Chickens: The Meat and The Bones About It
Our Broiler Chickens:
We work with the Cornish Cross breed of chickens; which is a cross achieved by breeding Cornish chickens with Plymouth White chickens. It is similar to the chicken we are all used to seeing in the grocery store, they have a great visual appeal and nice growth rate, and the lovely large double chicken breasts we all enjoy so much. We purchase our pullets (baby chicks) from a Michigan coop, we support as local as possible whenever we can. It isn't always easy as there are very few chick hatcheries in the state and we have not ventured into hatching our own chicks. Maybe one of these days.
We have looked at other breeds such as the Freedom Rangers that are now gaining popularity, for now we are happy with the heritage breed cross and making changes and better choices in how they are raised and cared for to have happy, healthier animals. The Freedom Ranger chickens alone are three times the price, they take longer to grow, and they have a more traditional narrower breast. They can also tend to be fattier rather than putting on healthy meat weight.
Welcome to Northern Michigan where it can frost all the way into June. Chickens do not like or do well in cold and wet weather. So we wait for the weather to clear for the chicks so it does limit our window to raise them because we want them to be able to be out on pasture rather than cooped up in a barn. We start in late May with our first round of chicks. They spend two weeks in the brooder box with warmth, water and food while they grow and feather out. It also gives us a chance to give them a little extra tender loving care and keep a tight eye on them. We use a locally produced pullet grower and after two weeks we move them to chicken tractors.
We compete with predators including hawks, foxes, eagles and the like, so for their safety we have mobile chicken tractors. They have shelter when they need it, as well as supplemental food and water. Because they are so fast growing we also supplement their water with chick saver and also top dress their feed with supplements like brewers yeast based on the flocks' needs. They are like high octane cars and require a lot of nutrition and vitamins to keep them happy and healthy. The tractors are moved daily through our field so they get sunshine, tall grasses, bugs and all sorts of other treats but are never in one area long enough to decimate it and they can still meander around in safety. It's also a great way to prep the ground as we continue to revitalize our pasture areas and keep the bugs at bay.
Grocery Store Labeling/Buzz Words?
There are a lot of buzz words around food these days and so we thought we would help weed through some of it. We get asked often about our chickens and have chosen to be open, anyone is welcome to come walk our farm with us and see how we do things and you are always more than welcome to talk with us as markets and ask questions. Each certification costs money and we would rather be open and invest our money into the welfare of our livestock instead of the ability to add a word to our products labels.
Terms like ‘natural’ on labels actually have no agency monitoring the use of the term and anyone can use the label, you can use it even if you do not have natural practices.
Free Range means that the animal may have access to the outdoors. There is nothing requiring the chicken to be outside at all. They may actually never choose to wander outside.
Free roaming and cage free are similar, it just means that they are not in cages but can be housed tightly together in barns and never see the outside world.
So What About Organic?
Organic as a label has more requirements than the others previously mentioned. Certified organic means the animal is fed organic feed. It does not include the welfare of the animal and honestly for that you need to know everything the animal could have come into contact with or eaten so they need to be monitored and restricted.
Let’s talk Hormones:
Hormones are not permitted in chicken and turkey production by law. If you compare conventionally raised chickens to ones labeled ‘Hormone Free’ there is no difference. Hormones are often used in large farm and feedlot beef and pork production but not poultry. We use none on our farm for any of our animals.
Eating farm fresh products raised on pasture is much healthier for you, the land and of course the animals. Many of those benefits are lost when consuming conventionally grown chicken compared to that raised on pasture. Here are just some of the health benefits reported to be higher in pasture raised foods. The Omega 3 is much higher as well as lower in omega 6. Vitamin E content is higher, and higher vitamin D. Pasture raised chickens are raised in a humane manner, the quality of feed the chickens consume is higher and they get to be out and be happy chickens which means they are full of nutrients and flavor.