, Wei said.
He also advised buyers to touch and feel the chicken’s skin — if it is sticky or oozes mucus, then most likely it is not fresh.
Wei recommended that consumers go to traditional wet markets to buy birds “as early in the day as possible,” because bacteria proliferate in warm temperatures and poultry meat left unrefrigerated in the heat of day may cause illness.