We planned on 5 batches of chickens, one per month. The April batch would be harvested in June, the May batch in July and so forth. Our first order was well in excess of 200 chickens because we wanted to experiment with some red broilers as well as the traditional Cornish Cross. The reality of processing that many chickens over a narrow window of time without an experienced team quickly began gnawing at me and I was very concerned…..not sleeping at night concerned. In addition, I didn’t want to run afoul of any of the myriad of regulations associated with growing, processing and selling poultry. Thankfully, I had assistance from several people including other producers and state inspectors as well which has been absolutely invaluable to me.
The best decision we made this year was to cut back production. Instead of batches of 200, I’m working with batches of 100-125. Much more manageable in the brooder, on pasture and during processing. In mid-June, we finally moved all of our brooding and pasturing from Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport to Charnews Farm in Southold, our permanent home. This cuts down on my commute time by at least an hour and a half each day which also makes a huge difference. So, we finally feel that at this late date in the season, we have caught up and are now enjoying the chicken business much more. While we do our chicken chores twice daily, our on farm sales regularly, the Westhampton Beach Farmers Market every Saturday and processing whenever its required, there is more time to enjoy our life on the North Fork.
I want to end on a very positive note. As you may be aware, we received our Organic Certification in late June and we are now selling pastured, certified organic chickens. Our inspector was very complimentary of our record keeping, production and processing setup. In my opinion, it doesn’t get any healthier or more appropriate than pastured, organic chickens. I’ve had virtually no disease in the chickens despite not using antibiotics. I put the chickens on pasture as soon as they are old enough to withstand the outdoor weather, about 3 weeks. While in the brooder, we are careful to insure the bedding remains clean with fresh bedding added twice daily. The chickens love living on pasture and they spend much of the day foraging for insects and grasses/weeds. Occasionally, a chicken will experience leg problems, a common occurrence with the Cornish Cross, but this remains a very low percentage. The feedback from you the customer has been universally humbling. So many of you have used the term “best chicken that I’ve ever had” or “chicken like my grandmother used to make” We set out to provide an alternative to the industrial chicken we have to buy since there are so few alternatives. We feel that our chicken has an incredible flavor, texture and is an entirely different experience. We really do appreciate your support, encouragement and reviews of our chickens.
I hope to blog a little more often as the season progresses. All the best to you and your families.