Updated Aug. 23
Soul Food Farm raises poultry on our 55 acres of certified organic pasture in Vacaville, CA. Our biggest challenges with our pastured system are protecting the birds from the intense Vacaville heat and from the numerous nighttime predators.
Unlike birds bred to survive the rigors of crowded industrial chicken operations, with abnormally large breasts and the ability to grow unnaturally fast on a carbohydrate-heavy diet, our Colored Ranger birds are adapted to live outdoors on a foraged “salad bar” diet supplemented with high-quality grain. They are known for their superior taste and meat texture. During the peak grass season we also often incorporate Red Broilers as a second meat bird to offer our customers.
After much trial and error, and back-breaking work, we have finally found the best way to raise pastured meat birds on this farm. It took quite some time to realize it would be site specific, and that we had to be as kind to ourselves as we were being to the animals: moving chicken tractors was much harder work than it sounds, especially in the Vacaville heat.
Today Soul Food Farm raises our 6,000 meat birds in several wooden houses that we set out in the fields. Each house has a group of meat birds who live there from the day they arrive on the farm as chicks. Using warm lights and fluffy hay (or straw), and giving them plenty of food, water, and attention, we turn them into brooders. If it’s winter and cold, they stay inside for the first two weeks, if the weather is sunny and warm, we open the doors as early as the first day they arrive, and they get to run outside in the warm sun and feel the pasture under their small feet. Each day we put clean hay in the houses and make sure that the surrounding pasture on which the birds run and forage is healthy and maintained.
Our methods have been recognized with the Animal Welfare Approved seal, the first broiler chicken operation in California — and only the second in the nation — to meet these stringent, third-party-verified standards.
Our pastured meat birds live and roam outside for 10 weeks, foraging for bugs and sunning themselves during the day. We also supplement their salad-bar diet with a special meat-bird feed, designed with advice from our poultry adviser and nutritionist, that is mixed for us by a local feed company. One of our innovations is to incorporate oregano powder to the chickens’ and broilers’ feed. Oregano has proven anti-microbial and -infectious qualities. Since we don’t use any antibiotics in any of our animal feed, this is one of the natural ways we help keep the birds healthy. At Soul Food Farm, we’ve learned enough to know we don’t know it all. And we are constantly trying to improve our pasture management and how we raise our chickens, by growing more of our own feed and building a better irrigation system.
At 10 weeks our birds are slaughtered and processed by Grimaud Farms in Stockton. They average 3.5 to 4.5 pounds.