The Seasonlity of Chicken
I pulled this quick post together for Fall Line Farms to answer customer questions about why there wasn't more chicken available on the market in March. It shows how much you can learn by asking farmers.
“Where do I find local pastured chicken this time of year?”
This seems to be a popular question from our customers. We asked a few of our favorite chicken farmers and below are their responses. It has been a long winter and so we realize, to everything there is a season …
From: Rich Hamilton, Elim Springs Farm
"I can't speak for the other producers, but here at Elim Springs Farm we are just gearing up for chicken season. Our first chicks hit the farm last Tuesday so we are still about 8 weeks out from having chicken on the web site for sale.
We run our chickens in two cycles - spring & late summer/ fall - we have found from the first of June until at least mid-July is just too hot to keep the birds thriving...and in many cases alive. So we run several hundred birds and process all during the month of May, then we start back up again mid-July which has us starting to process again in September. Additionally, we generally sell out within 60 days or less after the last processing date, so best practice is to get what you are after when you see it, and store it, rather than buying as needed."
From: Rob and Krista Rahm, Forrest Green Farm
"The primary constraint to raising good pasture raised chicken is to raise it when the grass is green and growing. We at Forrest Green Farm raise our Meat Chickens from March to November. We try to stretch the envelope a little on either end of the season hoping for green grass. We start our chicks in March in brooding trailers to keep them warm and healthy and hope that the grass greens up in late March or April to move them out on pasture. It takes about 8-10 weeks to grow them to processing size so the beginning of May is the soonest we can process our chickens. We do have several freezers to store an inventory of chicken through the winter but this is the first year we sold out before May."
From: Christy-Ann Callas, Thistledowne Farm
"Thanks for inquiring about fresh chicken. Most of these smaller farms (my self included) usually do 2 to 4 batches seasonally spring and fall. The reason for this is the survival rate on the meat birds is not very good in the extreme cold during winter nor is it very good in the extreme heat of summer. These birds are not like your regular laying hens. They are bred to grow fast and have nice meaty breasts and legs. They grow very quickly even on just good pasturing but their weight is usually disproportionate to the rate of growth. They cannot manage breathing and moving around very well in summer and their lungs are susceptible to respiratory issues in the winter.
Spring and Fall are really the most humane time to raise these birds. So when you see them offered, put by a couple extra in the freezer for the off season. I hope this sheds light on the subject.
Also, note that eggs are the same way. A chicken's laying cycle is prompted by the length of light. Once their pituitary gland senses the daylight hours getting longer (this time of year) they begin to produce and move to full laying capacity up til mid June or so. At this time they go 'broody' which means they stop laying and concern themselves with hatching chicks. Once they get broody you just have to wait for them to get back to work. That is why there is always a shortage of eggs in the summer.
With commercial production chickens are stimulated unnaturally with feed supplements. You don't even want to know about the commercial production of the meat birds. It will make you very unhappy. Just know that everything is really seasonal and what you purchase from these small farms is absolutely the best and safest food you can purchase and the folks that do this for a living are very concerned about our food choices and protecting them too!"