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.