Chicken is delicious. There's really no arguing that. But to really get the most enjoyment out of your chicken, it is best to know where it came from and how it was raised. Here's what we do on our farm.
Our chickens are cornish crosses. These are the same thing that you find at the grocery store. They are bred to put on weight very quickly making them a great meat source. We order our chicks from a hatchery a few hours away and they come in the mail.
For the first 3 weeks of their lives they are kept in a brooder. This is a safe and warm place while they grow their feathers. After they grow feathers they are ready to brave the elements. We use heat lamps and straw to keep these little guys cozy. We check on them several times a day to make sure they have food and water and that it is still secure (chickens aren't only delicious to humans). When they're ready to move, they go to the pasture!
Which brings us to chicken tractors. Chicken tractors are fenced in structures that are movable. They give the chickens plenty of room to do chicken things while being moved every day to new patches of grass. Our chicken tractors were made using John Suscovich's Stress Free Chicken Tractor Plans. We have a large area sectioned off where our cows and chickens cohabit. This attracts lots of flies, which means maggots, for our chickens to eat. I know it sounds gross, but its really amazing to see the food chain in progress. Chickens are meant to eat bugs. Its just how it is.
As you can see, the chickens produce a large amount of waste, which can be seen each time we move the tractors. Our chicken tractors are each 60 sq feet and we have 25 birds in each tractor. This means that each bird gets a little more than 2 sq feet of space. The industry standard for chickens is .5 sq ft per bird. Imagine living in a port-a-potty with a few of your closest friends. The amount of waste and the smell that accompanies it is pungent. Our chickens have plenty of space to move without stepping on each other...until its time to eat, then its every chick for itself.
Speaking of feeding, you might wonder what we feed our meat birds. Our birds get a certified organic feed. The feed is specially formulated for each phase of their life. Meat birds eat A LOT! Our last batch of birds went through about 25 lbs of food per bird. They also get lots of goodness from the bugs they find in the ground. Since they grow so fast, they tend to look a little...ugly. They don't have the beautiful tail feathers like lots of laying hens do and they are all around awkward. When you pick the up, you can feel the heat and the weight of their bodies is significantly different from a hen of the same age that is bred for egg production.
After about 4 weeks outside, the chickens are taken to the processor. The chickens are about 4lbs after they are butchered. While it may seem like they are very young, this is because of the breed. These chickens are bred to put on weight quickly. If they are left much longer past this age they suffer heart problems and broken bones. Because their lives are so short, we are dedicated to giving them the best life possible.