Pastured poultry? Free range poultry? What does it mean? Why is it so different? We don’t hold a patent on some secret way of raising poultry here at Dominion Valley Farm. The answers are simple and yet complex: Simple in that getting back to the basics of the "old fashioned" way really works, complex only because now we know why it works. Let’s begin.
The Chicks, Poults and Ducklings
One-day-old chicks and poults (baby turkeys) arrive at our farm at 6:30 a.m., ready to go into the brooder. The brooder is prepared beforehand with heat lamps, feeders, a drinker and wood shavings for bedding. The young poultry need to be kept warm and dry for several days. The heat lamps keep their area at 90° for one week. Wood shavings keep them warm in addition to keeping them clean. The young birds receive natural sunlight, which is more effective than artificial light, for stimulating their pituitary gland.
At three weeks of age the chicks are fully feathered and ready to go out to pasture or "the range." One of the key things that facilitates this move is having our sons climb into the brooder pen and hand us the chicks so they can be placed in a crate. After this we take them to a pen in the pasture. The poults remain in the brooder for up to five weeks, as it takes them longer to fully feather.
The chicken pen is a basic structure, 10’ x 12’ x 2’ high. Three-quarters of it is covered on top with metal siding and half of the pen is covered on the sides. The rest has "poultry netting" or "chicken wire." This pen allows plenty of sunlight and fresh air but provides protection from the hot sun, cold winds and driving rain. Being bottomless, the pen provides full access to the pasture for the chickens.
The pasture is a prime example of something that sounds to be and actually is so simple, but the pasture turns out to be quite complex and very much to our advantage! The pastures here at Dominion Valley Farm have been prepared with different types of grasses, alfalfa, red and white clover, and YES, we even welcome the dandelions. Also, this "salad bar," so to speak, provides the natural vitamins and minerals the birds need and in turn provides what you need. The pasture also acts as bedding for the poultry. The chicken pens are moved once a day to provide fresh greens and bedding. Moving the pens daily provides an unbelievable amount of fertilizer for the pasture. Within 7-10 days the pasture rejuvenates to a lush green sward. This pen moving process also eliminates the terrible odor associated with commercial poultry farms. The ground and plants are able to take up and assimilate droppings efficiently without burning. All this keeps us happy and our birds happy! This pasture provides the birds with bugs and grubs that add to their already protein-diverse feed ration.
You are what you eat.
You get what you pay for.
In today’s factory farming practices, you may not want to know what your poultry was eating. Yes, you got what you paid for when that factory farm pushed that bird out the door full of antibiotics, synthetic vitamins, vaccinations, arsenic and a host of other things. You got a cheap bird that was fed cheap feed and was kept alive with medication. The least cost method for poultry diet is NOT good for the birds or for you!
We never use the term "chicken feed" in terms of money here at Dominion Valley Farm. The birds really like to eat, resulting in a hefty feed bill each month. Corn, oats and soy beans make up a major part of their ration, providing energy and protein. We also give them an organic mineral mixture, which we grind in with the grain. In a nut shell, the feed has diverse forms of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, similar to the pasture, providing a premium balanced diet. We purchase the corn, oats and soybeans from a neighbor, our vitamin and mineral mix from an organic company in Central Wisconsin, and we grind our own feed every few days.
At 9 weeks the chickens are ready to be processed, 18 weeks for the turkeys. The meat remains tender at these ages and is higher in protein than factory birds raised for a much shorter amount of time but given growth hormones to speed the rate of gain. Our birds are processed at a state-inspected facility that utilizes the same methods of butchering that we have always used.
Processing day is always an exciting one for us here at Dominion Valley Farm. The day definitely begins before the rooster crows and many long hours are spent loadings the birds, taking them to the processing facility and then supervising the butchering, plucking, cleaning, cooling down and bagging. The fresh birds are then brought back to the farm, weighed, and by 9:00 a.m. the next morning we are ready to greet our customers who drive out to the farm to pick up their fresh poultry. This gives us great satisfaction to meet with our customers and spend time talking with them after many weeks of hard work preparing for this day.
