There are so many daunting details in raising food for your family. Interested in raising chicken for your family, but not quite sure where to start? Here's what we've learned the last few years after raising thousands.
The first time Josh and I raised our own chickens for meat was in 2019. We knew this would be one of the first meats we could produce in a relatively short timeframe on our very own property. We could control what they ate, how they were handled on a daily basis, & ultimately control the harvesting process as well. It's what started our vision of "Your Food Deserves Better." While it sure is a labor intensive process, I'm glad we took that leap of faith to educate ourselves in everything that is involved with providing our family with the best quality chicken possible. If we didn't take that leap - we wouldn't be here today.
We raised 25 birds our first time. We spent all day harvesting them. Watching videos over and over while making sure we did everything "right". Each time we harvest we improve our process to be more efficient... to this day. This year we held several Chicken Processing Workshops right here on the farm to teach our local community how to select the right breed of chicken for their goals, raising them from day old chicks to harvest & walked each participant through harvesting their very own chicken. It was such a fulfilling way to pass on the information we worked so hard to learn these past few years. We aim to help others succeed their goals in any way possible as we know first hand just how hard it is to start with nothing. Both knowledge and resources. Don't let that hold you back from achieving your goals.
What to consider when choosing the right breed for your setup/goals.
Dual Purpose Breeds: Are you a small homestead that may not have room for two different flocks? If you are looking to have your own eggs and meat, this may be a viable option. Dual purpose breeds are bred to produce eggs, yet have the body mass to harvest and feed your family. Common breeds are Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Jersey Giant, Brahma, American Buff, in addition to others.
Heritage Breeds: Heritage breeds are appealing to those that want to live a more sustainable lifestyle. While others may adhere to more rigorous practices opting to strictly raise heritage animals.Unlike most other breeds, you may be able to source chicks locally instead of from a hatchery. Which is also a huge selling point to those that do not wish to ship chicks.
From left to right: Brahma (Dual Purpose), Bresse (Heritage), Cornish Cross (Broiler)
Broilers: Broilers are a mix breed chicken that are specifically crossed to maximize feed conversions and are quick to mature. The most common breed being Cornish Cross (Cornish and White Rock). The reason for their popularity is due to the fact that they are ready to harvest by 8 weeks of age and the ease of harvest. For farms at any scale, they are the most common you will see when a farm offers meat chickens.
When sourcing your chicks you may be able to find a local breeder for dual purpose or heritage breeds. If you choose a hatchery my suggestion is to try several within a close proximity. The closer the hatchery equals less stress on the birds, which is ideal.
From Brooder to Pasture
Chicks start off their life on the farm in what's known as a "brooder". Essentially, a brooder is a climate controlled environment that is safe from the elements and predators. Giving chicks the best possible chance at starting off strong & healthy. Typically, our meat chicks spend about two weeks in the brooder before being transferred to pasture.
While on pasture our chicks are housed in
these shelters you see known as chicken tractors. Chicken tractors allow us to monitor their water and feed intake, as they are on a specific formulated feed from
Homestead Harvest for pasture raised poultry. Their feed has a higher protein percentage because their nutritional requirements differ from our egg laying flock of chickens.
As our chickens enjoy their days on pasture we move our chicken tractors as needed to allow them to forage for bugs and eat grass. A few factors will play into how often this is. Age - in the beginning they may only need moved every or every other day. The amount of chickens in your chicken tractor - if you have more - it'll need moved more. Forage available - if they don't have much to eat (grass), it's an indication they need moved. Manure - build up is the biggest indicator. You always want your birds to have a clean place to eat, drink, and rest. As they mature this may mean we're moving them 2-3 times a day.
It's always a family affair when we move chickens to fresh pasture. Here's a good video to show the process.
From Pasture to Harvest
It’s a lifestyle that might not be for everyone & one not many will understand. Which is ok, but it’s a life we'll never take for granted.
Harvesting is a long day full of prep, making sure each bird is handled with respect and honor.
Processing our chickens ourselves was a non-negotiable from the beginning. We weren’t willing to ship our birds to a facility. Causing them undue stress. This way - they never leave our farm until you purchase them. They know no different and are calm the entire process.
We did a lot of research to make sure our setup was the most humane and educated ourselves on the fastest, most effective way to dispatch.
It’s not something we take lightly but knowing they knew nothing but the best… enjoying the benefits of being rotated on fresh pasture several times a day, foraging for bugs, and fed only the highest quality feeds from Homestead Harvest Non-GMO Feeds.. that’s what makes it worth it.
We believe all the care and time we put into raising them the way they deserve shows in the final product.
"I challenge anyone to raise food more ethically than Geraghty’s Micro Farm. Dayna and Josh have superior products because they care and they put in the effort. They work hard at doing it the right way. Also they are not shy about educating the consumer. Thanks for allowing us to learn and participate!." – J. Clevenger