Free-Range Chickens Viable in Large Operation

This Georgia farmer raises 60,000 free-range chickens in specially designed chicken tractors.

| May/June 2013

Will Harris doesn’t believe in “chicken tractors” or other moveable, pastured poultry enclosures. But he’s serious about free-range poultry. His birds are free to roam, all 60,000 of them.

“I wanted to raise birds that were unrestricted and loose, so they can flap their wings, run, and fly up into trees and roost,” Harris says. “I think it changes the quality of the meat. Our birds are more muscular and athletic.”

Harris’ chickens may be loose, but his production system isn’t. It’s as tight as a drum. With the help of 85 employees, he runs 700 brood cows, 500 ewes, and, on any given day, 60,000 chickens. He recently added turkeys to the mix.

Farm employees slaughter all animals raised on the farm in two USDA-approved packing houses. That includes 30 head of cattle and about 1,000 chickens each day. All the offal is composted, blood is retained, and bones are ground. The bone and blood meal and finished compost goes back on the fields as fertilizer.

“Animal welfare, land stewardship and environmental protection are our claims to fame,” Harris says.

Five thousand chicks are delivered each week to White Oak Pastures near Bluffton, Georgia. New chicks are the only things confined on the farm. They are kept in brooders for the first two to three weeks of their 12-week production cycle.

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