Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

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So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website:
Dakota’s “Big Mac”:
Pastured Poultry information:
Chicken photo courtesy of:
Gumbo photo courtesy of:


Chick Hatchery Guide: Get Started With Day Old Chicks

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Hand in hand with our previous article about armchair gardening we put together a handy list of hatcheries for those looking to start raising themselves some fine feathered friends. Believe it or not, hatcheries routinely ship chicks across the country via USPS — you just have to be willing to order a minimum number required by the hatchery.


Now is a great time to start raising baby chicks provided you have a warm, draft-free environment. We’ve made sure to include the name, address, phone number, URL, and any thoughts we have about the assorted hatcheries listed below.

Cackle Hatchery
411 W Commercial St
Lebanon, MO 65536

Fairly old and well-established hatchery that is smack dab in the middle of the country. They frequently have sales and have a good reputation. They also have a wide selection of bird types including many rarer ones.

Country Hatchery
P.O. Box 747
Wewoka, OK 74884

A nice, friendly little hatchery that loves to help you select the very best for where you are. They state that they are an old-fashioned business that answers phone calls and they’re right!

Ideal Hatchery
P.O. Box 591
Cameron, TX 76520-0591

Email is manned by real people who actually know about chickens. Very helpful and friendly. Quality is great. Carries: chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, bantams, guineas, pheasants, partridges.

Meyer Hatchery
626 State Route 89
Polk, OH 44866

This is pretty much the standard, go to hatchery on the East Coast and Midwest. That being said, they’re good and they will ship small numbers of chickens during the warm season. They have great customer service by phone, never emailed.

Murray McMurray Hatchery
PO Box 458, 191 Closz Drive
Webster City, IA 50595

Carries started pullets, meat – everything, including “special packages” – a specialty order that contains several types of poultry geared towards a specific purpose, such as the Frying Pan special or the Top Hat.


And here are some other well known hatcheries that we haven’t personally dealt with:

Belt Hatchery
7272 S. West Ave.
Fresno, CA 93706
Phone: 559-264-2090 / Fax: 559-264-2095

Phone, fax and email orders (no online orders). There is an extra charge if you order more than one breed to meet the minimum requirement. They maintain their own breeding flocks.

Dunlap Hatchery
Box 507 – 4703, E. Cleveland Blvd.
Caldwell, Idaho 83606

Established in 1918, they have a store as well and do phone orders, MO and checks.

Hoffman Hatchery
P.O. Box 129
Gratz, PA 17030

Started in 1948 with one small Sears-Roebuck incubator. Family-run business. Only accepts checks and money orders. Orders must be mailed in.

Hoovers Hatchery
P.O. Box 200
Rudd, IA 50471

Established 1944. Free shipping, rare breeds, meat birds, bantams.

Ideal Poultry
PO Box 591
Cameron, TX 76520

Minimum order $25.00. Accepts Paypal. Claim to be the largest supplier of backyard poultry in the United States, shipping close to 5 million chicks annually. Offers surplus chick bargains and make your own mix.

Moyer’s Chicks
266 E. Paletown Road
Quakertown, PA 18951

Started in 1946. They hatch out year-round. They sell their own hybrid cross chickens.

Myers Poultry
966 Ragers Hill Rd.
South Fork, PA 15956

150+ varieties. Payment information must be phoned in.

Purely Poultry
PO Box 466
Fremont WI 54940

300+ breeds of chickens, bantams, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas, peafowl, pheasants, ornamentals, chukars, swans and quail.

Ridgeway Hatchery
615 N. High St., Box 306
Larue, OH 43332

In business 93 years. Orders are placed online and then you call in your payment information.

Sand Hill Preservation Center
1878 230th Street
Calamus, Iowa 52729

“We are doing this as a hobby business service and we work as fast and efficiently as the time allows. If you are impatient and absolutely have to have something by a certain date, please do us and yourself a favor and order from somewhere else.” Linda and Glenn run this as a labor of love.

Schlecht Hatchery
9749 500th Avenue
Miles, IA 52064

Smaller selection but they do all of their own breeding.

Welp Hatchery
PO Box 77
Bancroft, IA 50517

Started in 1929. Broilers are specialty. Accepts money orders. No additional shipping charges.

Do you have a favorite hatchery or have a comment about one listed here? Tell us about it in a comment below!

Garden Planning For Beginners

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Why plan your garden ahead?

Here you are, stuck indoors with only the memories of your bountiful summer garden. Or maybe in reality it wasn’t such a bountiful garden…those tomatoes never did really produce well. Or maybe you had wanted to start a garden – you had thought about it, talked about it but just never quite got around to it…Now’s the perfect time, no matter what last year’s situation was, to send away for a stack of catalogs, curl up in a cozy chair and start your next year’s garden planning.

