2019 Pastured Chickens
In years past we had raised broiler chickens for ourselves, some family and friends. But how we raised them was extremely different to how we raised them this year. So, none the less it was a very different learning experience for us.
I had been discussing with my dad that we should raise some broiler chickens this year to offer more to our customers. Besides adding chickens for diversity of meat products for our customers, we also added them for diversity for our pastures.
We had decided to model our broiler chicken enterprise after Joel Salatin. With this system we build "chicken tractors" to put in our pasture and follow our sheep grazing to help with fly management and increase fertility to our grass without using synthetic fertilizers, and just using the chicken manure. Through this method the chickens are able to pick through the grass and eat bugs and grass etc. This helps enhance the health of the bird, along with producing a healthier meat quality.
In the past when we raised broiler chickens we raised them inside a barn and on a dirt floor and pumping them full of grain. We were pretty much copying every other industrial sized chicken operation just on a smaller scale. We wanted them to grow as big as possible as fast as they could. We thought we were making a great tasting product that was farm raised. Which was true, but we weren't thinking holistically at the time.
Since we changed our operation to think more holistically to work with nature rather than against it, we decided to change how we raised our chickens!
With the holistic mindset and managing for healthier soil, comes a different learning curve on how to raise animals when they are no longer in confinement. This year we decided to start with 50 chickens to see how it went raising them on pasture and use our power of observation and learn as much as we could!
First we needed a spot to brood our chicks. A brooder is necessary to keep our chicks warm and cozy, basically we make a makeshift mama for them! We had a portable insulated barn that we used to lamb in back in the day. It was the perfect opportunity to create our brooder. We had already temporary pens set up, so a little TLC and we had our brooder.
After the chicks were about 4 weeks old and had fully feathered out enough that they could stay warm being outside without heat lamps, they were ready to go in the chicken tractor. We built 2 chicken tractors that were 8'x12'. One of these would hold our 50 chickens and the other would hold our turkeys. The purpose of the chicken tractor is so that we could move our chickens every day to new fresh grass. But most importantly to protect them from predators as well.
Usually in confinement it would take around 8 weeks to get our chickens from chicks to maturity. We knew raising them on pasture would take a little bit longer since they weren't on full grain diets. Although with poultry they do need a supplement of grain seeds to get the nutrients they need and so that their organs (mainly their gizzard) works properly. So, we had some seed cleanings from our last years wheat crop that we used for our grain supplement which is a Non-GMO grain supplement. The one thing we learned though is that since our chickens were on grass and not on a dirt floor they needed access to "Grit" to break down what they ate to process nutrients. (Grit, are rocks that poultry eat to break down food in their gizzard) We figured this out a little late, which was okay and the chickens were still healthy but they just took a little bit longer to finish.
Another observation we made was that once our chickens were butchered their fat is more of a dark yellow/gold color. Which if anyone has ever had wild Pheasant, it really reminded me of their fat. I have also seen this with all other grass-fed or pasture raised animals as well. Cows will have more of a yellow fat when they are grass finished vs. grain finished. When chickens lay free range eggs their yolks are almost orange rather than a very dull yellow. When I was a young kid in 4-H I had done a research project on the difference in pasture raised eggs vs. factory farm eggs. The pasture raised eggs were higher in Omega 3's and Fatty Acids. Which we need for being healthier humans. So, we are thinking that our pasture raised broilers are also carrying those same traits. We are literally taking the nutrients of the land and putting them into our food for healthier people.
Below are pictures of the process on how we started our chickens to the finished product.
If you are interested in learning more about our pasture raised chickens or are interested in purchasing any please let us know! We have a limited supply this year, but if we have a high demand we will raise some more next year!
Thanks for reading!
Brad Schmidt (The oldest son)
The beginnings of building the brooder.
The completed brooder.
The chickens first day in the brooder!
The beginnings of our chicken tractor.
The day we finished our first chicken tractor.
Our finished chicken tractor set in the field, awaiting chickens.
Our chickens enjoying their time out on the pasture!
As you can see the fat on our pasture raised chickens is "yellower" than normal.