We only raise chicken on pasture. That means that fresh chicken is essentially seasonal. We believe that it is better to sell a frozen bird that was raised on green grass, in the sunlight, and with the bugs and grub of the pasture, rather than keep them in a barn throughout the winter.
So all winter we have been working from a frozen inventory.
Now, however, we are finally getting our first Spring 2017 chickens in. This week we harvested over 2,000 birds at Pleasant Valley Poultry in Baltic. And based on the kill numbers, we have had a very successful first batch of birds. We elected to give them an extra week just in case it was too cool (in which case they grow slower), so we had some broilers dress out at over 7#!
Our birds start as day old peeps when they arrive to the farm. For the meat birds, we don’t have the ability to hatch our own like we do Thanksgiving turkeys and laying hens. As day old peeps, they must be kept very warm. So we built a peep shack – a 2,000 sf barn with radiant floor heat. There are three infared zone heaters as well, and we can keep the chicks at 95 degrees for the first week, then step the temperature down to 90 degrees, 85, and 75 degrees over the next 3 weeks. By week 4, they are ready to go on pasture.
Once on pasture, we put them in drag pens – often referred to as chicken tractors (pictured.) The pens are drug across open pasture – moved daily or twice per day depending on the age of the birds – to provide them fresh grass to eat and the bugs in the soil. The birds also get a diet of non-gmo corn and soybeans grown on the farm. At the end of the day, we estimate that about 30% of their diet is from pasture. The rest is from the feed. There is no such thing as a “grassfed” chicken, as chickens are non-ruminants and can’t survive entirely off of grass.
At the end of 8 to 9 weeks, the birds are caught in the cool of the night (also when they are asleep and not as hard to catch) and placed in harvest crates. The crates are loaded onto my trailer and the next morning at 6 AM they are processed.
Similarly, our laying hens also enjoy the green pastures. These ladies hit egg laying age (about 20 weeks) a few weeks back and were moved from the peep shack out to pasture as well. These mobile egg laying coups are moved around the pasture to allow the hens to cleanup the pastures – to eat the bugs out of piles of manure, to pluck seeds from the grasses, and forage for whatever they like.
At night, the laying hens go back into their shelter and perch for the night. When they need to nest to lay an egg, there are nesting boxes as well (in theory, they cooperate and use these, but in practice, not so much.) Twice per day farm workers go around to the nesting boxes and collect the eggs that are there. We often do another round to search for eggs in less, well, ideal places: under trucks, behind buildings, next to the hogs. Sometimes we’ll find a huge stash in a completely new spot!
This is cage free and free range to the nth degree. That’s why we call this “pasture raised.” We hope you appreciate the quality of our eggs and the hard work that goes into producing them.