How do I raise my flock organically?
A flock of chickens raised in a backyard or an a small farm will produce wonderful, fresh, and super-flavorful eggs. The eggs will also be very nutritious and healthful – especially compared to supermarket eggs, as chickens raised in healthy outdoor environments produce healthier and more nutritionally balanced eggs.
But you can take it one more step further! You can raise your flock of laying hens organically by following a couple of very simple guidelines. These guidelines reflect the standards presented by the National Organic Program (NOP) of the USDA, which are also what I follow as my own laying flock is Certified Organic.
1) Start with just hatched (day-old) chicks from a reputable source such as Purely Poultry and request that your chicks not be vaccinated or treated with any chemical preventatives. When problems arise, use only natural methods, like herbs, for addressing them.
2) Use only certified organic feed; this insures that no GMO grains are fed and that there are no medications in the ingredients. When feeding non-commercial foods, like table scraps, be sure that they are also from organic sources. The more insects and worms and grass and greens your chickens eat, the better!
3) Allow your hens access to pasture on a daily basis, and make sure that the pasture your flock explores is not sprayed or treated with any pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.
4) Provide your hens with plenty of space within the coop, including nest boxes, and nighttime roosting areas.
5) Use only warm water to wash eggs.
Of course, be sure that your birds have access to clean and plentiful water, grit for proper digestion, and a calcium source such as oyster shell.
I also have a Certified Organic garden, and I find that my chickens are a great accompaniment to the gardening. Chickens can be a big part of what makes a healthy and productive garden. I encourage them to go into the garden in the fall and winter when there aren’t any vegetables growing so they can scratch around, fertilize, and eat weed seeds and bugs. I compost the manure from the coops and it makes useful and effective organic fertilizer. (Don’t let your chickens into your garden when you have vegetables in the ground – they will eat them!)
If you are certified organic and have any questions about products, supplements, or types of feed, be sure to ask your certifying agency and confirm that it is approved for Certified Organic use. Even if you are not Certified Organic, many certifying agencies are very helpful and can provide guidelines and recommendations; check with your local groups. I use NOFA-NY for my certification, and their website has the full list of standards, and they are always very happy to share information.