Spring Hill Farms

  (Newark, Ohio)
Heritage Breed Pastured Pork, Chickens, Grass Fed Beef
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Freedom Ranger Chickens as Laying Hens

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Freedom Ranger Laying Hens
In 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 brush.

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.

The 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.

The 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 that long.

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.

Hmm 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!

Trying 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. 

till next time!
 
 

Pastured Poultry - Fresh Grass Daily

Folks often ask me "what's the difference in pastured poultry and free range?"

Well 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.

To 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.

I 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.

We 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.

With 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.

We 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.

Birds 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 day.

Both of these practices can lead to a build up of pathogens in those feeding/sleeping areas.

At 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.

First of all this automatically reduces pathogen loads by moving away from yesterdays lounging area and providing new ground for the birds.

Secondly, 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.

Animals are 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.
   
Watch the video below to see these birds going after forage. They consume forage like a heritage breed bird because they are derived from heritage breed genetics.

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.

He 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.

...In 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.


Omega-3s 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 non-grazing livestock.)....

....It 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.

 Watch our Freedom Rangers Here


 
 

Freedom Ranger Chicks Arrived - Video

Our Freedom Ranger chicks arrived at the farm today today. This video shows us putting them in the brooder.

These birds are from the Label Rouge program. We believe them to be better than the standard Cornish Cross chickens for the model we use to raise them. 

In my previous post  I outlined why I think they are superior to Cornish Cross for the pastured poultry farmer.


I will be showing you how these birds grow out this season so stay tuned for more videos.

 

Watch the video here.

 

Until next time...

 
 

What's Wrong With Cornish Cross Chickens?

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 insatiable appetite.

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 down!

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.

 

But for us at Spring Hill Farms, we think there is a better way.

 

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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