If you’ve had a chance to try one of our chickens, you already know one of the reasons we’re farming this way. It’s delicious! The flavour and texture of the meat is so much better than anything you’ve tried before. But what else sets our chickens apart from anything else on the market (or even at the Farmers’ Market)?
First and foremost, it’s the pasture. As soon as they’re hardy enough to go outside, all our chickens are raised outdoors with free access to their lush paddocks 24 hours a day. The pastures are comprised of a mix of grasses, legumes and broadleaf species – orchardgrass, timothy, alfalfa, red & white clover, dandelions, plantain and more. The exercise, nutrients and enjoyment that the birds get from their environment is a big part of what makes them so good. We provide mobile, open-sided shelters where they can rest in the shade, and they move outside to forage in the grass or chow some of their free-choice feed.
Speaking of feed — did you know that unlike the food on our grocery shelves, livestock feeds don’t come with an ingredients label? That’s part of the reason we mix and mill their feed right here on our farm. We purchase certified organic grains and legumes from farms in British Columbia and Washington State. All of our feed is 100% soy-free — we make up the necessary protein with field peas instead. Other ingredients include cereal grains like barley, emmer and khorasan, and other seeds like buckwheat, flax, lentils and sunflowers. We use no fish meal, meat meal, oilseed meal, ‘tankage’, or other weird crap. Since we mill feed fresh as we need it, the ingredients retain nutrients that pelletized commodity organic feeds can’t, and this process gives us full control over what goes into our chickens.
Lest you think it’s all about what they eat, let us tell you a bit about the birds themselves. Nearly all chickens raised for meat in North America are now extremely fast-growing hybrids, reaching market weight at 5 – 6 weeks of age. This is the norm in conventional, organic and even small-scale pastured systems. If these breeds are kept for much longer than 6 weeks, they begin to have numerous health problems and increased mortality. We choose to raise slower-growing breeds, raising our chickens for 12 – 14 weeks before slaughter. This extra time, along with the diversity of their diet and their high level of physical activity, contributes greatly to their incredible, rich flavour and firm, finely-textured meat.
When it comes time to harvest our birds, we do it right here on the farm, just a few hundred metres from their pastures. We are proud to run our own on-farm abattoir under a Class D Provincial Slaughter Licence. We practise low-stress and respectful handling techniques, and all birds are stunned before bleeding — still an uncommon practice in small facilities. We believe that remaining in control of our livestock from hatch until we hand the meat over to a customer is the best way to ensure our high standards are met. Heck, we’d cook them for you if we could!
And, of course, there is the nutritional difference. In a preliminary study conducted by the American Pastured Poultry Producers’ Association, pastured chickens fed a soy-free diet like ours had an Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of less than 3:1! That’s substantially better than even pastured chicken fed a soy-based diet (8:1), way better than barn-raised ‘free range’ organic chickens (12:1) and conventional chicken (15:1). The pasture-raised samples also had much higher levels of Vitamins A, D & E, and lower cholesterol than organic free-range or conventional chicken. We are searching for an opportunity to test our own meats in the future to contribute to the growing body of research around nutrient density in foods.