Happy July 4th weekend! We have about 3,000 meat birds running around right now, anywhere from 7 days old to 70 days old. Add in about 70 turkey poults, and things are staying pretty busy here! We run our chickens in batches of 1,000 birds every 3 weeks so as an old batch is going to butcher we get a new batch in.
Raising chickens can be an equally frustrating and rewarding experience, and this year has been a perfect example of that. We start our broilers in the brooder for the first 3 weeks of their lives, which is an airtight, heated building that allows the chicks to develop in a controlled environment. At this stage chicks are very susceptible to many things-- the slightest breezes or dampness for example can be disastrous! When they are in the brooder it requires constant checking and adjusting each day to keep conditions perfect.
Once the chicks have started to develop feathers, they’re able to deal with temperature fluctuations and are moved out to pasture. The first week out on pasture is when the chicks are most vulnerable because they’re at the mercy of weather. This year has been especially frustrating on our end for this reason as we’ve had two terrible storms come through at the worst times, which were disastrous.
We run our chickens in what is called a “Day Range” system. This means that once out to pasture the broiler chickens are given a large section of pasture each week and allowed to freely roam. This is different than the Salatin (or movable pen model) where birds are in pens that are moved every day. We use the day range system because we believe that we get a healthier, more robust bird, and it’s a lot less labor each day. The only downside is catching them all on butcher day, which can be an adventure! A day range system also means that we have to keep predators away; we have our two Great Pyrenees guardian dogs patrolling around the chicken batches 24/7, which keeps out other animals.
We feed a certified Organic chicken feed from a local mill here in Wisconsin (with most of the grains also being grown right here in the state as well). A freshly mixed, high quality feed is really important to getting a great tasting chicken. Chickens are great foragers and they will actually eat grass in addition to their chicken feed. While foraging doesn’t do much for feeding the chickens, this grass helps add flavor to the meat and is why a pastured bird will have a distinctly better flavor than a grocery store chicken. There are a lot of small factors that also go into successfully raising pasture poultry, and if you’re ever out our way we’d love to show you in person!
Farming is really about learning from each experience. Raising chickens is no different. It takes vigilance and constant care, but we believe that a great chicken comes from a great farming environment!