For years I have been on a quest to find eggs and chicken raised in the most humane way possible. I used to buy free range and organic chicken until I realize that those terms meant little when it came to how chickens were raised. Most “free range” chickens spend no time outdoors. Instead they are most likely chickens raised in broilers in crowded conditions. And all “organic chicken” means is that the chickens are fed organic feed. And practically any chicken you buy in a supermarket and even a farmers market is a cornish-cross chicken which has a voracious appetite and does nothing but eat and sit around all day. They eat so much and gain weight so rapidly that many of them break their legs when they try to walk, and others get so fat that they get around by pushing themselves on their overdeveloped breasts.
I wanted something else. I wanted chicken which had a wonder life outdoors.
Back in 2006 I started raising chicks and when those hens matured and started laying eggs, I realized that the way to have the most delicious eggs possible was to give hens as much space as possible. I realized that what hens need to create vibrant eggs was lots of exercise, lots of sunshine, and gardens and pasture and woodland to explore.
Then in 2009 one of the chicks grew up to be a rooster and in the spring of 2010, while away on vacation, Madeleine, a Barred Rock hen, began sitting on a clutch of her eggs she’d stashed in a nest underneath a porch. When they hatched and I got to see how much the chicks loved having a mother and how devoted she was to raising her brood, I realized that chicks really need their mothers.
Since then I’ve had mother hens hatch and raise broods every year. I’ve also come to realize that if you really want the most delectable, most favorable, most incredible chicken possible, you need to let chickens take their time to hatch and raise their chicks. It takes many months for these chickens to grow up, but the wait is worth it.
After being raised for several months by their mothers, these chicks roam acres of pasture and forest, taking four to six months and more until they are fully mature. But the end result is a roasting chicken of a quality unavailable anywhere else.
These chickens spend their whole day rummaging through grass and brush looking for good things to eat. Their favorite foods are earthworms, bugs, field mice, berries, and grapes. I supplement their diet with certified organic grains and feed.
Since they get so much exercise, most of their meat is on their legs and thighs. Their meat is dense and incredibly juicy when roasted. Their fat is a brilliant yellow. Their bones are like ivory. They are extremely healthy birds and their meat shows this.
I only raise a limited quantity each year. At no time does the density of my chickens exceed 50 birds per acre. Usually it is much less than that. When you buy chickens raised in broilers, even so called “free range” chicken, those birds are raised 20,000 to 40,000 birds per acre. And many of the “pastured” chickens which are sold are raised in chicken tractors measuring no more than 10 x 20 feet into which farmers place 35 to 70 chickens. The chicken tractors are moved so the chickens have new pasture, but at no time do the chickens get to travel more than 20 feet in any direction. The chickens I raise are free to roam as far as they want. There is nothing to constrict them from taking a walk through the woods or traveling to the far corner of the pasture.
I know of no one else who is raising chicken this way. You won’t believe how good they taste.
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