The ASPCA has recently launched a campaign "The Truth about Chicken" which
is exposing the facts about how chickens are raised in the factory farm
model and they are actively promoting slower growing breeds instead of
the industry standard, Cornish Cross.
quote from the ASPCA website "In 1925, it took 16 weeks to raise a
chicken to 2.5 pounds. Today, chickens weigh double that in just six
So for all the genetic improvement
over the last 80 plus years we can definitely see a big part of the
focus was get the birds to slaughter weight as fast as possible.
Which begs the question: How fast is too fast?
In this case if you were to compare the growth rate of a human to that of a modern day broiler chicken you would find According
to the University of Arkansas, if humans grew at a similar rate, a
6.6-pound newborn baby would weigh 660 pounds after two months.
You have to admit, that's pretty fast by anyone's standards!
At Spring Hill Farms we
have been raising Label Rouge broilers since they have been available
in the United States. Although these birds grow slower than Cornish
Cross, they are faster than a chicken in 1925.
Of course this type of "exposure" about what's going on in the poultry industry causes some very fervent emotions. The last time I checked there were about 300 comments on the ASPCA's blog where they announced the launch of The Truth about Chicken.
Before this campaign was launched I was contacted by the ASPCA to inquire if I would allow them to use a quote from my blog about what I felt was wrong with Cornish Cross chickens. You can read that blog post here.
be honest with you...I was hesitant at first because I really had no
idea what the ASPCA stood for when it came to livestock welfare. After a
conversation with them and reading through their website I felt that
they have a fairly balanced approach to livestock issues.
Many of the humane and cruelty type organizations have a "do not eat meat" mindset. I obviously wouldn't agree with that type of philosophy.
Of course I believe high welfare standards are a very central part of raising livestock.
See I don't believe that the fastest growth rate obtainable for poultry or any other livestock is the number one one factor.
I believe that high welfare standards should come first followed by nutritional quality of the meat, flavor profiles, sustainability, etc.
A small farm that is ran right should reflect a place:
that cares about animals
provides food that helps keep you healthy
is responsible to the environment
I signed the petition for The Truth about Chicken and I urge you to do so also.
you are a small farmer let people know you believe the industrial
poultry farm model is not the way to raise chickens. If you're using
Cornish Cross birds on your small farm stop using them and get something better suited to the small farm model.
If we take a stand on these issues through organizations like the ASPCA and stop supporting the commercial poultry industry with our dollars things will begin to change.
the very least we'll be able to sleep a little better at night knowing
we are doing something to help facilitate change where it is needed
When I first started raising pastured poultry I used the standard Cornish Cross birds that are used in commercial operations. I explain why I stopped raising them here.
Many pastured poultry farmers use these birds because they are convinced that no other bird compares. This blog on Dr Mercola's site is an interview with Joel Salatin. To me, Joel is one of the great pioneers of sustainable farming of our time.
You'll notice that Joel uses these Cornish Cross birds as well. His contention about using anything else the last time I heard him speak about it was that no other bird could be successfully raised at a profit.
For the most part that is true. However Freedom Ranger birds like we raise here at Spring Hill Farms not only can compete with the Cornish Cross, in some ways they are actually better.
Number one - They are a more active bird than Cornish Cross birds. This means the meat is firmer and has more texture than a bird that for the most part lays around and eats.
Number two - Freedom Rangers consume more green material than Cornish Cross birds hands down.
Number three - This makes for a bird that is healthier and has a better flavor profile.
My personal opinion is Joel has it figured out when it comes to the pastured poultry model but we differ on what bird is best to use.
If you want the best chicken you can eat that you know is healthy for you, find a farmer that uses these methods and Freedom Ranger birds . If you're around central Ohio, try Spring Hill Farms pastured poultry, you'll be glad you did!
I recently read the story of the youngest farmer to receive the Animal Welfare Approved certification.
Meet 12 year old Shelby Grebenc of Broomfield Co.
According to the article in the Animal Welfare Approved newsletter,
she has 130 laying hens. She has named her farm Shelby's Happy Chapped
Butt Chicken Farm because she says since folks can see her farm from the
road people sometimes drop off chickens. She found a an empty box one
day with chickens running around. They had no tail feathers and looked
pretty sore so it seemed fitting.
