Our cornish x rock meat chickens start off in the barn, protected from cats, skunks, opossoms and any other critter that would like to feast on cute fuzzy chicks. Chickens need access to temperatures around 90 degrees the first week of life, and by 3 weeks old can be weaned from external heat sources. That is when they typically go outside to our Joel Salatin style movable pens. Meat chickens are not good natural foragers, perferring to lounge in the shade. That is why we pop the wheels on and move the pens every day. We bring the forage right underneath their feet! That also puts them on fresh clean ground, elimenating the need for manure disposal, it is perfectly placed on the field already by the chickens. Fresh greens and bugs, clean air and ground means that medications, antibiotics and hormones are unnecessary. We usally put the chickens on alfalfa or clover fields because they prefer legumes and will eat much more of these greens than grass alone.
What else do they eat? Chickens cannot simply be grass fed. They do not have the rumen (4th stomach) to obtain enough protein to live on grass alone. Instead God has given chickens a “crop” which is specially designed to digest hard seeds and grains. Too much grass can clog up a crop and could cause death. (Cows are the opposite where too much grain damages the rumen and can cause death). We have our own feed grinder and grind a mix of corn, whole roasted soybeans, wheat and oats. We only grind 1-2 weeks of food at a time because nutrition begins to deterioriate after grinding. We add Fertrell organic vitamin and mineral balancer to insure maximum health. Almost all of the grains we feed are grown right here on the farm. If we do have to buy some grain we buy certified organic from a nearby farmer.
When the chickens are ready, we take them to Arthur, IL to be prepared by an Amish processor who is USDA inspected. They have a fantastically clean, well supervised operation. We sometimes process some for ouselves, but we cannot sell at the farmer’s markets without an inspection stamp.
Chicken can be picked up at the Downers Grove, Libertyville, or Barrington Farmer’s markets (see sidebar). Chicken can also be ordered and picked up at our semi-annual bulk food order (see sidebar). If you call ahead you can also just come and pick up chicken here at the farm most anytime.