Most of the chicken products that end up on tables come from large farms whose sole goal is to produce as much as possible. To meet the ever-increasing demand, these establishments did everything to raise productivity. At the same time, they try to do it at the lowest cost.
This led to developing rapidly growing chickens, more poultry in small spaces, and the extensive use of antibiotics and various chemical additives in animals’ nutrition. The product of, often uncontrolled, use of these measures is food that is less safe for humans and animals.
Plus, another unfortunate result is the deterioration of the conditions in which the chickens live.
A way to avoid all this is to choose organic instead of commercially produced chicken. In an effort to provide healthier food for their families and enjoy a simpler and more natural lifestyle, many people are turning to raise their own organic poultry.
The best part is that you don’t have to live on or own a farm to have fresh and healthy meat and eggs daily. The backyard is more than enough to satisfy your needs.
Farming organic chicken is not only healthy but immensely rewarding and satisfying. But can all breeds be raised as organic chickens?
All chickens can be raised organically, though some breeds are more suited than others as some pure-breeds have been selected for certain qualities they offer in farming. Hybrids are predominately used as organic chickens as they are considered more resistant to diseases and may produce better meat and eggs.
What is organic poultry?
More than 95 per cent of the chicken in the US is obtained from conventional poultry methods, most of it from the backyards of conventional households. Until recently it was all good and nobody bothered that much about where the food was coming from. But ever since the rise in the cases of health and hygiene concerns out of many food materials there is a lot of focus around the source and the manufacture of food.
Organic chicken basically is the chicken that is fed organic food. Apart from that, there are certain other conditions that make your farm an organic poultry farm. In order to be certified with the Organic label, chicken farms are required to follow a strict set of guidelines along with an annual inspection that is conducted by a third party body that certifies the farms.
These standards that are required to be met include the following:
- The chicken must be raised following the organic methods within two days of their hatching which mean as soon as they are ready to be fed, they are to be fed organic food right from the word go.
- The chicken must be fed organic feed for their entire life spans.
- No chemicals or drugs or hormone injections are to be given to the chicken during their growth.
- Chicken must have access to the outdoors. They must be allowed to roam in the open in nature at least for some duration in the day.
Which chicken breeds to choose to raise organically?
There’s practically no limit when choosing which chicken breeds to raise organically. You can decide on one of the pure breed or heritage chickens that have been bred for generations for certain qualities they offer. They’re probably the easiest to take care of.
Or, you can go with hybrids, which are a cross between two different breeds. These are predominately used in commercial production and are generally more resistant to diseases and produce more meat and eggs. The bantam chickens, a separate class, which are smaller and occupy less space, are often a breed of choice for those who raise chickens in their backyard.
However, there are some factors that come into play when deciding on a breed. You need to take into account the climate you live in, available space, the layout of your backyard, and most importantly, for which purpose you plan to raise organic chickens.
Organic chicken vs regular chicken
In general, organic chickens are healthier and happier than regular ones. The largest portion of chickens that find their way to supermarkets grows in enormous buildings, living alongside thousands of other birds.
They’re confined to cages and live in conditions more suitable for sardines than poultry. From hatching to death, they never see the light of day. Everything in their life is under strict control – food, light, and temperature. As they live in an extremely unsanitary environment, they often receive a lot of antibiotics to prevent diseases and infections.
Cage-free chickens live in a bit better condition as they are not locked in small cages but still spend their lives inside with no natural light.
On the other hand, free-range and organic chickens have outside access. This results in more healthy and favourable meat and eggs with less fat and no chemical additives. Still, free-range doesn’t necessarily mean organic.
If you raise chicken in your backyard, let them roam freely, and eat grass, grub, and insects, you’ll definitely get a healthier and happier bird. But, for a chicken to be called fully organic, it has to fulfil several other requirements.
What makes a chicken organic?
To be called organic, chicken must develop according to certain standards. First of all, they must be under an organic regime since the second day of their lives. Organic chickens must have access to the outdoors. Their living conditions must allow for their natural behaviour.
The food must be organic and handled in compliance with organic standards. This means it can’t include animal by-products and synthetic amino acids, nor it can under treatment of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and, pesticides.
For example, corn-fed chickens can use only organically produced corn. The chickens can’t use hormones, antibiotics, or any other drugs. If a bird gets sick, you’ll need to remove it from the organic program and then medicate. Even if you plan to raise chicken only for your own purposes, these are good guidelines to keep your flock healthy and happy.
What is the difference between organic and non-organic chicken feed?
I spoke about organic feed above. So what exactly is organic feed? Organic feed is basically the feed that is made from animal waste or by-products, and other food that is not grown or is subjected to pesticide use. So, basically, organic feed is the feed that is obtained through natural means without any artificial chemicals or hazardous substances being used.
Having seen the pre-requisites of an organic poultry farm, let us now find out how chicken can be raised organically.
What is the best organic chicken feed?
Amidst all other things, the most profound thing that defines an organic chicken farm is the use of organic feed. There are many companies that are now in the manufacturing and supply of Organic chicken feed in the US. But you must always ensure you get the best for your chickens. Some of the best ones include:
- Prairie’s Choice Chicken Feed
- Coyote Organic Feed
- Brown’s Layer Chicken Feed
- Small Pet Chicken Layer Feed.
How do you raise organic chicken?
Raising organic chicken can be a really satisfying experience, given the fact that almost everything that it involves is organic and brings one closer to nature and embracing natural ways of doing farming. When it comes to raising chicken there can be certain things on the basis of which the entire poultry raising activity can be divided which can be described as under.
