Poultry Pastured to Perfection

 
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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Following are answers to some of the questions we are asked regarding our eggs and meat chickens. We respect the rights of consumers to have a full understanding about where their food comes from and how it was raised. If you have a question you don't see addressed here, please contact us!

Egg FAQ's

Poultry FAQs

1. Why are your eggs different sizes in the same dozen?

We pack each carton by total weight, not by identical egg size. Our chickens are not machines, and the same chicken will lay eggs of varying size and shape on different days, often depending on what they eat. The USDA specifies that a dozen eggs of a specific size weigh at least a certain amount. For example, following are the minimum carton weights for the each size carton. Your dozen eggs will always weigh more than the minimum for that size, even if each egg isn't exactly 1/12th of the total weight.

  • Small - 18 ounces
  • Medium - 21 ounces
  • Large - 24 ounces
  • Extra Large - 27 ounces
  • Jumbo - 30 ounces

2. Why are the egg shells different colors?

Different breeds of chickens lay different colored egg shells. Leghorns, Campines and California Grays for example, lay white eggs. Most other breeds lay varying shades of brown eggs. Some breeds, such as Welsummer and Marans, have a deep almost chocolate brown color. True Araucana and Ameraucanas lay only blue eggs. Green and pinkish eggs are produced by “Easter Eggers” - a cross between blue and brown egg breeds. Not only do chickens of the same breed and age lay eggs of differing shades, but even the same chicken can change shades of egg shell color over time. What is really interesting about egg color is that blue eggs are blue through the entire shell, whereas brown eggs are brown on the outside but white on the inside.

3. How are eggs graded?

It's complicated. Officially, New York State Ag and Markets aren't concerned with small time producers – those who have less than 3,000 hens, so we are not required to grade stamp our eggs, though by hand washing and visually inspecting each egg, and making sure only the freshest and best eggs get packed for your use, we are selecting to “AA” quality. NY Ag and Markets law Section 190.3 gives the specifications, should you wish to try your skills at deciphering legalese.

4. Why do your eggs cost so much?

They don't really. To do anything well with concern for our health, your health, the health and well being of the critters and the health of the planet, it is very labor intensive. Most commercial poultry farms are automated, meaning that the birds are fed and watered by computers (not humans). If we made a fair wage for our products, they would easily double in price. Our products only seem expensive compared to the products resulting from government subsidies of the large scale industrialization of the food system. We suggest you view Food Inc. and Fresh to begin to understand how much it really costs to eat cheap food. We have a copy of each to lend out, if you are interested in borrowing one.

5. I can get eggs from the Amish for $1 dozen. They are organic, aren't they?

Not likely. The Amish culture is steeped in finding and providing “good value.” With few exceptions, most get or grow their animal feeds from commercial grains – genetically modified corn and soybeans, because they are readily available and cheap. Most Amish use pesticides and herbicides on their fields, and use medicated feeds for their chickens and hogs, just because “that is how it's done” to make a good profit. Many of them, like many other “pastured” egg producers, keep their chickens in fenced yards that are picked clean of any green thing. Ask
to see the feed tags, and invest the time to go see how the chickens are raised. We value informed consumers, and invite you to come see how ours are raised. We only ask that you call first to make sure we will be available to give you a tour and answer any questions you may have.

6. Do your chickens eat anything besides certified organic feed?

Only sprouted organic grains in winter, organic apple cider vinegar and organic garlic cloves in their water, and their choice of greens on our untreated and isolated 10 acres of native grasses and clover.

7. Why are some yolks more orange than others?

It largely depends on what the chicken eats. Weather permitting, our birds are outside eating grasses, clover, worms and bugs – whatever is available and whatever they have a taste for. In the winter, we give them sprouted certified organic grains, such as oats and wheat. The more leafy greens they eat, the more orange the yolks become, and the higher the Omega 3's naturally occur in the eggs.

