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When do you feel like it's actually spring?
On the farm, I feel like spring begins when we receive our first batch of chicks. And that's exactly what's happening! Our first broiler chicks hatched yesterday, and are on the way as I write this post.
It isn't the birth of the chicks that's necessarily symbolic for me, however. Rather, it's the kind of care that they require. Raising chickens is our most labor-intensive activity on the farm. And, if I'm being honest, our most emotionally intensive activity as well.
Every year, as we hand-scoop the chicks into the warm brooder, I reflect on why we're raising them this way.
Baby chicks are quite dependent. On the first day, we teach them how to drink water and find feed. We check their temperature multiple times a day, and add insulation if it's too cold. For those weak from the journey, we nurse them, one by one.
As they grow, so do the demands. At three weeks, we move them out onto pasture. It's a long, labor-intensive, and often hot process. We load and unload all 500 chicks by hand into crates, and transport them to the pasture. We move the shelters to fresh grass, clean and re-fill the waters and feeders. And then we repeat this process every morning for five weeks, until it's processing day.
And then, we clean out the brooder, re-fill the shavings, and start all over again with the next batch.
Let me be clear: I'm not telling you this to complain! We love raising chickens. It's one of the things we're most proud of on the farm.
I'm telling you this because I think the way we raise chickens exemplifies what you're looking for in a farmer.
You want food that's raised right. This means the individual life of each animal is important. It means sacrifices are made to ensure the highest quality of life. And it means all decisions on the farm center around what's best for them and their environment.
For us, raising chickens on pasture requires constant attentiveness and patience. On the hottest and stormiest days, we re-structure our schedule to make sure they're shaded, watered, and safe. On the weekends, we commit to 8-hour processing days on the farm to ensure they have the most humane lives, even in death.
So when I scoop out those first chickens by hand tomorrow, I'm not necessarily thinking about the important benefits they bring to the land, or the nutrition they can offer our customers, although those are important.
I'm remembering the kind of farmer that our customers are looking for, and how we can demonstrate that through the long, hot months ahead. And I'm hoping that doing so gives you peace of mind about what you're eating, and where it's coming from.
Want to see for yourself how we raise our chickens right? Click below for a virtual tour of the brooder our chicks will call home tomorrow.