Here are a few highlights of how I do things. As I learn more about chickens and permaculture farming practices some of the particulars will change, but the mission will not.
- We keep heritage breeds in order to ensure the continuation of historically significant breeds of domestic livestock. At the time of this posting we have Americaunas, Buff Orpingtons, Buckeyes and Barred Hollands. We avoid varieties that were selectively bred for egg production (as is the case with Factory Farms), because this puts enormous strain on a hen's body.
- Due to the large population of feral dogs and other predators, we cannot offer total free range to the birds. Rather, they have large fenced in yards that provide adequate protection from predation while giving them plenty of flapping and grazing room. These yards are rotated regularly to ensure fresh grasses, weeds and all the bugs and worms they can eat. This is what is meant by "pasture raised" as opposed to "free range." They have a large coop (which we call Fort Chicken) which has in it fresh water, chicken feed, nest boxes and roosts. They lay their eggs in the boxes, which are lined with pine bedding and straw. Eggs are collected three times daily, resulting in very little dirt or other contaminants. Bedding is changed weekly (more often if needed).
- Our eggs are not organic, and our chickens are not fed an all vegetarian diet. First of all, chickens are not vegetarians. They are omnivorous. The commercial feed I supplement their natural forage with is vegetarian (not organic, because it's $30 a bag!!!), but they get their insectivore/carnivore jollies by hunting down bugs and worms as nature intended. I would hesitate to buy any chicken from a business boasting 100 % vegetarian-fed hens because the only way to achieve this would be to lock them up in a barn for their entire lives. During the winter when insects and worms are hard to come by, I will occasionally throw worms from the vermicompost bin for them to search for. It's a practice known as enrichment that I learned from my old days as a zookeeper at the Knoxville Zoological Gardens. I call it my "Chickenrichment Program." The idea is not only to supplement their protein, but also to keep the animals stimulated mentally and physically.
- I have two flocks of birds, one having access to roosters. Hens lay eggs with or without a rooster. The only difference is whether or not an egg is fertilized. The larger flock does not have roosters so there is no chance of eggs being fertile. These are the eggs I offer to people with an aversion to fertilized eggs. However, even the eggs from the hens living with roosters have no time to develop, even if they are fertilized. This is because development takes several days of a hen's diligent sitting. Since eggs are collected thrice daily, this opportunity never presents itself. In other words, you will not crack open a Cluck-n-Neigh egg to find a baby inside! If you don't have a religious aversion to fertilized eggs, please consider choosing them so there are more for those who have a religious objection. I'm a little covered up with possibly fertilized eggs and don't want to see them go to waste. Some people believe fertile eggs are more nutritious, but there is no scientific evidence to support this. I eat them daily and can say that I can tell absolutely no difference.
- Our hen population is low and healthy, usually negating the need for antibiotics to prevent infectious disease. However, I won't hesitate to treat a sick or injured animal her with medication (including antibiotics). I'll just not sell those eggs until medications are out of her system. We never give hormones to our hens, but that's a moot point since it's banned in all poultry businesses, including the Factory Farms.