|Pastured Poulet Rouge Chickens|
If you have been hiding under a rock this summer I need to inform you that Iowa and much of the country have been experiencing a drought. Along with the lack of rain we have also been experiencing extreme heat, but I have been very pleased with the natural hardiness of our birds ... not losing any with the heat (although the predator losses is a different story). This natural ability to withstand the elements has always been one of the reasons behind our breed choices and breeding selection.
Last year we raised one smaller batch of this bird and so far this year we have/are in the process of raising three groups of about 50-75 average. The birds are being raised on grass in the orchard and they seem to be voracious foragers. Along with their forage we are feeding a 21% protein corn/soy ration that has a Homestead Feeds Chick-En-Egg Concentrate pack added for minerals (it is hormone free and animal byproduct free). During the first batch of chickens our protein level was not as high as it should have been and I noticed that the birds grew slower than expected ... that is now fixed and seems to be working better. We have used the Homestead line of feeds now for almost two years with the hogs and I've been pleased with it.
We process all of our birds at a state inspected facility which allows us to sell at our Farmers Market and on-line cooperative. The other exciting thing about the current processor is that they air chill the birds so they don't soak up a lot of water weight and the meat retains a great texture and flavor. I will say that we are very lucky though to have such a processor so close (about an hours drive).
The downsides ... it does take these birds about 14 weeks to finish out and the rate of growth does seem to be all over the place depending on the bird. We also need to finish building more portable chicken wagons, but that is just one of the many things on our ever growing list! Overall I believe they are good fit for us and I plan on continue raising them and working to build a market for the birds.
One thing that I always tell people though is that I have found that the animals that are born on our farm do better than the animals that we bring to the farm. With that in mind we are very seriously considering raising and selecting our own breeding stock so that we can incubate/hatch our own meat birds. I'm not sure that it will happen, but it is something that interests me quite a bit! If anyone has any thoughts or book recommendations on that subject I would love to hear them.