Shelby started her farm
when she was 10 years old by approaching her grandmother for a $1,000
loan to start a pasture raised egg business.
stemmed from the situation at hand, her mother Nancy who has multiple
Sclerosis was in a nursing home and Shelby wanted to expand the family's
Shelby, my hat is off to you and I wish you well in everything you endeavor to do at your farm.
blockbuster new scientific study shows that a transition to organic
animal production methods that don’t use antibiotics can reduce levels
of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms.
This is the first
U.S. study to provide on-farm data on the impacts of removing
antibiotics from large-scale poultry CAFOs (confined animal feeding
Researchers from the University of Maryland and the
Food and Drug Administration measured levels of antibiotic-resistant
bacteria in poultry litter, water, and feed samples from 10
conventional poultry operations and 10 newly-organic operations of
similar size. (Under organic certification rules, producers are not
allowed to use antibiotics.) The newly antibiotic-free organic farms
had much lower rates of resistant bacteria compared to the conventional
farms, demonstrating that the reduction in antibiotic use can
immediately lower the levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on
The study was released in the midst of a massive food
safety recall of ground turkey contaminated with antibiotic-resistant
salmonella. That incident, involving 36 million pounds of ground turkey
produced by agribusiness giant Cargill, sickened some 111 consumers.
Read the full study here, and learn more about the turkey recall here.
I have long been a proponent of eggs from pastured hens.
Eggs get a bad rap many times but the truth is they are a great source of:
Nine essential amino acids
of the highest quality proteins you can find. Proteins are nutrients
that are essential to the building, maintenance and repair of your body
tissues such as your skin, internal organs and muscles. They are also
the major components of your immune system and hormones
Lutein and zeaxanthin (for your eyes)
Choline for your brain, nervous- and cardiovascular systems
Naturally occurring B12
routinely eat my eggs raw but for many that is not something they are
ready to do unless they are really a committed health fanatic!
very handy though, I can have two or three raw eggs and some fresh
vegetable juice for lunch and be back to work in ten minutes.
I'm in a hurry in the morning I can crack a couple of eggs into a mug
and two swallows later my breakfast is over and I'm out the door!
I would not recommend doing this with store bought eggs regardless of pastured, free range or otherwise. The risk of salmonella is very real.
Here's a list of the top 10 super foods for your health. How many are you consuming?
are heavy consumers of antibiotics in mainstream agriculture. The
establishment has assured us for years that it is not really a health
hazard. The reside left in the chickens is harmless. Yea, right.
I wonder why The United States Department of Agriculture has a team of
scientist working on introducing what they call "competitive exclusion
cultures." They introduced these cultures of 29 different bacterial
species into farm raised chickens as part of their diet and then exposed
them to salmonella. They found that chickens exposed to the bacterial
culture had 99 percent less salmonella colonization than unexposed
chickens according to Discover Magazine, March 2011.
Interesting! I blogged
on this very topic a while back. I'd love to think the USDA scientist
read my blog but the truth is, as always, public outcry over several studies that have been done in the last several years have consumers getting worried about antibiotic residue in their food.
coupled with the deluge of antibiotic resistant bacterias that are
surfacing (which is what prompted the studies no doubt) not only in
livestock but humans as well have scientist worried.
So many consumers have been opting out of the antibiotic laced factory farmed chicken and buying from a small farm that doesn't dose their chickens with medicated feed.
don't be fooled. The USDA is trying to figure out a new way to leave
chickens in huge confinement barns and not have to dose them with
antibiotics. Granted it is better to have confinement poultry that is
antibiotic free than what is available now.
