What is Pastured Chicken?
Pastured chickens are raised outside in fresh air and sunshine on fresh green growing pasture, in small groups, protected by large pens which are moved onto new ground often to encourage ingestion of green material. They are not only outside but on green grass. It is the movement that is essential to raising the nutrient profile as a chicken will quickly scratch up the area around where it stays.
A bit of history…
Long ago…in the days before there were refrigerators and freezers, most poultry was raised on pasture. Most farms raised a small backdoor or kitchen yard flock for eggs and meat. Production followed nature in that the birds hatched their young in the spring, raised them through summer into autumn and the excess was harvested and stored for winter or sold as a cash crop. Only a few young laying hens and a rooster or two were over wintered for the next year’s cycle. This system was efficient enough for the birds to perpetuate themselves and there was extra enough to encourage some use of limited resources for their husbandry; but not much! A chicken dinner was cause for celebration.
Around the turn of the last century things began to change. Steam, electric and combustion engine power came to the farm. Man power and horse power were replaced by machines and men moved to town. Birds began to be raised inside for year-round production, and men began to think in terms of “conquering” nature. On the farm, things got bigger and bigger. By the end of the twentieth century one man could grow not hundreds, or thousands, but tens or hundreds of thousands of confined birds with very little labor. Economies of scale allowed large fortunes to be made. Chickens made it into bologna, fast food restaurants and gas stations.
But where there were advances, there were also setbacks. Things had gotten bigger and faster, but often not better. Living conditions inside crowded chicken houses became marginal because the waste matter from so many birds was also being concentrated. Ammonia caused respiratory problems and fecal dust coated everything. All sorts of things were added to feed to try to overcome problems caused by the unnatural conditions. Whole regions in which poultry operations surrounded huge vertically integrated chicken factories began to smell. Once beautiful byways became littered with feathers, and dangerously high levels of nutrients began to show up in streams and ground water. Farmers no longer controlled the birds they grew and lost touch with local markets. Meanwhile, consumers understandably lost track of those who grew their food, since on average, it had changed hands six times and traveled eighteen hundred miles getting to them. Along the way, chicken became a commodity that lost not only its identity but also its quality and flavor.
What is the difference between “free ranged” and “pastured poultry?
We pastured poultry growers do not wish to contribute to the local fox population, so our small flocks are moved daily in large bottomless shelters to graze fresh growing pasture. The shelters protect chickens from predators, while allowing all the advantages of exercise, small groupings, fresh air and green forage. Unlike “free range” our pastured birds are never allowed back onto their own droppings, thus naturally breaking parasitic cycles without the use of drugs or dangerous chemicals. Some commercial “free range” chickens only “have access” to pasture, but because of crowding, may actually never get outside.
What are the benefits of pastured poultry?
Small natural sized groupings, constant access to fresh, green growing pasture and fresh air and sunshine reduce stress on chickens allowing them to mature naturally. No residue from pesticides, drugs or other chemicals is possible since none are needed or ever used. All this, coupled with exercise and greens in the diet, substantially increase the nutritional value of pasture poultry, particularly in Omega-3 Fatty Acids and in Vitamin A, with a significant reduction of total fat content. Best of all, these chickens have excellent texture and taste. Those who say that anything without much flavor “tastes sort of like chicken” have forgotten what real chicken is like.
What is the difference between pastured chicken and factory birds?
It takes extra time, extra labor and extra feed to produce meat on pasture, but the resulting better nutrition and delicious flavor are well worth the cost. No longer so you have to worry about arsenic in your chicken (yes I really mean it) or other antibiotics. Small flock sizes allow us to prevent disease rather than control it through routine antibiotic use. They are allowed fresh air from outside, no ammonia filled living quarters. As an omnivore just like humans, they need variety in their diet and this is provided through nature where good grass and yummy bugs can be found to supplement their grain ration.
Is Pastured Poultry “organic”?
The “organic” label is now a legal word game of government and big agri-business. USDA even allows old frozen birds to be called “fresh” so long as they haven’t been frozen below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, birds raised in high stress factory houses, but fed politically correct rations, may use the “organic” moniker (upon payment of the proper fee).
By closely mimicking nature, by paying careful attention to the source and quality of our feed and by keeping small flocks moving outside on grass, we produce chicken far superior in flavor, texture and healthfulness to birds with fancier names.
Is Our Pastured Poultry “organic”?
We have yet to certify our farm though we may move in that direction as we grow. We do offer our pastured chicken fed certified organic grains and we also offer the chicken fed natural grains which are specially mixed to avoid the bad stuff but do contain conventional non GMO grains at a cost savings. You are allowed to know and choose what is best for your family without wondering what you are getting. Please ask if you have any questions!
Why is fresh pastured chicken only available seasonally?
We are blessed to have four good seasons. In the northern hemisphere the shortest days of the year occur late in December. During January, chickens raised outside react to lengthening daylight by starting up their reproductive cycles in anticipation of the season to come. By February they are laying fertile eggs which begin hatching in March, right in time for the first green grass of spring. From the living earth, grasshoppers, crickets, earthworms and myriad other organisms emerge to brighten the table of the hen and her chicks. The chickens scratch the sod and move on, leaving behind a rich natural fertilizer which is immediately taken up by growing vegetation. As springtime advances the chicks continue to grow with the earliest hatches reaching market weight just as summer arrives. In the warm months we have long days and weather amenable to harvesting and processing this natural abundance. This is the time for us to be stocking up for winter!
We believe in taking advantage of the good growing season and working in concert with nature. As our business grows we will work to have more storage available to carry product through the cold months. The best scenario is to have your freezer full by fall to carry you through until June when we first begin to harvest our pastured chicken!
If we were to try to buck nature by growing birds out of season we would be faced with all manner of (unnecessary) problems. Water lines would freeze, our hands would chap and we would have to get up to tend chickens before dawn in the wind and snow. Artificial light and heat would have to be supplied and we would be forced to forgo the many natural advantages which make our birds so superior to the supermarket’s factory chickens.
A bit of philosophy…
Our aim is to work with nature, not against it, to produce the healthiest and tastiest birds possible. We believe that we all profit from a close relationship with the land, with our neighbors (who are our friends and customers) and with future generations who should not be asked to clean up our mess. This runs one hundred eighty degrees counter to an industry whose only goal is to maximize profits.
How can I procure a supply of this home grown fresh pastured chicken?
Small family farm pastured poultry operations exist in many regions. Ask at your local farmer’s market. If someone is selling local “free ranged” or “organic” eggs they may know of a supplier near you. You want to find a grower who is close enough for you to become friends. You usually save money by picking up your birds in bulk at the farm. Expect to see how your food is raised and processed. Ask questions. Get involved. It’s your food supply!
If you live in Central Indiana then we may be your best source for fresh pastured chicken and we encourage you to try our birds. You are invited to contact us by telephone or email. To order, visit our products page and locate the order form at the bottom.