On any given day you can come by the farm and see at least one batch of chickens roaming happily on the pastures of River Cottage Farm.
From cute, fuzzy little ping pong ball babies to majestic, regal roosters in full-feathered array, chickens are present on our farm from March to November. However, if you came by the farm today you would be treated to three batches, all at different stages but all healthy, happy and romping freely.
Birds show up at the farm in the back of our mailman’s red Jeep Cherokee. The fact that they arrive without a single casualty seems nothing short of a miracle. We raise batches of one hundred birds and for us that’s the magic number, the “sweet spot” for you sports fans. Most chickens in the US are raised in batches of 25,000 at a time in both battery cage and “free range” systems.
As soon as they arrive they are taken to their first home, the brooder, where we proceed to lovingly dunk their beaks in water, one bird at a time, just to make sure they know where the water is located. I suppose you never really forget having your head dunked in water no matter how young you are.
The temperature needs to be kept around 98 degrees to keep the little ones from piling on top of each other and killing the unlucky ones on the bottom.
Once the chickens reach the teenage years (2-3 weeks) they get to venture out into an apartment of sorts. They are completely protected from the elements but are out on grass and their “crib” is moved daily to keep things neat and clean.
After about a week of safety watch they get to roam outside supervised by Niamh, our Great Pyrenees guardian dog.
Our chickens, both broilers and layers, receive fresh water, minerals, Certified Non GMO feed and milk for their daily sustenance. A German book focusing on the method for raising chickens for kings in France set us on the royal practice of mixing clabbered milk with the feed for our birds and we have stayed with this method for over 10 years. As you can see from the pictures, the milk is a huge hit with the birds.
Our chickens are usually around 12-16 weeks old when they are butchered, which is considered very old for birds on the American market. Most chickens in both large and small scale operations are fully grown at 7 weeks and even that age is shrinking with new test tube breeds. We feel the extra time is well worth the feed they consume. I believe the true flavor of chicken doesn’t fully develop until they are at least twelve weeks old and longer is better.
Once butchered at our local Amish butcher shop our chicken is flash frozen after a three day cold air chill to allow further flavor development.
We hope you have enjoyed learning how your chicken is raised here at River Cottage Farm. We love and encourage questions regarding our farming practices. Remember that our farm shop is open Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 and you are always welcome to come by and visit.