There are endless possibilities for this coming year. Garden planning is relaxing. When my catalogs arrive in the mail, I feel the same excitement I did as a kid when the Christmas catalogs came in the mail (anyone remember the Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and Miles Kimball catalogs?). And if you hate the paper, no worries, you’re not left out because almost every company offers their catalogs online as well. Not only is it relaxing but done wisely, it can result in a better garden, with more variety and better yields.

Which brings us to a warning we feel obligated to mention (lawyers may be involved here): be careful while browsing! You do know what happens when you take your four year old to the toy store? Just so you know – it can be easy to get carried away.

Do you know how many seed catalogs there are out there?

Some catalogs are more informative than others and that’s a good thing to look at as you’re browsing. As someone looking to buy seeds, you want to have a good description of the plant you’re going to grow. You need to know how big it will get, how far apart to plant it, how long it takes to sprout, and when it will actually produce fruit. Does it grow well in the heat or the extreme cold? Is it prone to diseases in damp weather? If I tend to have a late frost in May, I want to grow a variety that can withstand it; if my August temp’s are over 90, my plants have to make it through. A good catalog is going to give you information on this. You need to know something about what that particular variety can and can’t tolerate to make a good, educated choice.

There are catalogs for everything you can imagine – and things you had no idea even existed. We’re going to give you a list of some of the best general catalogs out there as well as a few specialized ones. Some of these companies are big; some of been in business for a long time; some are small or are relatively new to the market. All have good reputations and have something that makes them unique.

It can be worth it to go with a specialized catalog if you’re really passionate about growing a particular item. If it’s a long-term investment of either your time or money, such as a fruit tree or asparagus, it’s best to shop around and do your research on what will work best in your area. A company geared towards either those specific plants or your region is the best way to go.

Are These Seeds Safe? 

There’s a big list of companies who have voluntarily taken what’s called The Safe Seed Pledge. This means they’ve decided they won’t sell genetically modified seeds – they’ve pledged that the seeds they sell don’t contain genetic material from other species and that they’re committed to selling seed we can save and use to grow again instead of having to go back to the owner of the seeds to get more. You can get more information about the pledge here:

If you want to save your own seeds, you’ll look for Open Pollinated or Heirloom varieties. A lot of times these are abbreviated in catalogs as (OP). When you grow these, as long as you’ve taken care that they don’t cross breed with another variety, you can save the seeds and plant them next year. It’s a fun project and can not only save money but can help you develop seeds that are adapted to the very specific climate you’re growing in. Heirloom varieties are also living history – some of these have been grown for hundreds of years; some were unique to a certain region or family. There’s a lot of interesting stories around some of them. They preserve genetic diversity at a time when a few big seed companies want to license and patent seeds so growers are forced to purchase a few varieties from them year after year.

The other type of seeds is hybrid. There’s nothing wrong with buying and using them and in some cases, hybrids may be an easier choice for a particularly challenged environment because they can be bred with specific disease resistances. That’s no guarantee but it can be a help. Weigh out all of your options and see what works the best for your situation.

So Now What?

So now you’re prepared to spend a few pleasurable hours browsing. Don’t make this a rushed thing; enjoy it and take your time. Just thumb throughGrow Best Tomatoes and dog-ear pages or circle things you like as you go through the catalogs. It’s okay – go ahead and be a glutton! We’re going to put these aside for a few days and make a reasonable, realistic plan before you actually spend any money.

When you’re ready for a second look, make a real assessment of the actual garden space you’ve got and what you need and want to plant. Now’s the time to be realistic. You can’t plant all of your corn and potatoes for the year if you have a 10 x 10 foot space. Don’t decide you’re going to grow all of your tomatoes to supply sauce and paste for the year if you work 60 hours a week and have three children under the age of 4. If this is your first garden, don’t decide to plant one of every vegetable. Make this a successful experience from the start by being realistic. We all bite off more than we can chew but keep it within a reasonable limit.  If you want to go crazy, buy some extra radish or lettuce seeds; you’ll find a place to tuck them in and they won’t go to waste, even if they aren’t used this year.

Check your work

Once you’ve decided what you want and need to grow, go back and work through the catalogs you really liked. Pick a vegetable to start with, say for example tomatoes. You may want to make a list of the varieties that really caught your attention. Maybe you want to plant a paste tomato, a yellow tomato, a big ol’ beefsteak and some tiny ones for snacking. Use that general plan and narrow down your choices. Make a list by those categories and then weigh the pro’s and con’s with each selection on your list. Maybe one paste tomato matures faster; maybe one has less seeds. Take a look at things like days to maturity, your climate, the amount of space you have, the flavor description, and what you want to use it for. Now you’ve got to make the hard decisions. Some varieties should rule themselves out easily: if you live in Zone 5 and that tomato you liked takes 110 days to maturity you should probably cross it off the list and find something that matures faster. Make a note of which catalog offers that variety and the price – there can be significant differences.

