First, our chicks start in a brooder where we use their own bedding to their advantage. Our chicks are not vaccinated in any way. Instead we rely on nature to work that microbial wizardry. First you have to understand, chickens, much like humans, cows, dogs, and even chipmunks, all have an immune system. This immune system is like a muscle. Work it out, and it gets stronger. We do not want to overwhelm our chicks with any 1 strain of bacteria, virus or parasite. The secret, which seems to be a common pattern in nature, lies in diversity. In the microbial world, it’s the wild west! It’s a world where everything is eating and being eaten. Even at the microscopic level, life’s dance of predator and prey still exist. What this means is that we can stimulate the immune system in a gentle way. This is done in our brooders with a method called “deep litter.” By leaving old wood chips there and placing new on top, it creates an environment much like they would encounter in the natural world. It is rich in microbial life. When nitrogen from the birds manure meets the carbon in the wood chips, it creates a feeding ground for all kinds of good “bugs.” This is the key to our immune building in the chicks without vaccines or medications. Since we started this, our death rate has dramatically reduced and the health of our chickens is much improved. We can even see more evidence of this when we harvest the birds and take a look at the livers. Beautiful healthy organs are a sign that these birds were very healthy.
Once our birds are feathered out, they are able to self regulate their body temperature and are ready for the great outdoors. Chickens use feathers to keep warm or cool. This is why those cute little chicken sweaters you may see on pinterest is a bad idea.
In the pasture we use what’s called a chicken tractor. Named because, well it cuts the grass with a bunch of beaks as these shelters pass over it, much like a tractor does with its blades. Why the tractor’s and not free range? Short answer; it encourages freshness. If we leave the birds roam, meat bird species do not really roam too far. That means as they are eating up the grass and bugs, on day one, they will feast of the most appetizing yields of the paster, much like a child will eat a gallon of ice cream. Day 2, no more ice cream, so its on to the “liver and onions” of the pasture. By day 3, the nutrition is gone. That time line may be accelerated a bit depending on how many birds there are, but the same effect remains. The pasture in one area is stripped too fast and these breeds of chickens are not good at roaming out too far. Laying hens seem to do a little better, so we raise them differently. So to make sure our broilers are getting fresh pasture every day and not burning out the pasture, we move them every single day. It ensures freshness and they will never be lounging around in their own manure. That fresh grass, means they get to eat the “ice cream” of the pasture every day. This also acts as pruning for the grasses and kickstarts a fast regrowth cycle again. Also, the grass, bugs, sun (they do have shade too if they decide they’ve had enough sun) fresh air and diversity of soil life continues on what we started in the brooder. Healthy, happy chickens with no vaccines, medications or antibiotics.
Our chicken tractors are 12’x12′. That’s 144 sqft. We put about 90 birds in each tractor. That works out to 1.6 sqft per chicken. This number is no accident. 1.6 sqft of soil can metabolize the amount of nitrogen 1 chicken will squirt out its backside in 1 day. What’s also amazing is, 1.6sqft of land is also the same amount of land required to grow enough food to feed 1 chicken for 1 day. All the numbers balance. Over the course of their life they would have covered over 6,000 sqft of fresh pasture! The result is a healthy pasture, rich fertile soil, and grasses that load up our chickens with lots of beneficial nutrients.
GRAINS AND WATER
We feed grains that are grown by an organic amish farmer in Berlin PA. We make weekly trips to get his grain that is grown, harvested and ground on his farm. No chemicals are ever used in his fields. No GMOs are used. It’s clean, local grains. This is a mixture of wheat, barley, rye, corn, field peas, and more.
Our water is spring fed and has zero chemical treatments, such as chlorine and a very high alkalinity. Alkaline water offers a slew of health benefits, not just in people, but our birds too. It’s mineral rich and free of chemicals!
We are picky about what we give to our chickens. After all, you are what you eat, eats.
We use what’s called a Kosher Kill or Halal Kill. Companies like Whole Foods want their chickens gassed or electrocuted. Both of which cause harm to the birds, the meat and is not 100% effective. That means some birds will still be alive going into the next step. Let’s hope none of Whole Foods ethic customers hear about that. On our farm, we use kill cones, which is based on the idea from Temple Grandin. Temple is a prominent proponent for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter and author of more than 60 scientific papers on animal behavior. She has a brilliant mind and passionate heart. So here at Nature’s Grove Farm, we are proud to use her knowledge. Our kill cones calm the chickens down. This puts them at ease and their heart rate relaxes. This also stops hormones associated with stress from entering the meat. When we slice the artery in the neck, blood pressure to the brain is immediately dropped, causing the chicken to black out. This leaves their heart beating but they are essentially brain dead. This can be tested by checking for a reflex in the eye. This is a humane kill where we take care not to stress the birds and to make their passing painless.
Like we mentioned earlier, everything is eating and being eaten. This includes us. For life, there must be death. Even in the plant world. This is a cycle that continues, however we must earn the right to take that bird’s life, which will then bring sustenance to our bodies. Did we make the birds happy? Did we keep them healthy? Did we give them a life where we honor the “chickenness of the chicken?” We have to answer yes to those to earn that right.