More critters will be arriving this spring at our farm (besides a batch of lambs.) They will have a relatively short stay. As famous Virginia farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms says…
They’ll only have one bad day…
We’re going to raise meat chickens this year. We’ve been eager to try raising our own chickens for meat, but didn’t want to take on too many projects in our first couple of years.
This year we’re ready.
This winter we’ve been busy building a chicken “tractor” based on the abovementioned Joel Salatin’s design. It’s so nice to have the space on the main floor of the barn for large building projects. You just have to be sure that what you build will fit through the doors when it’s finished!
Today the tractor was completed!
Roy is happy.
For those not familiar with the concept of chicken tractors, it is just a moveable, bottomless cage that is dragged around with the chickens inside from place to place on the pasture. The idea is that the animals can forage on grass, weeds and insects while they fertilize! It’s a win-win situation!
While we’ve been waiting to begin this new project, we’ve been trying to decide what type of bird to raise. Most commonly raised meat chickens are what you would probably find at your local supermarket – a hybridized Cornish Rock cross. These chickens are almost scary in how fast they grow! In just 8 short weeks they are ready for processing. They taste great and are quite adequate for both the backyard poultry producer and the Purdue poultry factories.
What’s the tradeoff? Well, these birds grow so obscenely fast that they are prone to keeling over from various diseases. You have to feed them very carefully. They also aren’t the best foragers, as they’ve primarily been developed for confinement rearing. We were covinced that there must be a viable alternative, and we were so pleased to learn that this alternative is not only available, but they are raised and sold locally by a poultry hatchery owned by a man who, amazingly enough, used to work at our farm about 25 years ago.
Ok – let me clarify. He didn’t actually work at Morning Star Meadows. Gary Proctor, of GourmAvian Farms in Bolton, CT, worked here when our farm was owned and operated by Arbor Acres Poultry, a huge, now international company that dealt in poultry genetics (of Cornish Rock crosses, no less!) Our backyard used to be home to thousands of chickens years ago! It was completely serendipitous that we found Gary. I wanted to buy our chicks here in CT — partly to keep business local, and more practically to save shipping costs and shipping stress on the chicks. When we settled on a breed I started to look at local hatcheries and found Gary. When Roy spoke to him and told him where we lived, we assumed he’d know about Arbor Acres, but never dreamed that he had actually worked here (as did his father!)
So – back to the broiler breed we chose. We discovered a meat bird that takes a couple of extra weeks to grow before processing – a red broiler that originates from Italy, actually (that HAS to make it good, right?!) It’s called the Kosmos K22 broiler. Tradeoff — a couple more weeks of feed to pay for to achieve the same sized bird as the Cornish cross. But this breed is a more natural forager, much better suited for pasturing, with less health issues. And because it grows a bit more slowly, it is touted to have a better, more traditional old style taste and texture, like our grandparents would have eaten in the Old Country!
So we’re looking forward to the arrival of our 50 chicks in May (after the craziness of lambing is over!) It will be fun for the kids to raise these birds from chicks, although Gary does actually sell 3 wk old birds as well as mature birds ready for processing.
I’m also looking forward to filling the freezer with our own meat in July on that “one bad day”!