Broad-Breasted White versus Heritage Breed Turkeys
As of 2011, we are are not raising the heritage turkeys, but here are a few main differences between the Broad-Breasted White turkeys and the heritage breed turkeys, of which we have raised the Bourbon Reds. The Broad-Breasted Whites are a common white turkey. They are known for their larger breast size and are very tender and juicy. They have been bred to have this double breast so you will get a lot of white meat. The Bourbon Reds are considered a "heritage breed," meaning they are one of the original turkeys that were bred in this country. The Reds have had no special breeding; in other words, science has not altered anything in the breed - they are the same now as they were when the Pilgrims had them on their Thanksgiving tables. The Reds originated in Kentucky during the 1800s. The quality stands out in this slow-maturing bird with its flavorful fine meat and great taste. They have a robust "turkey" flavor.
Cornish Cross Chickens versus Bronze Rangers
The Cornish Cross chicken is the "standard" white-feathered chicken that many small farmers raise. These birds have a double layer of breast meat so is definitely the favorite of our white-meat-only loving customers. Many of our chefs prefer this breed also, especially when they are boning out the breast for specific dishes. The flavor is excellent!
The Bronze Ranger chicken is a feisty bird, gaining a large portion of their diet from vigorous foraging of our organic pastures. They have a brown feather so have become popular with our Asian customers, who regularly drive 4 hours round trip just for this delicious bird. You will first notice how proportional the white meat to dark meat is on the Bronze Ranger. They have not been raised to have largers breasts, like the Cornish Cross, so the white meat to dark meat is quite proportional. The taste? We have had customers explain it as "more robust chicken flavor." Although we are quite biased and believe that Dominion Valley Farm chickens are the best around, we haven't decided which our family prefers--the Cornish Cross or the Bronze Ranger--as they are both delicious!
The chickens are available for pick-up at the farm the day after processing…very fresh! Dressed whole chickens come with heart and liver. We cannot stress enough how well these birds keep in the freezer for months and months, so stock up! Remember…Frozen chickens are available year round pending availability.
We offer whole chickens and also cut-up chickens, which is a whole bird cut into eight pieces, heart and liver also included. Many of the dishes prepared with popular "boneless, skinless breasts" can be easily converted to be made with the eight pieces of a cut-up chicken. We also have "grilling chickens," which is a whole bird with the backbone removed, so you can butterfly it right on your grill. There are many individual parts available. Please see our Product List and Pricing page for a list and the prices.
BIG CHICKENS – Our Biggies, as we call them, will average 5 to 6-1/2 pounds, slightly larger than our regular 4- to 5-pound birds. The price per pound is the same no matter what size you choose. You also have the option of a whole or cut-up BIG chicken. Because the birds take a few weeks longer to raise, we will have only one pick-up date available, noted on order form (although in 2012, we have now scheduled a second BIG chicken day, due to high demand). We ask that you order early to ensure availability.
Our customers are encouraged to pick up their fresh poultry between 9:00 a.m. and noon on the Saturday pick-up date listed. If you are not available to come out to the farm on that date, please contact us to make other arrangements.
Turkeys will be available fresh on Saturday, November 23rd. If you will be preparing your bird for Thanksgiving, it will be fresh and may remain in your refrigerator until Thanksgiving Day. For those of our customers who will be preparing their bird after the holiday (and for those who order more than one turkey to enjoy at other times of the year), we ask that you freeze your bird when you get home and begin to thaw just a few days before preparing . The rule of thumb is to allow one day of thawing time, in the refrigerator, for every 4-5 pounds of bird.
Remember to order your turkeys early! If you would like a Dominion Valley Farm turkey to grace your Christmas or Easter table (or any other occasion), please order now, as we process turkeys only once a year. They will be ready by Thanksgiving, but if you are short on storage space, you are welcome to leave your pre-ordered bird in our freezer until closer to Christmas.
We are raising only the Broad-Breasted White turkeys this year. Sizes range from 14-22 lbs. with a few birds getting over the 25-30 lb. range. Please order early to ensure a fresh turkey for your table!
Smoked turkeys will be available again this year at Thanksgiving. Cold or hot, smoked turkey is a special treat!