Chickens and Eggs
Here at BOTL Farm, we raise many fine animals, but if we have to choose our favorite species, it wouldn’t be chickens. A lot of farmers (and backyarders and homesteaders) start with chickens, but that’s not true for us. We started with rabbits, who are fuzzy, silent, and scrupulously clean animals. When we first decided to add a flock of chickens to our farm, we noticed they were not fuzzy, actually quite loud, and pooped everywhere. Hmm. However, we continue to raise laying hens for many reasons. First, our eggs are delicious and we can’t imagine life without them. Second, their poop does wonders for our pastures since they helpfully spread it around for us. Finally, they do important work in our intensively managed rotational grazing system by helping to interrupt the cycle of parasite propagation by digging through the manure of other species and helping it break down faster.
Our flock of laying hens is Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World and is fed a corn-free, soy-free, non-GMO, and certified organic feed. They live on pasture and are rotationally grazed. Their nesting boxes, roosts, and weather protection are in a sweet-looking 1990’s RV that we drag around with our tractor to take the chickens to new areas. They are free to go in and out of their mobile home as they please and they spend most of their time on pasture doing what we affectionately call ‘chicken stuff,’ which means walking in circles, scratching, and pecking at the ground looking for tasty bugs and things.
The laying hens live with a small number of roosters. Many roosters are territorial and will fight, but we’ve managed to balance the ratio of hens and roosters in such a way that the roosters mostly leave each other alone and focus on watching for predators. On a good day, the roosters almost seem to work together, strategically spacing themselves out around the edges of the flock of hens as they forage, and moving around to make sure there’s an eye on everyone. The roosters have recognizably different alarm calls, so much so that our faithful farm dog has learned the rooster call for ‘hawk’ and will search the sky when she hears it. This is adorable to see.
We have a staggered-age flock, so every year our breeds can change slightly as we brood up new chicks to replace the oldest half of the existing flock. In general, we have different brown egg laying breeds such as Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, New Hampshire, Silver Lace, Red Star, and Black Australorp. There are also green egg layers, Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers, for variety and because they’re the hawkiest looking chickens around.
What the Chickens Eat
Chickens spend much of their time foraging, hunting, and pecking at the ground when they live on pasture. They forage for grasses, seeds, and other plant-based forages. However, chickens who have any say in the matter are absolutely, definitely, not vegetarians. We once saw a chicken who successfully hunted, caught, and somehow managed to swallow a one foot long, wriggling, live snake — in one gulp. It was amazing. The chickens regularly catch crawly bugs, flying insects, mice, spiders, and ticks. These non-vegetarian findings seem to be their favorite and they compete to get a piece of the prize.
But chickens won’t thrive on grass and forage alone. We feed a grain-based ration that is custom designed and milled for our farm. It’s corn-free, soy-free, non-GMO, and certified organic. The main feed ingredients are barley, wheat, field peas, sunflower meal, sustainably sourced fishmeal, and alfalfa. These are balanced with Fertrell company poultry nutrient mix that includes vitamins, minerals, salts, and probiotics. Due to the way their digestive systems work, chickens need (and seemingly like) to ingest rocks (called ‘grit’ in the biz). We provide insoluble granite grit, as well as oyster shell (which is [slowly] soluble but also a great source of calcium) during laying.
What We Make
What We Don’t Sell
Want live chickens? We don’t sell them. In accordance with our farm’s humane standards, we ONLY sell live animals to a farm with a current Animal Welfare Approved certification for the species they want to purchase.
Nutritional Benefits of Pasture-Raised Eggs and Chickens
These are fact sheets about hens/eggs and meat from FACT (Food Animal Concerns Trust) and highlight some of the nutritional benefits of pasture-raised eggs and chickens compared to conventionally-raised (aka in a barn, building, concrete slab, or cage). We love a good FACT fact sheet!
Last Updated on 2024-01-25