More days than not, we have a customer step into our farm store looking for boneless chicken breast, whole chickens or ground chicken. It kills me each and every time that I have to tell them that we are out until May - knowing darn well that I could have made a sale. Typically when I say that we are out, I get a blank stare, sometimes a mouth hanging half open, and usually some follow up questions. If you are someone stepping into our store unknowing of how and why we raise our animals the way that we do, I try to use these moments as a learning lesson - we are not a grocery store nor do we run a commercial chicken house.
Our chickens are raised seasonally on pasture, & for a very good reason. They're raised the way that nature intended, not the way that a monopoly chicken producer has made society believe is the only way to feed the world. On average, a chicken house is the size of a football field, sometimes two stories, and houses anywhere from 20,000-35,000 birds at all times. Because they're able to navigate the indoor space freely - they are considered free range. If there is access to the outdoors, perhaps a small door every 100 feet providing 'access' but not exactly encouraging to go outside, they can be considered 'pasture raised.' As a producer, I speak on these government labels frequently and the level of confusion that they cause for consumers. More importantly than confusion, they lead to misinformation & representation being spread about what is 'healthy' and what is not. Diving the gap between the farmer and the consumer.
The truth is, I think that all chicken is safe in the United States to consume. I do not believe that we put protein into our food system that is unsafe or meant to intentionally cause harm. However, do I think that we could be doing better as an industry to raise animals in a way that has been proven to provide superior nutritional value? 100%. Do I think that disease is more likely to be spread in an indoor and crowded environment than outdoors in open air feeding on & using the medicinal properties of nature's garden? Do I wholeheartedly believe that over commercialization of the agriculture & food industry is doing a disservice to both the consumer & small-scale producer? I think about it every day.
At Hidden Creek, we raise our poultry seasonally with our first chicks arriving at the beginning of March & our final birds being processed at the end of October - on a six week rotation. Because broiler chickens are so temperature sensitive, we have a limited growing season here in the Mid Atlantic where we experience all four seasons. Our broiler chicks spend their first 14-21 days on this planet inside of our brooding house, keeping warm & developing their 'true' feathers, which allow for the regulation of body temperature. Once they reach this point in maturity, they spend the remainder of their 8 weeks out on our pastures with an endless salad bar of fresh greens, legumes & bugs. While they are on pasture, they are moved 1-2 times daily & given a supplemental non GMO feed.
Last season, we raised 600-800 birds per batch to supply our farm store with. With that being said, by the time that December rolled around, we were sold out of boneless chicken breast – our most sought after product. In the weeks following, we also ran our of whole chickens, ground chicken & bone-in breast. About one month later, we were also out of our chicken sausages – leaving nothing but wings, drums & thighs in our retail freezer. With the popularity & word spreading of our meats, this has been a missed opportunity for us. The demand and disappointment so high, that we considered raising a few batches this winter fully indoors to keep our customers happy. & then we remembered out why –
At Hidden Creek we believe that when you raise a healthier bird you raise a healthier product for consumption. That when you work with nature’s cycles, you help regenerate the soils & ecosystems of pastures. This is why we allow for our pastures to rest during the winter months in the dormancy. Come spring, our pastures will be lush & green again for our broilers to rotationally graze.
If you live in the Northeast, there is a good chance that your local farmers of truly pasture raised chicken are also sold out or starting to get thin on supply. The good news? Spring is coming. Our first batch of broilers are scheduled to arrive at the farm on March 3rd & will go to processing on April 27th. By the time that we can pick back up our poultry after packaging, it will be the first week of May. In hopes to avoid running out again next winter of our best-selling cuts, we have more than doubled our flock sizes for 2022 – with the ability to add more as the season goes on. With that being said, there is always still the chance that come next January, we are out of certain cuts again and that double just wasn’t enough.
Our pasture raised poultry, along with our beef and pork cuts, is available Wednesday-Sunday at our farm store. You can also shop our farm store online as we ship to 48 states & deliver locally each and every week. Bulk orders (anything over 10) for WHOLE CHICKENS ONLY are now being accepted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Otherwise, be sure to follow our social channels & join our email list for inventory updates as the poultry season begins.