Sep 8, 2011

The Real story about where your food (or at least your chicken) may come from

Matt and I just celebrated 9 years of marriage yesterday. Nothing says Happy Anniversary like a batch of new baby chicks. Last evening we were preparing for the chicks arrival, hooking up heat lamps disinfecting water and feeders and the kids of course were there to lend a helping hand. We were supposed to have soccer practice but it rained so we took advantage of some extra time at home. We had chili, cornbread and miscellaneous leftovers. Then, we finished preparing for the chicks. This is the real story about where your food (or at least your chicken) may come from.
The phone rang about 7am with a call from the post office, "We have a box full of LOUD chicks come and get them. Campbell and I drove about 4 miles to the post office to pick up the loud package. Campbell still get excited for the drive to pick up the new arrivals.

We ordered our chicks from Eagle’s Nest Poultry in Oceola, Ohio. The chicks hatched on a Wednesday and they packaged them in boxes with air holes soon after. They take them to the post office to be shipped to their customers like us. We are close enough that we get them the next morning. They are not given food or water before transport because they are so young they do not need it right away. It would be worse to give them food and water and then take it away to ship them. It is very important that they get fresh food and water as soon as we get them home.

They are packed into compartments dividing the box into four parts. Their body heat keeps them warm enough while being shipped and the compartments keep them from all piling up on top of each other.

We bring them back to their pen, which looks small because they do not need much space when they are this little. We have two heat lamps on them and we have them surrounded with straw to avoid wind or any drafts. They have water and full feed from now until they are ready to be processed.

These chickens are a cornish rock cross and are all cockerels (males under 1 year of age). The sex of the birds is determined at birth and while they are usually very good at sending what we order, there may be a few pullets (females under 1 year of age) in the mix. Why do we get cockerels? I have found after raising thousands of chickens that these mature at a faster rate and have more muscle and meat than a pullet. I have raised just pullets and, while it is a very nice product, it takes a little longer to get them the size my customer and I like. These chickens will be with us for 5-6 weeks and then we will have them processed for our freezer and our customers.

We keep our chickens in our barn in an open air cage with natural light and airflow. We do not keep our chickens outside due to predator and health issues and this allows us to raise birds almost all year round. They are fed an antibiotic-free all natural ground feed made from corn and soybeans. We use saw dust shavings for their bedding and change it on a very regular basis to eliminate any possible diseases and keep our birds looking happy and healthy.

These birds are raised for meat. They have a conversion ratio of 1:1 so 1 pound of food to 1 pound of weight gain. These birds have a more heavy body build than a layer (breeding chicken that lays eggs) so they will not run around fast, jump or roost after week 5. They are very happy to sit by the food and water, walk around a bit and then eat and drink more.
Right now, the chicks weigh a few ounces and are cute little fluffy chicks. In about 1 week this will all begin to change. We will keep you posted on their growth, but soon they will begin to lose their cute fluff and get their white adult feathers. Once they are fully feathered we will not have to worry so much about keeping them warm as their feathers will do the job. We will keep a light on them at night to make sure they can see to eat and drink all through the night.
Are these chickens any different than what you find in your grocery store? Our customers will tell you they are very tasty, but we raise a very small amount of birds and make very little money doing so. Volume is the only way to run a viable, profitable business and Ohio is home to many larger family farms that raise thousands of chickens. We are all following the same standards of care and a very similar process. In fact, larger farms have to follow much more stringent inspections and safety standards.
We have a much smaller set up and obviously do not have the facility to raise near the quantity of birds as the larger farmers. Just because some family farms do this on a much grander scale does not make them bad. In fact the way they raise their animals actually makes our food very affordable and extremely safe. The bottom line is that we need farms of all sizes and we consumers should be allowed a choice of where our food comes from.

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