I can't tell you how many people have said "well, why do you pasteurize your chickens?" and I have had to chuckle and explain that no we do not pasteurize the chickens but we do pasture them.
So what exactly does pastured poultry mean? Popularized by farmer Joel Salatin, pasturing poultry means that the birds are raised on pasture either in portable pens often referred to as chicken tractors or in a large area fenced in with electrified poultry netting. In a typical pasture-based system the birds are moved to fresh pasture frequently. Some pastured poultry producers let their birds roam freely around their property.
Why pasture poultry? Besides fresh air, sunshine and exercise, poultry need animal protein and the living grasses they consume in a pasture based system add flavor and nutrition to their meat and eggs. As omnivores, the insects, grubs and worms that supplement a grain and grass diet make for a much healthier animal. The meat and eggs from pastured birds also boast a much higher level of Omega-3 fatty acids purported to be better for people than the high Omega-6 levels of purely grain-fed poultry.
Here on our farm our chickens are part of an intricate puzzle that when the pieces fit together, support the health and vitality of all of our animals and the fertility of the soil. The poulet rouge meat birds that we raise live in chicken tractors and are moved daily to maximize the green material that they can consume while fertilizing the fields. We chose to raise them in the tractors so that we can maximize the manure spread on the field and to keep out predators.
The turkeys live in a large paddock surrounded by electrified poultry netting with a shade shelter in the center. The fence is moved to a new area every few days to allow the turkeys to forage in a fresh area and to fertilize the fields. The laying hens also live in a large paddock surrounded by electrified netting and lay their eggs in a portable hen house which is moved to fresh pasture every few days. None of the birds touch the same ground more than once per season helping to keep the birds healthy and vibrant.
We just moved our first batch of chickens out onto pasture. We stayed in the field, the rain pouring down and watched them forage in their new grassy home. Can't wait to see the yolks of the eggs once the layers are out in the pasture!