Sometimes it can pay to order all of your seeds from a single source, depending on how the shipping and handling fees are set up. But if there’s something you really want, it can be worth it to figure out what else you can buy from that company to justify the shipping cost.

Is that all there is to it?

After you’ve gotten all of your essentials planned out and decided upon, you can give yourself permission to go back and look for the little fillers or “fun” items. Maybe there’s a new flower you want to try? Never planted gourds before? Maybe you want to add a few unusual herbs in between plants? This is where you can be creatively inspired by the catalogs and all of the things they offer that are really unique. You may end up with a new discovery that becomes one of next year’s “regulars”. Good things to look for as easy additions are “off-season” vegetable (early spring or late fall), small varieties you can tuck in among your regular beds (lettuces, herbs, greens and flowers) or container plants.

Have fun and relax with this even as you’re making your plan. Its part window shopping, part daydreaming and part just good old garden planning. When it comes time to start those seeds, either indoors or out, you’ll be ready.

As you get more into reading the catalogs and trying different offerings year after year, you may find yourself coveting a particular variety or a particular vegetable. You look at the catalog and get upset because the green beans you had ordered last year (and loved!) are no longer being sold…while there are always tried and true varieties offered, you can also count on something new appearing every year. Maybe that’s what keeps us hooked. That and the hope that this will finally be the year without the bugs, the weeds and with the gorgeous, bountiful harvest.


Do you have any tips you’d like to share? A favorite seed catalog we missed? Something you’d like more clarification on? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

Some good catalogs:

General Catalogs

Photos courtesy of

Keeping Chickens as Pets

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It’s popular to keep chickens for eggs and for meat, but what about keeping a chicken as a pet? In some countries, this is actually quite popular. Cat, dog, or chicken? Any chicken can ideally be a pet if raised gently, but some breeds make much better pets than others. Keeping a chicken as a pet isn’t much different from regular chicken husbandry, but there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Start From the Beginning

There are few things quite as rewarding from raising a chicken from an egg, or at least a very young chick. One can purchase young chicks online or from their local farm supply store and must keep them in an incubator for the first several weeks. The more you handle them and the gentler you are with them, the more your chicks will trust you and respond well to human touch. Squat down to handle your chicks, don’t make fast motions, feed them from your hands, and make sure that small children don’t run around them or handle them roughly. Teach your children to handle them gently, to feed them, and to treat the birds well. This is an excellent chance to educate your children and sure to create a lasting relationship between your kids and your family’s new pets.

Some Breeds Are Better Choices Than Others

While all chickens can make decent pets, some are naturally better tempered than others. Hens are the best choice and quiet, gentle breeds make the best bets. Bantam chickens are much smaller than regular breeds, making them easier to hold. Looks, coloring, and size are all a matter of preference.

Silkie Chickens make excellent pets and their silk-like feathers make them appealing to hold as well. Docile, soft, and easy to carry, the Silkie Chicken is the ideal pet. They are friendly, especially if they’re been handled frequently from the time they were young. Silkie Chickens also make excellent mothers, so if you want to increase the size of your flock this breed may be just what you’re looking for.

Ameraucana chickens are also popular pets and an added perk is that they lay lovely, colorful eggs. They are known for their unique looks and their gentle temperament. They are not the best egg layers when it comes to quantity, but they are good with children, easy to care for, and even-tempered.

Other breeds that make excellent pets are Cochins, Mille Fleurs, Brahmas, Austerlorps, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons. No matter which breed you choose, do your research! Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Keeping Your Pets Safe

Before buying your first chicks, take account of the pets you already have. Dogs and chickens often don’t mix well. Certain breeds, like Jack Russell Terriers, have been bred to kill small creatures. A chasing, nipping dog can easily kill a chicken. Training a puppy to be gentle with chicks and chickens is much easier than training a full-grown dog to do the same things. Even when you have trained your dog, it’s never wise to leave your dog alone with your pet chickens. The results can be disastrous. The same can be said for cats. Keep in mind that many creatures prey on chickens and that you must take extra precautions to keep your pets from becoming another animal’s dinner.

What Exactly is a Broody Hen?

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You’ve likely heard the term “broody hen” before. It’s well known within the chicken community that some chicken breeds are excellent broody hens while others are terrible. Yet, exactly what does it mean to be “broody?” Is this something man can influence, or is it something that is genetic?

Broody Chickens Generally Make Excellent Mothers

Broodiness is the natural tendency of a hen to care for her flock of chicks. Broodiness comes and goes in cycles; it is not a constant state of being. When a hen “goes broody,” she experiences a strong desire to care for and protect her eggs. She will rarely leave them, rather sitting on them to protect them.

