Raising Organic Chickens

Raising organic chickens and having an organic chicken farm is are terms that have been a headache for decades, because it's been so tough to define exactly what the word "organic" means.

If you plan to raise chickens for you and your family, this isn't a problem. Let your chickens run free during the day, or better still, keep them in a chicken tractor so they have access to fresh grass and bugs everyday while still having protection.

Then, even if you feed your chicken ordinary feed you buy at the local farmer's supply store, you will still have far healthier meat than anything you would get at the supermarket.

Your chickens will be happier and healthier, and you will end up with a healthier, cleaner meat.

But what if you want to raise and sell organic chickens? If you sell less than $5,000 worth per year, this generally won't be a problem. But if you are raising organic chickens and sell more than that, things get a bit more complicated.

The USDA has been working to provide a universal set of standards through its National Organic Program. But, because many areas of how to raise chickens organically are still unclear, it is up to your local certifying agency to make the judgment call as to whether your chickens are organically produced.

According to Gail Damerow, author of Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens here are some of the standards you must comply with before your chickens will be certified as organic:

Raising Organic Chickens
1.  Organic From the Start

All poultry and eggs must come from an organic chicken that has been raised organically from the second day of life. All of their food must be produced organically. If possible, you must give your organic chicken nonsynthetic vitamins. Also, you cannot give them any animal byproducts, including meat and bone meal in their feed.

Fishmeal and crabmeal are okay; synthetic amino acids aren't. You are allowed to give your chickens oyster shell and diatomaceous earth as long as they comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

2.  Clean Feed

Because organic feed is so expensive, most organic poultry producers prefer to mix their own feed. If you go this route, you can either grow your own ingredients or buy them from local certified organic producers.

If you use a local mill, make sure the mill does a thorough cleaning before handling your organic feed. You may not use any drugs to promote growth of your organic chicken.

3.  Some Physical Trimming Allowed

You may trim a bird's beak and toes as long as it is in the best interest of your flock. These are usually handled on a case-by-case basis, so proceed with caution.

4.  Clean, Healthy Living Conditions Required

When raising organic chickens, your flock must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, room to exercise, fresh air and direct sunlight. You may not keep your flock continuously confined in cages, but temporary confinement is allowed if it is adequately justified - it is up to your certifying agency as to whether this will be permitted.

Chickens need dust wallows to keep parasites down. Diatomaceous earth is a good for this, so sprinkle it in their coop or tractor often.

5.  No Antibiotics

You are expected to keep your flock healthy through preventative measures, such as good nutrition and providing them with clean, healthy living conditions. No antibiotics or synthetic parasiticides such as coccidiostates are allowed. However, if a bird does become sick, you should treat him with medicine. You just won't be allowed to sell him as organic meat.

6.  Clean Out the Manure

Keep the manure cleaned out regularly. Make sure it doesn't contaminate crops, soil or water. Add the manure to your compost pile.

For more information, contact the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service.

Related article:  What to consider when raising chickens for selling eggs.

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