8. There is a spot on the egg yolk, is something wrong?

No. There are three types: the most common, often resembling a faint whitish “bulls eye” about 3/8ths inch in diameter with a slightly darker center, indicates that the egg is fertile. If you put our eggs in an incubator (or under a broody hen) for 21 days, a good portion of them would hatch. No guarantees what you would get though, as our layers are of several breeds. There are also “blood spots”, a usually very small (less than 1/8th inch) bit of blood, and “meat spots” (which are like solidified blood spots). Both are naturally occurring and don't affect egg edibility, though are considered “appearance defects” and are allowable in 0.30% of grade “AA” eggs. On rare occasions, there may be a bit of blood in an egg white as well. It isn't toxic, but it isn't Kosher either. If you get a “bad egg”, please let us know – we'll gladly replace it.

9. The white of an egg was cloudy! What's up with that?

While it doesn't happen often, when eggs are extremely fresh, they can have cloudy whites. There is nothing wrong with the egg.

10. Why won't my eggs peel when hard boiled?

Fresh eggs don't peel easily when boiled. They peel better when they are at least 10 days old. If you specifically want eggs to hard boil, we know a few tips to make this easier. Ask us!

11. What happens to the eggs between the hen and my refrigerator?

In very cold, or very warm weather, we gather eggs at least twice a day. In cool weather, just once a day. They are placed in cool storage (~40°F) until we wash them, usually every other day. We hand wash each egg under warm running water, dip them in a solution of hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer, and then they are allowed to air dry before a second visual inspection, packing and weighing in new cartons. Once packed and labeled, they are put in our egg refrigerator to await your purchase. Eggs that don't make the grade, are put to use in our own home. Eggs that aren't sold, are donated to charity, such as Chautauqua County Rural Ministries Friendly Kitchen in Dunkirk.

12. How long do eggs stay fresh?

According to the USDA, eggs can be sold up to 6 weeks after packing, and can last up to 6 months, properly refrigerated between 33- 45°F (0-6°C). In ages past, eggs were seasonal, and to keep them over winter they were placed in a crock containing a solution of “waterglass” (Potassium silicate) in water, and stored in a cool cellar. Eggs thus stored can be usable for up to a year or more.

13. I have some egg cartons I've saved. Do you re-use them?

New York Ag and Markets regulations state that all egg producers must label cartons clearly and accurately with their name, address, “size” (weight), and grade (if required). Using cartons with someone else's name or brand doesn't satisfy those requirements. We strongly support recycling, and do so in all ways we can. However, eggs are porous and can absorb things from their environment. Being as we can't guarantee how clean a used egg carton is, for your safety we prefer to use new, recycled paper content cartons, which can in turn be recycled. If you still feel better about getting more mileage from an egg carton, we can put eggs in YOUR cartons, for YOUR use – simply put your name on our carton, and so long as it is visibly clean, it will be refilled and come back to you with your next order.

Poultry FAQs

14. I can get chicken and turkey at the store for 69 cents a pound. Why does yours cost so much?

You can't get poultry as good as ours at any store, raised with as much care, at anywhere near our price. Our birds grow out too slowly and our methods take far too much time and labor to mass produce – it doesn't fit the industrial model of food production that your supermarket would require to keep their shelves stocked 365 days a year.

The aim of industrial agri-biz is producing the largest volume possible, at the lowest price possible, at whatever cost to the farmers, the livestock, the environment, or your health. Their market are those who care about only one thing: food that doesn't cost them much at the register (regardless of what it costs them later).

Our aim is raising livestock that participates in an healthy environment, are good for you, and taste great. Our market includes local persons who care about what they eat, and who know enough to begin to see the real cost of cheap food. Want to learn more? Please see the Resources page.

15. How are your birds different?

The vast majority of meat chickens raised in America, even the organic ones, are finely tuned strains of Cornish cross - genetic freaks that grow to market size of 3 - 4½ lbs. (dressed weight) in 46 days. If some breeder (or genetic engineer) came up with a chicken that could reliably live long enough to grow out in 42 days, the current 46ers would be abandoned.