According to James Kash in his January/ February 2013 Backwoods Home Magazine article “Broody Biddies Make Sense on the Homestead,” “Broodiness is an avian behavior that is frowned upon in the world of agriculture.” Why? Broodiness inhibits egg production. If you want a constant supply of eggs, not chicks, broodiness is not productive.

However, broodiness can also be very beneficial. If you’d like to increase the size of your flock, having a broody hen will do this inexpensively. You also won’t have to worry about incubating your eggs, because the hen will do this. Broody hens can maintain your flock, especially if you use some of your birds for meat. Mother hens are also good protectors of their young and teach them helpful skills, such as foraging. She’ll teach them to eat and drink and keep her chicks warm and safe at night.

How Can You Tell If Your Hen Is Broody?

If you suspect you might have a broody hen on your hands, there are a few signs you can look for to make sure. A broody hen will spend a lot more time at her nest or nesting box and will be very protective of it, fluffing up her feathers, pecking, or even making a growl-like sound. Broody hens tend to be irritable. Allow your hens to nest away from other pets and chickens, because they can be quite mean to any animals (or children!) who come too close. A broody hen may only leave her nest to eat, water, or defecate. She may even pull out some of her feathers. Are you seeing these signs in your birds? If so, you’ve likely got a broody hen on your hands.

Be careful, though, because not all broody hens are good mothers. Some will abandon their eggs or young chicks and if this happens, you’ll need a good stand-by brooder or an incubator to keep these chicks alive.

Some chicken breeds, like Cochins, Silkies, New Hampshire Reds, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings, and Old English Games are very likely to become broody. This is a genetic thing and is much more likely in some breeds than in others. Hens cannot be made to go broody. In fact, broodiness is a trait that has been bred out of many chicken breeds because broodiness inhibits egg production and many in the agricultural business consider this a bad thing. The leghorn is an example of a chicken breed that very rarely goes broody.

If you want to increase the size of your flock, choosing a broody breed may be just the answer. Keep in mind that broodiness varies even within a breed and some birds are naturally better brooders than others. With a little bit of research and some luck, keeping broody hens can be hugely rewarding.

My Top 5 Reasons for Raising My Own Chickens…

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Today I thought I’d list some of the top reasons I personally think just about anyone should consider raising their own chickens…

(after reading the article, please share your own reasons for raising chickens by posting a comment at the bottom of this page! 😉 )

1. The eggs are healthier!

healthy eggs











Photo by artbystevejohnson

Eggs from properly raised “backyard chickens” are sooo much healthier than store-bought ones.

Chicken factory farms has one single goal: to make the chickens produce eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible. This results in an unvaried and unnatural diet and in many cases they will be given various hormones and antibiotics.

On the other hand, chickens that are allowed to forage freely, peck for insects and engage in their natural behavior will provide you with considerably healthier eggs, free from hormones or other unnatural substances and are brimming with nutrition!

2. The Taste!

Chickens eating a varied, nutritious diet will result in more flavorful eggs.

Many people who eat an egg from a properly raised “backyard chicken” will be surprised by the the strong flavors as well as the intense, almost orange color of the yolk compared to their store counterparts.

3. Garden Benefits!

plants in garden











Photo by celesteh

Chicken droppings enrich your compost. Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen. Added to the compost bin they add more nitrogen and improve your compost.

Chickens provide natural insect control. As they hunt and peck around the yard, chickens gobble up grubs, earwigs and other bugs, treating our garden pests as tasty, nutritious treats.

Even their scratching for bugs will benefit your garden by aerating the soil and breaking down larger pieces resulting in an accelerated decomposition process!

4. Chickens Are Fun & Educational

Chickens are extremely easy to raise. Essentially, all they need is space, food and shelter.

Believe it or not, raising chickens can also be a lot of FUN! Just like dogs or cats, every chicken has its own personality traits and just sitting down on your lawn watching them can provide a lot of entertainment 🙂

Lastly, raising chickens provides a great learning experience, for children and adults alike! You’ll also quickly notice how your values towards animals and the value of the quality of food and where it comes from change.

5. Freedom From the Industrial Food Industry

grocery shopping cart











Photo by qmnonic

In these uncertain times, moving towards self-sufficiency is a great goal and producing your own eggs is a great step in the right direction. If you’re into gardening, that can take care of a lot of your fruit and vegetables needs. Cows, sheep, and goats are too big and cumbersome for most yards, while chickens are small, relatively quiet, willing to eat just about anything, and they can produce a steady stream of eggs.

These are my own personal top reasons I love keeping my own chickens…

All the best,
John White

PS. Do you have your own top list? Share it here below by leaving a comment!