Foggy Hollow Farm and the Future of Pasture-Raised Chickens

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Like many farmers and ranchers that want to raise livestock on a rotational pasture-based system, we want to use breeds of chickens that are not designed for confinement. Most of the chicken sold in the US is a breed called the Cornish X (pronounced cornish cross). We started with and also still grow some of these birds. Because they are not great foragers and have some other drawbacks in a pasture-based system, we have looked at adding new breeds.

Our next step was to try and find some other birds to raise. We tried Red Ranger. We are currently raising Rainbows and Heritage Whites. All of these birds take longer to mature and are much better on pasture. They take 9-14 weeks to mature, fully feather, and forage better. But they are hybrids, which means if we breed them, we will not get the same breed as the parents. While the meat in these birds is great and we are happy with the results, we are still dependent on the hatchery system.

We attended the SSAWG conference in Mobile in May and heard about the Sustainable Poultry Network. Their mission is to create an alternative to the hatchery-based model to a more local version using heritage breeds of poultry. John Patrick of Foggy Hollow Farm raises beautiful Barred Rocks. These don’t look the birds you would get from buying Barred Rocks from Murray McMurray or other national hatcheries, which have been bred to make the most eggs possible. These are bred to be true dual-purpose birds.

If all goes well, we will be working to try and change our entire flock over to these heritage breeds over the next year. It’s a bold undertaking. These chickens take a lot longer to reach maturity, and that makes them much more expensive to raise. Our goal will be to keep prices very close to our current levels, so to be able to do that we’d like to use as much feed that we’ve grown here as we can; we also won’t have to pay a hatchery and shipping. We will still raise the other birds until our customers make the switch with us. But our desire is to raise the animals that work better in a local model and allows us to close our system on site.

Foggy Hollow Farm is a wonderful family endeavor. They have the only LEED Platinum Certified home in Middle Tennessee. They have wonderful rain catchment system and solar power. Their home was designed to use passive solar heating, so that in the colder months more light comes in to heat the home, while in the warmer months no direct sunlight enters. They are also the only Certified Organic producer of eggs in Middle Tennessee. They also have a gorgeous goat herd raised for meat. Rebecca and John are both gracious hosts and we could not recommend them enough. Here are some photos from our trip.

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April around the farm

Spring is fully here, and we are loving it. Little farmer Luke turned 7 weeks old yesterday, and he has been an adorable little helper at market with us.

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We have 90 new laying hens we are raising from chicks, as well as 150 new broilers. Our Tamworth hogs are 3 months old now and are starting to get bigger, but they still feel like babies to me. Our good friend Andrew came by and introduced his pup Otto to the herd. Otto has his doubts, but the pigs love friends!

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We are trying to move beyond the chicken tractor. We don’t like how confined they are, so bring on the chicken maze! This keeps predators out and confuses the hawks. The chicks dig the challenge. But they are getting out a lot and starting to roam too far to be safe at their size, so it’s still a work in progress.

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Our pigs did a great job of planting watermelons and acorn squash for us in the woods over the winter. Maybe they will get a bounty to enjoy later in the summer!

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We are getting great spinach, kale, turnip, radish, and turnip green harvests these days.

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We go through a lot of non-GMO feed, so we finally got a grain silo installed. This will make our lives much easier and cut down on our delivery costs. We had to get a boom truck to lift the thing after laying a high-PSI concrete slab.

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We got a new registered Berkshire boar. Meet Wilbur!

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And finally, we have 3 weeks of successful farmers markets behind us. Our customers are giving us great feedback. Most of them are loving what they are buying, and we are getting good criticisms so that we can always improve. Come see us this Saturday from 7-12 at Pepper Place in Birmingham.

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