I am already writing another post to clarify how meat can be processed from being raised on pasture to ready in your fridge. This post will be in my point of view, as a farmer's wife and as a person that has little to no experience raising her own food. Ironically, I am the only person in my family that has not spent some of her early life on a farm in the Philippines, so naturally my parents never expected me to be their only child that has chosen to live on a small farm. Now that I am here there is a lot that I have learned from my husband, from other experienced farmers and my own first hand experience. I will address some common questions about how chicken is labeled. The more options out there regarding chicken, the more questions are raised about what all those options mean.
Please keep in mind there are no absolutes when it comes to food and how it is raised, there is always more to the story than we know and I will do my best to describe Gray Acres Farm and our methods. This is not an end all, say all type of informational post, especially with how other individual farms may use these methods.
First common question is: is there a difference between laying chickens and meat chickens? The answer is yes.
- Laying chickens are several different breeds that if raised from chicks, the hens will begin laying eggs around 6-7 months old. Examples include Barred Rock, Araucana,and Rhode Island Red.
- Laying chickens can live up to 5 or 6 years old
- Most laying chickens are solely raised for eggs, after several years some people may choose to process laying chickens for meat, but their meat may vary in taste and tenderness depending on how old they are.
- Broiler chickens (known as meat birds) can also be several different breeds, but there are not as many breeds as laying chickens. Examples include Freedom Rangers, Jersey Giant, and the breed we've chosen to use, the Cornish Rock Cross.
- Broilers are usually raised for 8-14 weeks and then processed for meat.
- Broilers naturally grow faster than laying chickens due to their breed, so they are processed before they lay eggs.
- Broilers are raised for meat, so they do not show the same characteristics as laying hens such as roosting, wandering, constant scratching for food. .
We are also often asked if our chickens are free-range. Here is a USDA definition of free range poultry:
In the United States, USDA free range regulations currently apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.
Our chickens are not free range, but they are ALWAYS outside. They are pasture raised:
HFAC’s (Humane Farm Animal Care) Certified Humane® “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1000 birds per 2.5 acres (108 sq. ft. per bird) and the fields must berotated. We are a 2.3 acre farm and we raised no more than 130 birds at a time last year. We raised a total of 300 birds, cycling through batches every 8 to 9 weeks.My husband built 8X8 ft. "chicken tractors" which housed 30 to 40 birds at a time, that he modeled after Joel Salatin's tractors in "Pastured Poultry Profits". We guarantee the birds have fresh grass and water, and supplement with a NON-GMO chicken feed from Sonrise feeds LLC, a local feed company. We are not certified pasture raised, but we think the numbers speak for themselves.
We can only tell you how our chickens are raised. When purchasing your own food it is important to do your research and understand the meaning behind the labels and certifications. We spend our summers (including our wedding day) prepared to protect our livestock. Before we found Chewy, our Great Pyrenees, my husband would sleep on the porch or near our window with our rifle to take care of any raccoon, fox, or skunk that may have taken a liking to our broilers.
As a teacher (on a teacher income), I understand that buying good food can come with a price. One that sometimes people refuse to pay. From staying up late nights to protect them, waking early to provide them their meal for the day, and spending full days butchering them in a humane manner, a lot of hours go into these chickens. Our farm has a story and so do our livestock. We are a small business out to support other small business as well, which also affects our costs- because we want to fairly pay for our NON-GMO feed that comes from good people that are also working hard to provide our valley a service. The going rate for a pound of Doritos is $4.11, maybe some chicken would be a tad healthier than a bag of chips?If we really stop to think about how we approach food, should we consider how food ends up at this price?