Farming Practices for Meat Chickens
We are planning on raising 13-14 batches of broilers in 2018, each batch is approximately 500 chickens depending on customer order quantity. For meat birds we have exclusively been raising Red Rangers the last two years, a modern red hybrid breed descended from the French "Label Rouge" chickens.
We have chosen to raise this type of meat chicken as they are very hardy, excellent foragers, and grow more slowly than the traditional white cornish cross bird you find in the supermarkets. Because they grow more slowly they will have more flavor, we typically take them in for processing at 10 - 11 weeks, vs 6-7 weeks for the supermarket chickens. They have a smaller breast than the cornish cross and more dark meat
First Few Weeks
The life span of a modern broiler is short, only 10-11 weeks in a pasture setting for the Red Rangers and just about six weeks in an industrial confinement cornish cross.
In our pasture setting, we order the chicks from Freedom Ranger hatchery in Pennsylvania, and then we pickup the day-old chicks at the post office and then place them in the brooder greenhouses, where the first week we keep the temperature at 90 degrees. After about a week we open up the draft guard so the chicks can have the run of the entire greenhouse. Depending on the weather, we will move the chicks to the pastures when they are 2 - 3 weeks old.
Growing on Pasture
Once moved to pasture, the chickens will live outdoors for the remainder of their lives. They will have around-the-clock access to fresh growing green grass, clovers, alfalfa, weeds, and bugs to eat at all times. To ensure they are safe while on pasture, the chickens are housed inside a floorless 20'x36' portable greenhouse while on pasture, which is moved daily to fresh grass. The shelter has roll up sides to control temperature during the spring and fall, and to protect the chickens during adverse weather events. During the summer we generally remove the end walls for better air flow and also put a shade cloth on top of the shelter.
We feed a locally grown, certified-organic, soy-free, non-GMO feed mix provided by Cashton Farm Supply in Cashton, Wisconsin, which buys its organic grains and feedstocks from local Illinois and Wisconsiun farmers. We feed the chickens free choice out of range feeders that are filled up two times per day. Their organic feed mixture also includes Fertrell Nutribalancer, and organic mineral/probiotic supplement that keeps them healthy, along with granite grit which helps them digest the forage the collect from the pastures. We estimate 20% - 30% of their total diet consists of pasture forage - bluegrass, timothy grass, fescue, white clover, alfalfa, plus insects and seeds.
Environment and Handling
Between the brooder and their daily life on pasture, the chickens are free to express all of their natural instincts, including roosting, foraging, and dust bathing, which altogether makes for a low-stress natural living environment.
We currently process all of our broiler chickens, hens, and turkeys at Twin Cities Pack in Beloit, Wisconsin. Twin Cities is a small, family-owned processing facility that is USDA inspected. They will process whole chickens as well as cut-up chickens, and provide us with birds back that are vacuum sealed and fresh or frozen, depending on customer preference.