We follow Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards for growing all our chickens. AWA certification requires the raising of livestock on pasture and is the gold standard certification in the animal welfare world. Our egg cartons carry the AWA seal of approval.
Four times a season we get a US Postal Service shipment of 500 day-old Imperial Broiler chicks from the Moyer Hatchery in Quakertown PA. We like to raise the Imperial Broiler because, frankly, it is the best tasting chicken we have ever had. It is not as broad-breasted as conventional meat chickens. It has a longer breast bone and larger thigh and drumstick portions. It is also slower growing than conventional, fast growing, meat chickens which are harvested at 6 weeks of age when they are meaty enough but still immature. We harvest our Imperials at 9, 10, and 11 weeks, right when they are naturally reaching their maturity and their flavor is at its peak. This costs more in feed but the results in taste are worth it.
At any one time, our laying flock will be a mix of 300 heritage breed hens of different ages. Our favorite breeds are: Black Astrolorp, Barred Rock, Delaware, White Rock, Americana, and Rhode Island Red. Each breed is kept in the flock for over two and half years, well through its second molt. We do this for two reasons: to maintain diversity within the flock and to be able to stagger the rotation of the varieties through the flock to balance out the peaks a valleys of egg production due to molting cycles.
All our chickens are raised on pasture. We over-winter the laying hens in a hoop house near the farmhouse to keep them dry, out of the wind, and to give them access to the winter chicken yard. When chickens are free to roam on pasture they become incredible omnivores. They peck and hunt for bugs, devour broad leaf weeds, mow down the grass, and scavenge for anything edible. They love the culls from the produce packing house. They can get about 20% of their nutritional needs from being on pasture. The balance comes from proprietary feed rations which we have developed for them over the years. The feed is locally grown, non-GMO corn mixed into a poultry ration by the small, family owned, feed mill located a few miles for our farm.