Organic Chicken Basics

Learn the pros and cons of organic chickens, eggs and get information on a few common chicken-related terms, too!

by Dani Yokhna

Hen and Rooster

Think you’d like to go organic with your flock? 

First, consider the following pros and cons (and then check out the multitude of chicken terms below).

“Organic production requires a little bit more work, planning, management, time and observation,” says John Foster of Oregon Tilth. But organic chicken production offers significant rewards:

1. Organic production is healthier for our environment.  In order to raise organic poultry, you need organic feed, says Foster.

“That means more land put into organic production and sustainable management, reducing the amounts of pesticides and fertilizers used.”

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Hen and Chicks2. Organic chickens integrate well with other organic enterprises.  If you already raise organic berries, apples or another crop, an organic chicken flock can allow you to diversify while assisting with weeding, mowing and pest control.

3. Organic retail sales are increasing 20 percent or more each year.   There’s money to be made if you’re located near a good market and can build a loyal customer base by educating buyers about your growing methods, says California-based farmer Paul Hain.

Raising chickens organically also means committing to specialized management techniques, as well as to more time and money. Understanding and accepting the challenges are key.

1. Organic feed. It costs more and is harder to find than conventional.  For example, only three organic feed mills operate in Ohio*, notes farmer Denise Anderson.

Free-range Chicken

To Learn More
For more information on organic standards, certification and pasture-raised chicken, check out these sources:

  • The National Organic Program 

    * 2006 Data

    Brown or White?
    Since my primary business is a hatchery, I incubate most of the eggs my hens produce.

    A few years ago when my wife wanted to sell eggs at the farmer’s market, I purchased White Leghorn pullets and put them in a pastured hoop house. Most people identify brown eggs as “country eggs.” 

    When we first brought white eggs to the market, one customer mentioned that she could get white eggs at the supermarket. I smiled and said, “Not like these!” 

    She took a dozen and returned the next week to say they were the best eggs she ever had. She has remained a regular customer.

    Some customers simply prefer brown eggs over white eggs, so it is important to determine your market’s preference.

    ~ Matt John, owner and president of Shady Lane Poultry Farm, Inc., Winchester, Ky.

    This article contains excerpts from Popular Farming Series: Chickens, a publication with in-depth information for those who own or would like to own chickens. Buy one online or call (800) PET-BOOK (738-2665).

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