I wonder if they can come up with something besides Roxarsone (an organic version of arsenic) as a growth promoter? I seem to do fine without putting it in my chicken feed.
me this whole thing is just proof that you can't rely on regulations
and inspectors to make sure your food is healthy and safe.
from a local farm. Visit the farmer and ask questions. A good local
farmer has no secrets about what they feed their stock and how it's
At Spring Hill Farms
I have been growing good bacteria for our animals to ingest for a long
time. Maybe that's one reason why I never have a need for a
I'm constantly looking for new and free (or cheap) protein sources for chickens. Obviously for us here at Spring Hill Farms it also has to pass clean food test as well. I'm not of the mind that "free" is good no matter what.
reading Newman Turners book FERTILITY FARMING. which I highly recommend
by the way, I came across a section on poultry. Newman makes the
statement that " hens will generally mop up all the food which one is able to allow them, even when on free range."
If you have chickens you can say a big "amen" to that. Chickens have a high metabolism and therefore a big appetite.
also says that he found birds ranging on high fertility soil that
contained good quantities of hummus ate less feed. Especially on oat or
He writes, "They
would usually come to meet me when I arrived with the food which in
the semi-confinement of folds they would consume to the last morsel,
but after pecking away at it for a while they would wander off to their
obviously far more palatable and juicy soil organisms -- worms,
insects, and much that was invisible to the human eye -- which they
were getting from the humus-rich soil without overmuch scratching. If
it weren't that I am sure there is much in compost and humus-rich soil
which the hen eats, and which I am unable to identify with my own eyes,
I would almost venture to suggest that compost is in itself a good
food for poultry. For the hens most certainly consume large quantities
of what looks like pure compost whenever they get the opportunity."
I have definitely seen poultry picking away at nothing I could really see with my eyes many times.
goes on to share an idea he used to supplement his hens protein by
starting a compost pile in what he calls the "hen yard."
basically started a compost heap in the yard where he would be running
the hens in the fall and winter. Seeded it with earth worms, and then
let it compost until he turned the hens into it in early Autumn when he
says it will be "an ideal dinning table for the hens."
planning to do this and see how it works. Give it a try and see what you
think. If you already do something like this let me know how it works!
have been talking about how unhealthy chicken is from the conventional
store forever it seems like. Just in case your not convinced, here is
yet another report on just how bad it is.
Spring Hill Farms pastured poultry is not fed roxarsone or any other type of growth promoter, or disease killing poison.
U.S. poultry farmers have used drugs containing arsenic, a known poison, to
control the common disease coccidiosis for decades. The Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approved the arsenic-based drug roxarsone as a
feed additive in 1944. The chicken industry discovered that roxarsone
promoted growth, increased feed efficiency (pounds of chicken produced
from each pound of feed), and improved flesh pigmentation as well.
Between 1995 and 2000, 70 percent of broiler chicken producers used
roxarsone feed additives. [more]
catching chickens to be processed this last time my brother and I were
having an ongoing discussion about who could make the best chicken
We laughed about how as kids we would make one and then
snag every hen in the barnyard a couple times each. And if you caught
the rooster it was a huge deal. (we had educated him after just a few
times of catching him)
This was way before the internet, video games, and a million channels on TV.
brought back the time a few years ago when the boys were getting old
enough to help, which means they could walk a few steps without falling
down, and I declared we needed to catch all the broilers in the next few
days to butcher.
They ask "how we gonna ketch em'?"
make a chicken catcher I exclaimed. Of course they were on point then!
Especially my youngest as he wants to know how to make everything or at
least "see how it works."
Home Made Chicken Catcher
we went on the hunt for the materials which consist of a piece of
number 9 wire and a pair of pliers. I explained how as kids we would rob
a wire coat hanger from the closet (without mom seeing us of course)
and use it to make the catcher. This sparked a whole new line of
questions about how could you bend a hanger? So I explained how clothes
hangers used to be metal wire not the plastic ones you see now.
That was almost as weird to them as making a chicken catcher.
So with both of them following along behind I grabbed a pair of pliers and cut a piece of #9 wire about three feet long or so.
then bend a U shape in the end. I then send the boys after a stick
about the size of a chickens leg or a bit bigger and place it inside the
U making sure it is against the bottom of the U shape.
Taking the pliers I squeeze the U almost shut up against the stick which leaves a long tail.
then make a few fine adjustments based on years of making chicken
catchers and then promptly losing them after one day of use. (I should
find three with the mower this Spring)
I flip the now finely tuned instrument around and bend a handle on the other end and say there we go!
