We often talk about the benefits of pasture raising animals but how often do we all consider the risks. Don’t get me wrong I’ll always be an advocate of ethically raised meat consumption but I think sometimes when we all picture these happy animals frolicking in wide open pastures we sometimes forget the challenges this can cause for us farmers and our animals.
I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post this for about 3 weeks now but in the end I’m here clicking away on my laptop because the one thing I’ve always promised is transparency.
We pasture raise all of our animals with exception to our quail who live in a large enclosure. In commercial quail farms they are kept in very cramped quarters but here they free run and fly in an enclosed open air space. Their ability to burst fly and the fact that they don’t roost like chickens means we’d never be able to round them up if we let them have the run of the place.
With pasture raising animals comes a whole new set of difficulties to overcome.
About 2 months ago while out-of-town delivering quail to a fellow farmer I received a call from our farm hand Mark. In prior weeks we’d seen a predatory bald eagle occasionally watching our flock and while we do our best to protect our animals with the use of guardian animals like our donkeys, that morning the eagle decided to take on one of our hens.
But, there was no way our noble rooster Henry was going to allow one of his hens to be hurt so he did what he felt was necessary to protect his girls, giving them time to get into their enclosed sleeping area.
Unfortunately Henry was injured too severely by the attack so we gave him the respect of putting him out of his pain.
Henry was mine and the kids favourite chicken here on the farm so it’s been an adjustment not hearing him crowing at top of his little lungs at the crack-of-freaking-dawn each morning.
When you loose an animal to something like a predator which would never happen in factory farming conditions it’s tough to not have a moment of thinking, ‘if I’d only kept them in their coop.’ But, this is farming and things happen.
We run a safe, clean, and well managed farm but I would rather risk the rare chance of something like this than change our operation and stop our animals from living outdoors.
For us it comes to finding a balance I’m comfortable with. Our birds are not given 100% outdoor access. They come into their large barn or coop area at night — for the most part on their own accord — so we can minimize the risk of predator attacks. We also hope our guardian animals are doing their best to help deter these types of things.
Although Henry is very missed, the silver lining is that one of our hens recently hatched out five chicks — Heir’s to Henry’s throne.
I’m thankful this was such a rare occurrence for us but it served as a reminder to me that at the end of the day I’d rather a farm full of happy and healthy animals out in pasture than a commercial farm where my animals are locked up in the barn being pumped with antibiotics that are needed in such stressful and cramped conditions.
This is the hard part of farming.
Kendall ~ The chick behind Central Park Farms