Ten years ago, living an urban Southern California lifestyle, if someone had said, “you’ll be running a farm, raising chickens and a busy CSA”, I would’ve laughed! And I do still chuckle a little at my reality of running this farm. I laugh at how happy I am and how grateful I am to have such a life
But, raising chickens is a year-round practice; it starts every fall with day old chicks, that grow up through the winter. Is it easy? Not how we do it. The quality of our eggs is unparalleled. Keeping up with Animal Welfare Approved standards and the increased needs of the chickens in winter months in not easy. But knowing that our eggs are so delicious, so healthy and so beautiful, keeps me inspired.
As a member of the Animal Welfare Approved program through A Greener World, we follow their recommendations to use non-GMO feed. That means locally grown, locally milled feed that we get by driving up to Ross Feed In Quarrysville, PA about once every 6 – 8 weeks. I’ll buy 1500-2000 pounds of their local, non-GMO feed, and bring it back to the farm. Then it’s hand shoveled it into the grain bin. Other guidelines from AWA set the way the chicken are raised, how they’re fed and how they’re treated which we follow closely.
First, the chickens must be farm raised. We purchase them as day-old chicks which usually means they are mailed. When I pick them up at the post office, it’s very early in the morning, about 5-530am when they arrive. Then we begin the trek home where we have a special room, and a special box with heat lamps, our brooder box, where each one is carefully removed from the box they’ve been shipped in, their beaks dipped in their water source and set down gently near the heat. Super Cute!! Raising primarily heritage birds, we have Delaware, Barred Rocks, Rhodes Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Black Australorps. Of course, this variety of heritage birds are enjoyable to look at, and lay brown eggs, in slightly different hues. The color of the egg shell really does not make a difference in the egg itself, it’s merely denoting what kind of chicken it came from.
The chickens must have access to pasture; fresh air and sunshine EVERYDAY. This means they are raised in a natural environment. That’s not hard on our farm as there is a pasture where they are allowed to wander and soak up sunshine and fresh air. The coop is their safe space at night.
Our 200 chicks arrived two months ago. They are already turning into pullets—teen female chickens. They’re eating left-over arugula, bok choy, end of season squash, kale, chickweed etc. Quite a delicious menu for the chickens. When our season is in full swing, they’ll eat vegetables that are either too abundant, or past their prime. That’s useful recycling with the side benefit of ensuring gorgeously yellow yolks.
This flock will start laying in April, just in time for our first markets. Most of the pullets are just now figuring out how to roost. They are fully developed by 8 weeks, and they don’t lay eggs until approximately 22 weeks. The first eggs will be smaller and only a few per day. Once they are roosting properly, in late April, we should see around 5 dozen eggs per day. Families who are picking up their CSA share often bring their kids come along to see the hoop houses and chicken coop. The chickens are definitely the favorite. Parents love the experience too—the farm, their vegetable share, darting chickens and their egg share. If you’re a CSA member and want to see the chicken coup or greenhouses, just ask. We love to let you see first hand. It’s always nice to get that email saying, “these are the best eggs I have ever eaten”. That’s what makes all the hard work and thoughtful planning worthwhile.