The boys both look at the wire and then look at me and say, "how do you catch a chicken with that."
off we go to demonstrate. I open the movable pen, reach in with the
wire, and before they know what has happened I'm pulling a bird to me by
the leg...and my youngest is screaming "let me try!"
And so it
goes on the farm. I am always amazed at what I learned as a kid on the
farm. Some things I have completely forgotten until one day I'm doing
something and think, "I know what I need! I need to make a.........."
We just processed a batch of Freedom Ranger Broilers we ran on pasture. Actually in movable cages on pasture.
This was the last batch of the year and we were pushing it to have birds on grass the last day of November.
These birds have impressed me ever since we decided to go with them instead of the industry standard Cornish Cross birds.
Compared to Cornish
they are aggressive foragers. More like old time chickens than the
souped up meat birds of today. We tried for several years to get
something besides the latest and greatest meat bird genetics that
produce a bird ready to slaughter in 45-50 days.
Finally the Freedom Ranger came onto the scene in the last couple of years.
Although our customers
had always been happy with the standard meat bird, I wanted something
more suited to sustainable farming and outdoor operations.
taste was also something I always strive for and I knew that old
heritage breed birds have a flavor that blows away the Cornish type meat
The catch to using old meat bird type chickens is they
grow extremely slow. The carcass is so far from what most people are
used to in a chicken that it's very easy to turn customers off
regardless of how great they taste. Mainly since the breast on these
birds are not "double breasted."
The Freedom Ranger broiler answers all these problems!
They are a double breasted bird that grows out in about 70 days. The taste? Out of this world when raised on pasture.
bird pictured here weighed 5 pounds 12 ounces in 68 days. We had some
break the 6 lb mark! This was in late September through the end of
November. We had quite a bit of temps down in the 30's at night and 50's
through the day. Several times we had storms with strong winds and
gusty winds for a day or two after.
Not the perfect weather I always hope for, but these birds still did quite well.
carcass is longer than the usual grocery store chicken or Cornish type
bird but every bit as meaty. Since they forage so aggressively they've
got to be loaded with Omega 3's.
If you are looking for good
chicken that forages for grass, bugs and worms like the old time
chickens of yesteryear, look no further than Freedom Rangers at Spring Hill Farms.
August we were pulling broilers from one of our movable pens on pasture
in the pouring down rain. Two pullets ended up escaping into the nearby
Since I wasn't really in the mood to chase two fugitives
in the middle of a downpour, we let them go thinking "they will be
lucky to make through the night."
The next day dawned bright and
sunny. By mid afternoon I hadn't seen hide nor hair of them errr, hide
nor feather of them so I assumed a fox or some other varmint had scored a
midnight meal at my expense.
The Mrs. wasn't happy about it but what can you do? I asked. Besides they were going to be dead anyway.
second day to my surprise one of them showed up at the edge of the
trees! So one of them did make it. I watched to see if the other would
show and after an our or so and only one chicken I thought well one of
them didn't make it and tonight will be the end of this one.
next day they both were out in the grass pecking around in the grass.
Wow wrong again, better give'em some feed and water and see if I can get
close enough in the next couple of days to catch them...if they make it
I wasn't taking into account that these birds are from heritage breed genetics. These aren't the Cornish cross
birds we used to raise. These suckers roosted that night in an old
stump about six feet off the ground at the edge of the field.
they just might be around awhile as I start to catch on. (it takes me
awhile sometimes) I mentioned to the Mrs. the birds were still here and
showed her out the kitchen window where they had perched at dusk. She
looked out and saw them and promptly announced "then they're staying
here since they made it this far."
Any of you who know my wife
outside of gracious host when you come to visit the farm, know when she
lays down a decree it will be that way or else!
After a couple of
weeks they got more comfortable and began to venture up to the barn and
the front porch and anywhere else they felt like going. And as if by
some built in knowing they always made it a point to come see the Mrs.
anytime she was outside and even began running up to her car when she
pulled in the driveway like she was their long lost mother!
to justify keeping them verses admitting I had to keep them per the
Mrs. I began to wonder if they would make layers. Sure enough at about
17 weeks (I kept track of the time) they began to go into the goats pen
in the corner and lay their eggs.