1. Choose the right chicken breed
When it comes to raising organic chicken in your backyard, you need to understand that there will be a limitation of space and availability of other predators such as dogs which can hamper the free and outdoor movement of your birds. Also, you need to ensure that you choose the breed based on the requirements you have. If you are raising chicken for eggs, there will be different breeds and if you are raising chicken for meat, the breeds of the chicken would be different. And these different breeds would have to be taken care of and maintained differently.
The egg-laying ones would be lighter in their weights and can take a flight or jump through your backyard fencing, so you might need to clip their wings. The meat yielding ones would be heavier and more docile so they would be easier to control and keep but basic hygiene and upkeep are still required.
2. Determine the right number
The next thing that is important to be determined is the number of chickens you are needing to raise in your backyard. You would not want to overcrowd your backyard with more chickens than you can possibly handle. So, deciding on a number to fulfil your needs is important.
If you are raising organic chicken purely for eggs then a layer of 6 should suffice for a family. However, you will have to take into consideration the fact that your hens would not be laying eggs all around the year. So egg production would decrease. And when it comes to meat, you would know how much by when would you need and accordingly you can plan your purchase.
3. Buying the chickens
The next step rather is to buy the right breed and the right numbers from the right place. Here we are talking about everything being organic and so you will need to make sure you buy the kittens from an authentic place where only organically raised and fed kittens are available. You will also need to consider the cost and the budget and how many you actually need to buy to fulfil your consumption requirement.
A few other things that you need to consider while buying your chicken is, of course, your willingness to wait. You would need to determine if you can wait till the kittens grow to harvest meat from them.
Based on that you can either buy 2-day old kittens or pullets which are at least 20 weeks or elder. Buying the 2-day old kittens is a cheaper option however it might not be the best one. The 2-day olds have a high mortality rate and may die if not taken care of properly or while in transit.
While if they survive and are raised organically they grow up to become a fit and fine organic chicken, if they fall ill or are not maintained, they die without any warning or chances of recovering. And one very important thing is to buy the chicken at the right time. The best time to buy them is the spring as they would be far happier to find a new home with greenery and new shoots than to find bad weather at a new place.
4. Choosing the right kind of chicken coop
If you want to grow your chicken organically and in the best way, you need to ensure that you provide them with good shelter. Providing your chicken with appropriate shelter or a coop is thus extremely important. These coops can be either very simple homemade arks or custom made coops. Your organic chicken farm coops should be able to provide the following few things to your chicken which are as follows:
- Protection from bad weather and predators such as foxes and other animals.
- A coop that is large enough to provide enough space that can provide them with the right space and enough warmth to each other.
- The coop should be well ventilated and should not be too much dry air.
- The coop has to be rightly faced to allow the morning sunshine but avoid the direct afternoon sun.
- A part of the coop has to be properly shaded so that the hens can rest when they need to.
You will need to however ensure that you have the right number of coops to accommodate your chicken in your organic farm. You will also need to separate the sick ones from the rest so that all of them do not get sick.
5. Choosing the best chicken feed
The next and one of the most important of all things is, of course, to choose the best organic chicken feed to feed your chicken. The best organic chicken feed comprises feed made from animal by-products, organically grown food grains and other food materials. This organic feed can also be made from fish and other items such as oysters, grit, etc.
As we mentioned earlier, organic simply means the food that is produced from organic, non-chemical methods. So make sure you provide your chicken with the best feed whatsoever.
Best chicken breeds for organic meat
For many, the main reason for raising chickens is to have fresh meat directly from your backyard. If you belong in this group, then definitely look into what breeds are best for this purpose.
Below are some of the best options for organic raising.
- JERSEY GIANT – an American domestic breed, Jersey Giant is a large and heavy bird. Its original development purpose was to replace the turkeys, although that idea never came to fruition. You’ll need to feed them well and be patient, as they’re slow growers. They’re docile and friendly and get along well with other birds.
- FREEDOM RANGER – as their name says, these birds enjoy freely roaming and fending for themselves while thriving on a grass and bugs diet. Naturally healthy and quick to develop, they’re ready for slaughter in just 8 weeks. A big plus is that Freedom Rangers are great in helping you get rid of annoying pests from your backyard.
- BRESSE – these large, white-coloured birds provide some of the tastiest organic meat you can get from your backyard. They’re a bit on the expensive side, but these chickens are more than worth it. Bresse is also easy to take care of as they are friendly and domicile.
Best chicken breeds for organic eggs
Having a good egg-laying chicken breed in your backyard will provide an unlimited source of fresh and healthy eggs for you and your family.
If this is on the top of your priorities, check out some of the best breeds for laying organic eggs.
- WHITE LEGHORN – originally from Europe, these chickens are among of the most productive egg-layers. They lay up to 300 large white eggs per year in backyard conditions. White Leghorns enjoy roaming free when given the opportunity, but they can be a bit nervous and eager to take a flight.
- RHODE ISLAND RED – with this breed, you can expect up to 250 extra-large brown eggs per year. They’re very adaptive and can thrive in various climate conditions. Rhode Island Reds are quiet and easy-going birds that enjoy foraging through grass and hedges.
- PLYMOUTH ROCK – also known as Barred Rock, this classic breed is popular around the world for its egg-laying abilities. They’re pretty productive, laying over 200 large brown eggs over the year. Plymouth rocks also lay eggs during winter, which makes them a desirable breed among poultry keepers.