Raising Free Range Chickens

Alice Merritt shares her experiences raising free range chickens, including breeding tips, home-grown chicken feed, grit for digestion, nesting information, and keeping chickens out of crops and gardens.

| July/August 1975

Alice Merritt lives on the outskirts of a small town in eastern North Carolina, and has made quite a name for herself locally as a poultry fancier. Besides the chickens she describes in the following article, Ms. Merritt has kept ducks, peafowl, and a number of geese (a heathenish lot, to judge from their attack on a visiting preacher) and is now experimenting with Araucanas, since their colored eggs currently are much in demand. Alice's chicken business has been cut back somewhat since this account was written, partly because the neighborhood is troubled with a pack of wild dogs and the flock now must be more closely confined. The operation was quite profitable on a small scale at its height, however, and Ms. Merritt has been kind enough to share her experience with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Unlike most of my neighbors, I keep chickens and unlike the flocks of the large operators who supply the local markets, my free range chickens roam unconfined. They pick up much of their own living, cost me little in time or money, and produce yellower yolked eggs and more succulent meat than I could hope to harvest from fowl reared in wire cages. Best of all, other folks seem to appreciate that kind of good eating as much as I do and I find a ready market for my homegrown poultry products.

Raising Free Range Chickens

I have a list of regular customers who buy my eggs and chickens year round, at premium prices. These are choosy people who don't want to eat the products of commercial flocks raised on chemically treated food. In fact, they pay me not to feed such rations. Some even claim that they'd recognize my wares anywhere! Satisfied buyers refer their friends to me, and I seldom have more meat or eggs than I can sell but if there are any extra layings, my neighbors are glad to purchase them at my usual price (between 50 cents and 60 cents a dozen).

Some of the chickens I sell are unneeded roosters, which I offer from fryer weight on up either live or dressed, as the customer prefers, at $I.00 to $1.50 per bird depending on its size. Others are my less productive laying hens, which I cull about once a year. Any extra culls or roosters go into the freezer for home use or later sale.

Most of my buyers place orders regularly, or phone in their requests ahead of time. Since I don't make deliveries, the customer comes to my home and I have the package waiting when he or she arrives.

The 40 or so chickens on which this business is based are my own breed: a mixture of Pit Game, Black Pit Game, Black Orpington, New Hampshire Red, and Turken. (The Turken has a clean, red neck resembling that of a turkey. "What happened to that chicken's neck?" and "Are they kin to turkeys?" my visitors ask. Some find it hard to believe that these odd looking birds are really chickens and come from the egg looking just like that.)

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