They are almost 100% on an egg a
day... not bad for birds that are designed to be meat chickens. I've
even started making sure the "girls", as the Mrs. calls them, have a bit
of feed since the weather is turning cold.
If you're wondering if Freedom Rangers will make decent layers I say yes they will!
I eat two medium brown eggs for breakfast every morning and remember how two pullets escaped on a rainy day in August.
Folks often ask me "what's the difference in pastured poultry and free range?"
for the most part it depends on who is defining it! Grocery stores
would want you to believe that "free range" or "pastured" means the
birds are free to roam around outside and range for bugs and grass and
live the life every chicken dreams of.
But most of the time it means in the industrial setting, they have a minimum amount of access to the outside.
It might be dirt and completely devoid of bugs or grass but they met the requirements to advertise free range.
the small farmer it can mean different things as well. I've seen birds
turned out in the day and locked back into the coop at night.
know farmers who have a chicken "run" that lets the bird outside but
unless moved frequently to another area it quickly becomes not only
devoid of bugs and grass, but becomes a breeding ground for pathogens.
What do we do here at Spring Hill Farms with our pastured poultry?
We use movable, floor-less, pens. These pens are moved daily and depending on the age of the bird, could be moved twice a day.
also think that electrified poultry netting is a very good option as
well. Provided the birds are moved to fresh pasture as needed.
Why don't we let our birds roam around? The number one reason is predators.
the decline in hunting and trapping of fur bearing animals and
varmints, the farmer is over run with Raccoons, Fox, Coyotes, Weasels,
Mink, Opossum, and who knows what I forgot.
These are all dangers to your poultry flock.
work in co operation with nature and wildlife but there is no sense in
tempting animals to get a free, easy meal by leaving our pastured
poultry or laying hens completely exposed to danger.
Another reason we prefer movable pens and poultry netting is we can control the birds access to harmful pathogens.
that free range or roam about freely tend to roost in the same places
night after night. Farmers tend to feed them in the same place day after
Both of these practices can lead to a build up of pathogens in those feeding/sleeping areas.
Spring Hill Farms we strive to raise animals with the least amount of
inputs to keep them happy healthy and robust. Reducing harmful pathogen
loads is the first step in that journey.
This is done through
intensive management not medicating. On the surface it seems easier to
drop some chemical wormers or antibiotics into the animal and fore go
the moving pens everyday.
But it is actually easier to avoid health problems than try to fix them.
From the health standpoint for the consumer we believe it gives us a superior product in taste, texture and health.
Let's look at the idea of moving pens daily.
of all this automatically reduces pathogen loads by moving away from
yesterdays lounging area and providing new ground for the birds.
it provides fresh grass of our choosing not the birds. When birds free
range roam about you'll find they lounge in the same areas, (pathogen
problem) and range fairly close to the lounging area.
lazy by nature. They will not go long distances just because the grass
is better. And at some point if the area gets poor enough and large
enough, the birds will have played out the range they are used to and
need more grain and are really no different than a grocery store chicken
at that point.
We work hard to mimic nature when raising
livestock, wether it's chickens, pigs, or goats we think as natural as
possible is best.
The Freedom Rangers birds we use are aggressive
foragers by nature. Unlike the industry standard Cornish Cross or
Cornish X, which is lazy and fast growing by nature.
We have raised them in the past and found them to be undesirable in a system such as ours.
I actually blogged about the problems with Cornish Cross Chickens. You can read it here.
the video below to see these birds going after forage. They consume
forage like a heritage breed bird because they are derived from heritage
Aggressive foragers means more CLA's and Omega 3's in your poultry.
Watch the video here to see what Professor Crawford of Britain has to say after 30 years of studying the nutritional value of chicken.
is very concerned with the levels of Omega 3 fatty acids being almost
nonexistent in chicken. He even says it could cause mental illness to
skyrocket in the years ahead.
