1.We don’t buy sexed chicks
It is common practice in the poultry industry to buy only male chicks, because those grow larger, faster, and have a larger breast meat section. This leads to female meat chicks to be “discarded” for animal food and/or other uses. I therefore buy unsexed chicks, which does decrease my feed efficiency by a very very small percentage, but I then have a wider variety of sizes to sell, making those looking for smaller framed birds pleased!
2.Maximum time on pasture = maximum animal welfare and meat quality
In an effort to separate ourselves from an industry where big players are known to market on technicalities – such as providing a 100sq ft ranging area for a 30,000 chicken barn, and calling it “free range” -, we use pasture to the fullest, because it is the best asset we have.
Having a chicken on pasture reduces (minimally, but everything counts) our feed costs, increases beneficial gut bacteria to improve digestion and overall health of the bird, and slows their growth a bit (relative to indoor farming) so that the skeletal and cardio-vascular system of the birds has time to catch up on the muscular growth today’s hybrid birds have. It also means these chicks have the ability to forage for their own grit and “plant medicine”, have the ability to eat bugs (such as grasshoppers) that they relish, and get to experience daylight cycles and sun exposure that creates a healthier bird.
And finally, pastured birds have lower fat content and higher muscle density as indoor-grown birds, which means that you get more nutrient-dense and nourishing food per weight than a factory-farmed bird.
3. Properly pastured birds improves the farm environment
When placed at the right density, and rotated through the pasture at the correct speed, chickens have the benefit of fertilizing the land and spreading seeds in a manner that promotes growth of grasses and disadvantages weeds. This basically means that the pasture is continually improved, all while fixing carbon into the soil and creating more food sources for animals. Ultimately, this means that I expect that starting in 2020, I will probably be forced to add a type of grazing animal to my farm (sheep or beef cattle) in order to keep the grasses low – otherwise tall, lush, grasses will have detrimental effect on the health of chickens. “Oh, darn…”
4. The farm shall remain off-grid and recycle/reuse as much materials as possible
While more of personal statement than an ethical one, we all acknowledge the environmental and financial costs of pollution, one way or another. In an effort to reduce my startup costs and carrying costs of the farm, our brooder is currently a repurposed recreational trailer that was converted into a chicken coop by the previous owners, and then purchased by us when those same owners retired. Our farm is completely off-grid, meaning power sources in the brooding stages come from a small gas generator, and all power when chickens are on pasture comes from solar panels. Water sources are being developed in 2018 to have access to both surface and hand-pumped well water.
And last but not least, the pasture will be partially planted in 2018 with trees! Trees will have the benefit of providing some shade to the chickens in the heat of summer (currently supplied artificially), provide direct and indirect food sources to humans, chickens, and wildlife, reduce perspiration aka increase drought resilience, reduce exposure to wind and rain, reduce avian predator pressure, and provide future income sources to our farm. There are multiple benefits to silvopasture systems, and I am looking forward to showcase them to Eastern Ontario customers and farmers.