We keep two flocks of Rhode Island Red hens for laying eggs through the summer. Throughout the season, they are pastured in movable chicken coops. On pasture, they love finding plants, seeds, insects, and whatever the cows left behind for them! Their diet is supplemented with organic grain and oyster shells. The birds are moved every day. This prevents an over-fertilization of the soils by high-nitrogen chicken manure. A couple of days after being moved, the grass behind them starts to get a real burst of dark green! This eventually becomes wonderful food for our cows or foundation for our vegetable fields. Beta carotene from the grass causes our eggs to have bright orange yolks and a rich taste! In the winter, yolks are less orange, but still wholesome and delicious. The younger flock is kept in one of the greenhouses for the winter to keep them warm and out of the snow. The other, older flock is processed in the fall for stewing hens. Egg production drops dramatically after two years, so this system ensures that we always have productive birds and meat in the freezer.
We selected a special breed of broiler called the Freedom Ranger. These birds are known for being more robust, better foragers, and easier to handle. They are slower growing, taking twelve weeks to mature instead of the eight weeks common in industrial chicken operations. Similar to the laying hens, they are rotated around the pastures through the summer and processed right here on the farm.
The geese are the freest birds we have. If they are not hanging out on the river, their duty is to chase away any predators from the chickens. Sometimes they hatch little goslings in the spring!