Clark Summit has close to 2,000 laying hens, a mixture of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rock, Americana, Golden and Black Sexlink, Silver- and Golden-Laced Wydottes, and Auracanas. Everything we do is by hand. We take 5-gallon buckets of grain up the hill to where our layers reside and fill their grain hoppers daily. The water needs to be transported up as well. That is 1,500 gallons a week! The eggs are collected, washed, and packed by hand. No modern technology here. A few years ago we did score a 1940s egg washer that runs the eggs through brushes and spraying water to help clean them. That is it for our technology.
Housing: They roam the pastures freely and at night are closed into six movable and one stationary chicken coops. Dan custom-built all seven with the help of a good friend who literally works for eggs! The six movable coops are modeled after the common “colony houses” of the early 1900s and designed so that eggs can easily be collected from the outside. Water reservoirs in the rafters hold 80 to 90 gallons of water to supply the chickens. They have ample ventilation and a wire-netted floor for the droppings to fall through and nicely fertilize our pastures on their way along — they are moved twice a week during the dry season. We also have one brooder house dating back to Liz’s grandfather.
Feed: The laying hens eat a certified organic layer pellet produced by our local feed mill in Petaluma. It is a balance pellet with grains and vitamin/mineral supplements. They also eat lots of grass, bugs, and worms. We also offer them crushed oyster shell to strenghten the egg shells.
Seasonality: Chickens are greatly affected by day length. They require 13 hours of daylight to lay well. In confinement operations, the chickens are provided artificial light to increase their laying capacity. With our pastured poulty, we prefer to allow the chickens to rest during the short days of winter and not push them. We usually have our highest production in April/May; eggs start to slow in late summer and production crawls by winter. December is the slowest month for eggs.
Eggstraordinary taste: The difference between our eggs and most “cage-free” or organic eggs you might buy in the supermarket is huge. You can see it in our bright orange yolks, from the chickens’ diet of grass, bugs, and organic feed, and taste it — when’s the last time you had an egg that actually tasted like anything?
We raise a very limited quantity of “meat chickens,” less than 100 per month, mostly for our CSA and on-farm customers. We raise Red Broilers, a few Cornish Rock, and are trying out some Black Broilers and Slow Whites. The Red and Black Broilers take three months to finish, much longer than those bred to be raised fat on grain in factory farms. We really like these birds. They are beautiful, healthy, and forage very well on the pastures. They have a good fat-to-meat ratio and taste superior, we feel.
Housing: The broilers have a pen for protection from the elements and for their supplemental feed and water. They are also allowed to roam freely, protected by our friendly dogs, whose presence discourages the many bobcats, foxes, and coyotes residing nearby. Before we kept our dogs near the chickens, we had to keep our broilers locked in. Now they can roam freely and we move their pens to keep the ground underneath clean and fertilize our fields.
Really tastes like chicken: Because our chickens are older at harvest and truly free ranging, they have a true chickeny taste.