The chicken you get at a store goes from birth to death amid tens or hundreds of thousands of it's poop factory kin, and never sets foot on real grass. Even the ones labeled “free range” and “pastured” aren't likely, as by the time they are big enough to face the great outdoors, they are too fat to walk that far from their feeders. Most never see the sun or sky, ever. If kept much longer than 50 days, most would be unable to walk more than a few steps, and many would die of cardiac failure or respiratory distress. We've seen this first hand.

Our standard meat chickens are based on French Label Rouge stock (bred for flavor, not gain per day). They begin to reach market size at 9 weeks (63 days) and can live for years if allowed, but they peak in quality and flavor at about 12-16 weeks as “heavy roasters”. Our heritage breed Delawares (America's meat chicken of the 1920's) need at least 20 weeks to reach suitable maturity with a flavor that is superb, though some may find it too “chickeny” for their taste. Our heritage Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys are the fore-bearers of the 'white' turkeys found in markets today, but grown out to a larger and more flavorful size – between 18 and 35#, requiring at least 24 weeks. Our heritage Narragansett turkeys are best after 26 weeks (6 months or more), and top out at about 22#. Our Midget White turkeys, another heritage breed should dress out at about 15#.

16. Where do your birds come from?

Our base stock of Delawares came from Sand Hill Preservation in Idaho, and our base stock of Ameraucanas originated from John Blehm's line in Michigan. Most of the rest of our layers come from Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio, and our hybrid broilers from JM Hatchery (run by a Mennonite family) in New Holland, Pennsylvania, all as “day old” chicks. They come to us right out of the egg. We now hatch our own Delawares, Cochins, Silver Ameracaunas, and Narragansett turkeys, either in our incubator or under broody hens.

17. Aren't they too small to go outside at first?

Of course! Like most newborns, they need a place to keep warm and safe, so we keep them in “brooder pens” with heat lamps (on our back porch) for the first 3-4 weeks, where they get human attention, the same well water we drink (with a little organic apple cider vinegar added), and certified organic chick starter – a higher protein mix to get them off to a good start. We also give them dried grass cuttings, which we dry and rake up from our yard when we cut the grass. They take to it like cats do to catnip, and it gives them a taste of things to come. At 3-4 weeks, weather permitting, we allow them out on pasture from shortly after sunrise, to sunset.

18. What is the difference between “free range” and “pastured”?

Pastured means the animals have an area defined by fences in which to graze. Free range means the animals have virtually unlimited access to anywhere they want to be. Neither term guarantees that stocking rates (the number of animals per acre) aren't excessive, or that there is anything good to eat in a particular pasture, or within range. Most knowledgeable farmers who pasture use “rotational grazing”, meaning the livestock are frequently moved from one pasture to another, both to provide fresh pasture, and to allow the previous one to 'recover'. With proper stocking and rotation rates, this keeps diseases in check and benefits both pastures and animals.

19. What methods do you use to graze your birds?

Our young birds are rotationally pastured, with movable coops and fences. They are fenced mostly to keep them safe from other critters, such as dogs, raccoons, hawks, owls, fox, weasels, mink, possums, and coyotes, and to allow them fresh areas to graze. Coops are moved generally every other day. Many of our older chickens are allowed to range almost anywhere they want to (though we do attempt to fence them out of the gardens). We've attempted to pasture turkeys, but our Narragansetts will clear a 6' fence if they choose to, and have on occasion roosted on the barn peak.

