As part of our journey to sustainability (and regeneration), we have chosen several heritage breeds of chickens and selected the best examples of the breeds to begin our on-farm breeding program.
One of the goals of permaculture is to increase yields while decreasing inputs over time. When it comes to chickens, we think one of the key elements to accomplishing this goal is to hatch and raise chicks from our own flock, rather than buying new chicks from off the farm every year.
Our chickens serve many other functions as well, including improving the quality of the soil on our farm, feeding our family and our dogs, and providing entertainment and education.
Why heritage breeds?
Compared to industrial breeds, heritage chicken breeds have strong immune systems and are more capable of free-ranging and foraging much of their own diet. For example, our chickens typically eat about 1/8 of a pound of feed daily, of their total daily need of about 1/3 of a pound of food. For a great article on heritage breeds, check out Heritage Chicken Breeding: Why Not to Rely on Chicken Hatcheries by Harvey Ussery for Mother Earth News.
Pasture Raised, Organicly Fed, No Soy or Corn
All of our chickens are raised with access to pasture from as young of an age as possible. Weather permitting, they are in outdoor brooder pens during the day from the time they are 2-3 days old. By 3 weeks old, they live in our outdoor pens day and night, and are moved to fresh pasture frequently. Once our chickens are large enough to join the larger flock (about 3 months old) they are allowed to range freely throughout the day.
In addition to pasture access, our chickens receive organic kitchen scraps and organic feed that is free from soy and corn. We feed New Country Organics Corn Free feed or Scratch and Peck Naturally Free feed. We also give them Scratch and Peck’s Cluckin’ Good Organic Herbs as a natural health boost and Scratch and Peck’s Cluckin’ Good Grubs as treats. Our chickens always have access to fresh water, grit, eggshells and oyster shells.
All of our chickens are protected from predators by secure night-time housing and remain under the watchful eyes of our livestock guardian dogs day and night.
Why no soy or corn?
When our first child was born, we learned some cautionary information about soy from our pediatrician, and have since learned more and made an effort to eliminate soy from our diets. Among many other concerns, soy contains phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which can stimulate the growth of cancer cells as well as causing other health issues in humans (1). Chickens fed soy will pass extra estrogen on in their egg yolks (2). For more information, see the The Weston A Price Foundation’s Soy Alert!.
Corn feed provides more than enough calories, but is too low in fatty acids and certain amino acids, vitamins and minerals for chickens to thrive on and can cause obesity in chickens (3). Besides a burst of energy, corn has very little else that chickens need (4).