If there’s one thing we like around here more than bacon, it’s fresh, wholesome pastured poultry. Our meat chickens are nearly free range. We use portable, movable, Salatin style pens to ensure that they have maximum access to rejuvenating sunlight, fresh country air, and all the bugs they could ever want- in every shape and size! Somewhat surprising to many, our chickens eat a rather large volume of grasses and forbs and especially the tender clovers. Our pens are moved daily, and sometimes twice a day depending on the time of year, the age of the birds, weather conditions, and health of the soil. It’s a satisfying image watching the feathered friends devour the dew-laden clover in the morning.
Each year, we buy chicks from the hatchery, and they arrive at our farm as day-old chicks. Once they are home, Nathaniel and I carefully and quickly dip their little chick beaks into the waterer and feed. This introduction helps the chicks associate with where their food and water is. They are then moved under the heat lamps to adjust to their new home, stretch out, and get comfy. It doesn’t take long before the babies have full bellies, have quenched their thirst, and their loud cheeps turn into low chirp as the stretch out under the heat lamps and get some rest.
After a few weeks in the brooder house, the birds begin to feather out and they become more resilient to fluctuating springtime weather conditions. Around four to five weeks, depending on weather and the chicks progress, they get relocated into their movable pens in the pastures. They spend their next 6-8 weeks in these moveable pens. They are moved every single day and often twice as they get larger. The last trip they take is from the fields to a farm up the road with wonderful facilities and handle all of our birds. They come entirely cleaned, plucked, packaged in vacuum sealed bags, labeled, and frozen as whole birds. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a tastier bird around.
Most people are familiar with the Cornish Cross meat birds that have become popular with grass-based farmers. We have raised them in the past and will do so again in the future, as they are a delicious bird. More and more, however, we lean towards the Freedom Ranger breed of chickens. Not only does the bird sound patriotic and marvelous, but they outperform anything else out there. These birds take a little longer to raise on pasture than the Cornish Cross but exhibit hardly any of the health issue associated with Cornish Cross. They are by no means couch potatoes. They are just as active and lively as our laying hens. The only delicate thing about these birds is their meat when it comes out of the oven.