Here's an excerpt from Paris Reidhead's article:
CLAs & Omega-3s: Pasture Health Benefits Passed Transferred to People.
laboratory animals, a very small percentage of CLA—a mere 0.1 percent
of total calories—greatly reduced tumor growth. CLA may also reduce
cancer risk in humans. In a Finnish study, women who had the highest
levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk of breast
cancer than those with the lowest levels. Similarly, French researchers
measured CLA levels in the breast tissues of 360 women. In fact, the
women with the most CLA had a staggering 74% lower risk of breast cancer
than the women with the least CLA.
Switching from grain-fed to
grass-fed meat and dairy products places women in this lowest risk
category. Researcher Tilak Dhiman, PhD., from Utah State University
estimates that persons may be able to lower their risk of cancer simply
by eating the following grass-fed products each day: one glass of whole
milk, one ounce of cheese, and one serving of meat. One must consume
five times that amount of grain-fed meat and dairy products to get the
same level of protection.
are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in leafy green vegetables,
vegetable oils, and fish such as salmon and mackerel. Omega-3s reduce
serum cholesterol levels and are anticoagulants. Grazing livestock also
yield abundant omega-3s in their meat and dairy products, almost as much
as the oils from the above-cited fish. (Such claims cannot be made for
has been estimated that only 40 percent of Americans consume an
adequate supply of Omega-3 fatty acids. Twenty percent of U.S. citizens
have blood levels so low in Omega-3s as to be undetectable. Switching to
the meat, milk, and dairy products of grass-fed animals is one way to
restore this vital nutrient to their diet.
It is increasingly
evident that eating pasture-based animal products greatly benefits human
health. This fact spotlights the need for producers to stress elements
of animal husbandry, specifically pasture management, which maximize the
intake, by grazing animals, of CLAs, Omega-3s, and natural vitamins.
More and more, informed consumers expect and demand these health
elements in their animal products. Dairy and livestock people who meet
those demands should be rewarded accordingly......
If you're in central Ohio and looking for grass-fed meats give us a call or email, we'd be glad to help you out.
Cornish Cross are the industry standard for meat birds in
the United States. I recently mentioned I had switched to Freedom Ranger chickens and had
several people ask why.
Cornish Cross birds are a lazy bird by nature with an
They basically sit, eat, and get bigger. These are admiral
traits if the only goal is to produce a bird that grows very rapidly and
produces a lot of breast meat.
However, if you sit back and observe this bird for very long
you realize these cleverly select traits come with a price.
Research shows that these birds can gain weight at a rate
faster than their skeletal system can bear.
This shows up as lameness and even broken legs. Another
trait of these birds is they suffer heart failure.
You go to tend the birds, and find one stone dead for no
apparent reason. More than likely it suffered heart failure.
Because they are so selectively bred for certain traits it
can lead to a compromised immune system.
They are a fragile bird that was designed for huge
agri-business to stuff in a confinement barn and feed sub therapeutic
antibiotics to keep them healthy.
The hatchery told me to limit feed them so as to slow the
growth rate down and help curb these health issues.
I did limit their intake of feed, and to a large degree it worked.
But I came to the conclusion you were basically starving them to slow them
They are genetically designed to have an insatiable
appetite. I raise Tamworth pigs on pasture and these birds make them look
polite when it comes to feeding if they have ran out of feed for any
length of time…even on grass.
Which brings up another observation: Freedom Ranger chickens
are a far more aggressive forager of green material then Cornish Cross.
One of the health benefits touted by pastured poultry farmers
is the opportunity for the birds to graze on green grass and bugs.
It made sense to me to use a bird that gets the most out the
environment in which you raise it. Cornish birds were designed as an inside
bird with no thought of foraging, that burns calories!
Contrast that with birds from the Label Rouge program in
France (such as Freedom Rangers) and you see some distinct differences.
They are a healthy robust bird
Freedom Rangers grow slower without the problems associated
with Cornish Cross.
They are much more active foragers.
Customers in taste test when compared to the Cornish Cross prefer Freedom Ranger.
I chose Freedom Rangers because after examining the facts I
felt they were better suited to my model of farming and welfare standards.
Why take a bird that was bred for big business and put it in
an environment that it was never designed for?
I realize pastured poultry farmers while minimizing the
problems outlined here can raise Cornish Cross birds.