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.
Heritage Breed Pastured Pork, Chickens, Grass Fed Beef[ Member listing ]
29 Oct · Fri 2010
Folks often ask me "what's the difference in pastured poultry and free range?"
Posted by David @ 11:48 AM EDT
12 Mar · Fri 2010
Our Freedom Ranger chicks arrived at the farm today today. This video shows us putting them in the brooder.
Watch the video here.
Posted by David @ 06:07 AM EST
04 Mar · Thu 2010
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.
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…
Posted by David @ 09:05 AM EST
02 Mar · Tue 2010
Randy and I will building a temporary brooder today. The barn we had a brooder set up in burned down last Spring.
We have a batch of Freedom Ranger chicks coming in eight days so I though we better find somewhere to put them!
I didn't want to get birds this early but since we are having trouble keeping up with the demand I decided to get going as soon as possible.
The Freedom Ranger birds are part of the Label Rouge program from France.
We were looking for a bird that has a more aggressive nature to forage than the standard Cornish Cross birds that many folks use for pastured poultry.
The Freedom Ranger birds fit the bill! The meat is also excellent. They take a couple more weeks to grow out than Cornish Cross but as with any animal that matures slower, they are flavorful!
These birds remind you of old breed birds because they are! They are several different colors and are noticeably more active than Cornish Cross.
We are running them in poultry netting instead of movable pens or chicken tractors as some people call them.
You can see our philosophy on pastured poultry here.
I'll be sure to post more on these birds through the growing season.
Well I'm off to get started!
Until next time...
Posted by David @ 08:18 AM EST
27 Feb · Sat 2010
I ordered our first batch of chicks Friday morning. We have pretty much quit using Cornish Cross birds and went with birds from the Label Rouge program.
We have always had good luck with the Cornish, but I've never been happy with the amount of foraging they do.
By genetic nature they are lazy birds. They don't scratch like a heritage breed bird does either.
I have not ran them in poultry netting only movable pens because they don't seem like they would go very far in a open pen type arrangement.
All of the stock we select at our farm is based heavily on their nature to forage on grass.
That was why I went with Tamworth pigs. Then worked with them through selection to eliminate as much grain as possible and still get a nice finish.
Around here it's eat lots of grass or you're off to another farm or the processor.
Hopefully when these birds are ready to come out of the brooder we can get them on pasture, but who knows with two feet of snow on the ground now!
Guess we'll have to wait and see!
Until next time...
Posted by David @ 08:49 PM EST