Free-Range Pastured Chicken
Pasture raised chickens are available in area health food stores, right? Wrong! That organic "free-range" chicken you see in the health food store has probably never seen a blade of grass. The term "free-range" means that it has "access" to the out of doors. The typical health food store organic "free range" chickens are raised in concentration, dust and ammonia filled chicken houses just like any other grocery store chicken. Myron talked with the feed truck driver at an organic feed mill in Pennsylvania, who said that he rarely sees chickens in the outdoor run area next to the big chicken houses. Read more...
Our chickens are raised on grass pasture and have a much better taste than a conventional grocery store chicken. You might compare it to the difference between a garden fresh tomato and a hot house tomato. A new customer who ate one of our chickens said: "If this is chicken, what HAVE we been eating?" Pasture raised chicken has a slightly firmer meat texture (not tough) as opposed to mushy. Even the smell of the uncooked chicken is so different. In addition to pasture, the chickens are also fed a certified organic feed.
The chicks spend the first three weeks in a sunny brooder where they are kept warm. Then they are moved to a large airy shelter in the pasture. Each morning the doors are opened on the shelter and the chickens go outside to enjoy the fresh green grass, insects, and sunshine. During the middle of the day they usually go into the shade of the shelter to rest and eat a lunch of organic chicken feed. Towards evening as it gets cooler, they again range out in the pasture looking for a tasty "salad". At dusk they again return to their shelter and the doors are closed to protect them from foxes, owls, and other night predators.
Health benefits of eating our organically fed, pasture raised chickens
You receive the health benefits of a chicken that was nutritionally fed organically raised grains as opposed to grains raised by chemical stimulation in mineral depleted soils. In addition, the chickens' feed includes an organic mineral suppliment containing 60 trace minerals. From a visual perspective, the processed chickens have a more yellow fat from the grass that was consumed, similar to the darker yolk color of pasture raised eggs. The fat in cooked chicken broth is also noticeably more yellow.
What you don't get: A chicken that was raised breathing fecal dust and ammonia in a conventional chicken house 24/7 its entire life. The chicken will not have received any antibiotics, growth stimulators, genetically modified grains, pesticide laden and chemically produced feed, synthetic vitamins or feed ingredients, or arsenic to be passed on to you. Because the chickens have not received any of these things, the chicken livers are not loaded with toxins and are good to eat. You will find that the chicken livers from our pasture raised chickens are tastier and not nearly as "dry" tasting as conventional chicken livers. You may find that they are the first chicken livers that you liked.
We process the broilers here on the farm as whole birds. You can pick them up fresh on the processing day of your choice each month throughout the summer and fall.
I'll NEVER Raise Chickens!
By Myron Horst
I grew up in Old Town Gaithersburg wishing my parents had a farm and wishing that someday I could have a farm of my own. But that dream seemed an impossibility.
While in college in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I worked on a dairy and chicken farm one spring and summer. One of my jobs was taking care of 75,000 broiler chickens. I hated chickens. I decided, "I'll NEVER raise chickens".
Factory farm photo courtesy of FactoryFarming.com
Factory farm photo courtesy of FactoryFarming.com
The dream of having my own farm became a reality about 10 years ago when my wife and I, through providential provision, were awarded a lease for a 25 acre farm owned by Montgomery County. The first several years were spent renovating the beautiful old house. Then we wondered what we should do with the rest of the farm. About that time we were introduced to the concept of raising chickens and eggs on pasture rather than in chicken houses. We knew right away that raising chickens and eggs on pasture was what we should do. Each year since, we have become more convinced that we made the right decision as we see new proofs of the health benefits of eating chicken and eggs raised on pasture. The man who said he would never raise chickens is now a committed chicken farmer! Never say "never"!
We didn't realize when we started farming that there was a huge learning curve in starting a farming operation. My experience working on a conventional chicken farm was of little value. We have lost thousands of dollars through mistakes, losses through predator kills, and through experimenting with various methods of doing things in an attempt to find the best method. We found that there is a huge labor cost (having six children is a big help). We discovered that much of the current information about raising chickens on pasture is from people who are still experimenting with things themselves, or who have failed and are no longer farming. So we went to the Library of Congress and researched in old books on how chickens were raised 100 years ago when most chickens were out on range. Little by little, using new technology and old, we have put together a system that we are very pleased with.
Our laying hens have access to the out of doors whenever they want 24 hours a day in a secure fenced picnic area attached to their range shelter, where the feeders are. The hens lay their eggs in a nest house attached to their range shelter. Each nest has a modern Astro Turf type mat that allows the eggs to roll out into a tray where they are gathered later in the day. Each day, unless it is wet or there is snow on the ground, we open a gate that allows the hens to go out in the pasture and eat fresh grass and bugs to their heart's content. During the middle of the day, they lounge around in the shade of a tree or in their range shelter. Later in the day they again go out in the pasture and look for a tasty grass salad to go with their organic chicken feed. Our hens are happy hens!