Rather than simply saying our chickens are free range we thought we would let you know exactly how we keep them.
All our chicks are sourced from a hatchery in Taranaki and arrive to us as day-old chicks. We purchase Ross Meat chicks for meat and Hyline Brown for eggs.
On arrival we place the chicks in an enclosed area with heat lamps and teach them to eat and drink from the feeders and waterers. What happens after that depends on the weather. In summer, the chicks go into their paddock from a few days old. A heat lamp may be used if the weather is cooler but if it is warm, the chick tuck up together at night inside their hutches and fossick about outside during the day. Typically our death rate is less than 1% through the chick rearing period.
Meat chicks are kept in a paddock where they have access to grass, grubs, seeds and dust-baths. They live the life of a regular chicken. In fact seeing them fossick around, run after each other chasing a worm, flapping their wings and bathing in the sunshine, it is hard to imagine eating an animal that has never been outside.
By the time they are 6 weeks old, the chicks are at least 2kg and ready to eat. Their active lifestyle, no lights and variable ambient temperatures means they grow a bit slower than indoor chooks but it also reduces leg joint and bone issues and increases the flavour. The meat has a slightly firmer texture with less fat than barn raised meat chooks.
As for the layers, they are slow growers and being smaller need a bit more TLC during the early weeks. Layer chicks are very active birds that need plenty of room to run about. They will be out in their paddock as soon as possible with access to their shelter and heat lamps if required.
At 5 to 6 months, the young birds are at point of lay and will start to lay miniature eggs. Over the next few weeks, these gradually increase in size and consistency and we have our young layer hen. A lot of energy goes into producing eggs so layers have free access to specially formulated layer pellets at all times. In their paddock they have grass, weeds, bugs and grubs and they also get the odd scraps or vegetables from the garden.
We rotate our chickens through pens that also function as vegetable growing areas and goat pens. Once the chicken have been on an area, there will not be any chickens there for at least 12 months. So the rotation might be grass - goats- grass regrowth - chickens - vegetable crops - cover crops - goats - grass/regrowth of crops - chickens. This prevents the build up of diseases and cycles nutrients for plant growth.