20. What do you do about predators?

We try to be proactive, which means a lot of labor and capital invested in building solid coops to protect them at night, and portable fencing (lightweight stuff that follows the coops as they move), making access by raccoon, fox, coyote, possum, neighborhood dogs, etc., less likely. We are also working on permanent fencing (4' 2x4 welded wire, 4' “field” fence, and electrified barb wire) on the property perimeter, and try to set coops with smaller birds near trees and shrubs when possible to allow “cover” from hawks and owls. We keep roosters not just for fertile eggs, but specifically for their natural instincts in being watchful for danger and protecting their hens. We still suffer losses on occasion – it's part of life on the farm.

21. How do you “process” your birds?

This is a question we'd rather answer right here on the farm so that you have the full context of what goes on. Keep in mind, whether vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore, we feel you should be aware of what is involved in the raising and harvesting of what you eat. Keeping yourself alive requires that you consume living things, ending their lives, whether that be the genetic potential within spinach, beans and rice, or a chicken stir-fry and egg drop soup. Bottom line: things die to keep us alive, and we owe it to those lives to be aware of the full process, if not personally involved. With the understanding that not all readers here want to know the gory details,we'll omit them. If interested, please ask, preferably on a farm visit, that we can show you as much of the process as you really want to know about.

Here's the concise and gentle version: We process our birds right here on the farm, using a Kosher kill method. The afternoon before processing day, we withhold feed (but not water), so there is less chance of fecal contamination of the carcass. The morning of processing day, I offer up a prayer of thanks for the lives given to our care that we are about to take to sustain our lives and others, acknowledging the solemnity of the shedding of blood, and that they may be a blessing for those whose tables they grace.

We sanitize our equipment with Oxine (a chlorine dioxide product that is more environmentally friendly than sodium hypochlorite – “Clorox”), then thoroughly rinse with fresh well water. No chlorine, ammonia, or any
other disinfectants are ever used on our birds.

22. If you don't use disinfectants, doesn't that mean there are bacteria on
your chicken?

Yes. There are bacteria nearly everywhere – on your skin, on your pets, in your food. Some are “good”, and others are “bad”. The bad ones, in sufficient numbers, can make us ill. The good ones help keep us healthy
(like the bacterii that make yogurt, cheese, wine and vinegar), and in cases when the bad bacteria gain an upper hand, the whole range of “-cillins” (from good bacteria) help squash the invaders.

Disinfectants aren't discriminatory and attempt to kill all bacteria, good and bad. Trying to get rid of all bacteria only leaves the door open to the most opportunistic or most disinfectant resistant strains taking up residence in your food, your household, or your body. MRSA (antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus Aurelius) is just one in a growing list of antibiotic resistant bacteria resulting from the overuse of antibiotics, primarily in confinement animal feeds.

By keeping our animals in clean places, indoors and out, the”bad” bacterial load is low. Working with nature is better than fighting or forcing it.

Joel Salatin tells in Food Inc. of having his poultry processing operation threatened with shutdown because he worked outdoors, which the inspector said was “unsanitary”. He took the bait and had his farm raised and processed chicken tested for bacteria, as well as some shrink wrapped from a grocery store done up in a “sanitary processing plant”. The independent lab found Joel's chicken had a small fraction of the e-coli and listeria present in “safe, store” chicken. Why? Animals raised in clean environments and processed in small batches, have less bad bacterial exposure than their mass produced and commercial counterparts where the animals live in close confinement and filth, and where the constant sanitation necessary has bred resistance in the 'bugs'.

Still, every chicken (and dozen eggs) you get from us is labeled with “safe handling instructions”, and we recommend you follow them to reduce the risk of bad bacteria (from any source), making you ill.

23. Why go to so much effort?

Without question, farming requires a lot of work. The humane treatment of this planet and all itsinhabitants, both flora and fauna, requires a lot of human interaction. Yes, we could make the entire operation more efficient and raise 100 times the birds with half the effort and earn much more profit by using chemical and mechanical shortcuts commonly used in modern agri-business. However, in the only sense that really matters to us, “it would cost too much.” As was aptly put: “for what should it profit a man, should he gain the world and lose his soul?”

 

 


 

 
 
 
     

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