Free Ranging Chickens

Virginia Farmer Raises Free RangingChickens

There are still some farmers who believe in treating theiranimals to natural surroundings, notonly in order to raise healthier animals but for ethical valuesas well. On a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley near Swoope,Virginia, Joel Salatin is doing just that with his chickens.

"The long term benefits for society are greater becausewe are treating our animals better. But we don't do it for businessreasons. We do it because it's right." Salatin explained.

Salatin has developed a portable "Eggmobile" contraptionwhich houses 100 laying hens. These hens forage as far as 200yards from their home during the day. They naturally come backto roost so no fences are necessary to keep them contained. Salatinexplained that on the usual "factory farm" laying hensare kept under prolonged lighting to create the illusion of springtime. They are therefore always laying eggs. On the Salatin familyfarm the hens are well aware of what season it is and go throughthe natural winter rest period.

Salatin also raises about 6000 Cornish cross broilers a year.These chickens are kept in 2 foot tall mobile homes thatare moved over fresh grass every morning. About 100 animalsare kept in each house. A pen of the same size on a factory farmwould contain some 1000 to 1500 birds.

Both hens and broilers have a diet that is substantially differentfrom their unlucky relatives on factory farms. Because the hensare free-ranging they are able to choose their own food. Not onlyis this accomplished by natural foraging but Salatin gives themseveral different feeds to chose from as well. He believes, dependingon each individual chicken's health and the time of year, thesebirds will choose the food that is healthiest for them. Sincethe broiler houses are moved to fresh grass every morning, thebroilers also have the same opportunity to choose their own diet.Both hens and broilers obviously get plenty of green material,something that would be unusual on a factory farm and they arenever given steroids or antibiotics which induce unnaturally rapidgrowth. One of the results, and also the reason why it is economicallysensible to raise animals in such a manner, is that the lifespanof a laying hen on Joel Salatin's farm is generally three yearscompared to a normal factory farm lifespan of one year.


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