Here on the farm, chickens are not only a provider of eggs, they are also our fellow workers. As part of the team, they work in tandem with the farmer, the oxen, and the land. These relationships are impossible with modern commercial hybrids, and just as impossible with the hybrids is the opportunity for farmers to improve their own flocks; true breeds (unlike hybrids) can produce offspring that have the same traits as their parents, which is extremely important for consistency in our food supply. For these reasons, we raise Buckeye chickens. Scroll to learn more about how our chickens are part of the team and efforts to recover this breed from the brink of extinction.
Today the Buckeye chicken is on the Livestock Conservancy’s Watch List, due largely in part to the industrialization and monopolization of food in the United States. The eggs and meat are both renowned and have even won the Slow Food Ark of Taste Award.
The Buckeye chicken was developed in 1896 by Nettie Metcalf, and to this day is the only poultry breed developed by a woman that is accepted by the American Standard. Preserving the Buckeye preserves women’s legacy in agriculture. She developed the breed from existing breeds of the time: Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Cochin, and Black-breasted Red Game. Her goal was to create a large meat-bird that was dark, to not stand out as much in order to elude predators. Her results were beyond successful, creating a bird that met all of her standards while also having good laying and foraging abilities, and hardiness.
Our flocks are raised free-range on pasture and fed non-GMO feed. Free range access to pasture also provides them with a diverse diet of insects, grass, weeds, seeds, and legend has it the occasional mouse. Their manure also provides fertility for our grass, which is what feeds our oxen, fueling power for the farm.
On pasture, the chickens’ shelters are moved daily, and their paddocks are moved in coordination with the oxen’s grazing, usually occurring every other day. The flocks’ paddocks follow the oxen paddocks in rotation around the pasture. The chickens spread the cattle manure around, foraging for fly larvae and devouring the pests before they can even emerge. The flocks also forage for weeds and weed seeds, and fertilize the freshly grazed grass for a rebound of growth.
During the winter months, both the oxen and the chickens are moved into the empty garden to graze down cover crops, crop residue, and any remaining weeds, with the chickens right behind them, performing the same duties they do on pasture: with one more added benefit: In the gardens, the chickens are held in place for longer periods as a so that they scratch away most of the remaining “stubble” the cattle leave behind. This reduces the amount of mechanical cultivation required for the springtime and fertilizes the soil for our crops.