This week, Animal Welfare Approved and Wild Turkey Farms hosted a poultry processing workshop to train potential users of the new mobile processing unit (MPU). Funded by a Good Husbandry Grant and built by Wild Turkey Farms, this plant-on-wheels can travel to area farms for on-farm processing – minimizing transport stress on the animals and providing farmers an economical processing alternative (rental rates start at $45/day). Techniques on humane slaughter were demonstrated as well as cervical dislocation for emergency euthanasia. Attendees learned the importance of humane handling and catching to ensuring product quality and took home some good tips on effective product presentation. Many farmers raising birds for meat operate under the 1,000 bird exemption, meaning that they are not required to have an inspector on-site at the time of processing. However food safety is even more important for the small farmer than it is for a large plant and sanitation, biosecurity and recordkeeping were emphasized as important tools to ensure a safe product for the consumer. A very knowledgeable and gracious staff from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, including Don Delozier, State Director for the NCDA&CS Meat and Poultry Inspection Division and Compliance Officer Melanie Pollard, presented on the relevant regulations for on-farm processing, how to comply and where to go for more information.
After years of purchasing eggs at his local farmers’ markets, Jay Roberts decided to raise laying hens to provide eggs for himself and his family. He started with four hens, and he has never looked back! When the opportunity presented itself for Jay to purchase acreage in North Carolina for his growing flock of pastured laying hens, he jumped at the chance. “About two years after I purchased the land, I was able to leave my full-time job,” says Jay. “I love the freedom it gives me. I love being outdoors, and I love working with my laying hens on daily basis. I’m a chicken farmer now!” Jay is accompanied on the farm by an unexpected farmhand, a cat named Kai. Kai came to live with the family as a kitten and immediately took to the birds. Kai spends the days with the birds, walking the fence lines and alerting of predators. Jay jokingly says that he and Kai raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) laying hens at Kai’s Hens in Pinnacle, NC.
After purchasing the land that would become Kai’s Hens, Jay spent several years clearing land for pastures and building fencing. “We tore down an old tobacco barn, cleared pine trees to create pasture and planted grasses. With pine trees, the land was very acidic, so I worked with local extension to get it turned into the type of pasture we wanted for the birds,” says Jay. “The pasture is divided into two sections, so that we can utilize rotational management. That gives the pasture time to regenerate from where the birds were eating,” Jay explains. “The pastures are heavily planted with clover, seasonal rye grasses, buckwheat and daikon radishes to loosen the soil.”
Jay manages a flock of approximately 50 Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW laying hens. He works with the Delaware breed, as he finds them to be well-suited to his pasture-based system. “After working with other breeds, I finally settled on Delawares and Rhode Island Red roosters. They have a high egg production, and they’re larger birds. With the hawks and eagles around our farm, the larger bird size helps with predator issues.”
For Jay, the most important aspect of his animal husbandry is managing the birds in ways that allow them to demonstrate natural behaviors. “I try to provide everything for the chickens that they would get without human intervention,” says Jay. “This includes little interaction once they’re mature enough to be on pasture, making sure they’re in wooded, as well as open areas that are filled with natural, wild grasses. My main interaction with them is collecting eggs daily and making sure they have feed and water. I also give them individual health checks monthly. Other than that, I let them do their thing.”
Pasture-based management is foundational to production practices at Kai’s Hens. “Managing the birds outdoors on pasture lowers my feed costs, which is one benefit, but the other is that the eggs taste so much better,” says Jay. “I notice that the flavor and color of the yolks change seasonally based on the diet of the birds. It’s a lot of work to get the pasture up and going, but once you do, the amount of milled feed goes down drastically and egg taste improves tremendously.”
Jay is preparing to expand production; his long-term goals are to clear out more acreage and increase the flock even more to keep up with growing demand for his Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW eggs.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pasture-raised chicken eggs from Kai’s Hens are available directly from the farm (call or text Jay for orders), along with several restaurants in the area. Check the AGW vendor directory for details. For more information about Kai’s Hens, visit the farm’s Facebook page. Contact Jay Roberts at Yippeekyaa@yahoo.com and 336-301-0825.