We raise several varieties of chickens, in a pasture environment in the beautiful Pajaro Valley (Watsonville, CA near Monterey Bay). If you have the time, please take a moment to educate yourself on the difference between **truly pastured** chickens and the "free range" label that you often see at the grocery store. The Cornucopia Institute's 'Scrambled Eggs' report is a good place to start, with both information and images. Truly pastured chickens are rarely found in even specialty grocery stores, despite what egg and meat packaging labels may lead you to believe. "Know your farmer!" (It's good advice!)
Our laying flock currently consists of White Leghorn chickens (who lay white eggs), and a brown hen (who lays brown eggs) that is half Rhode Island Red and half New Hampshire Red. Our younger birds, who will start to lay in September or October, include these two varieties plus Americaunas (who lay blue eggs), Rhode Island Reds, Cuckoo Marans, and Welsummers. These girls work 365 days a year to bring you eggs with sturdy shells, bright, firm yolks, and an incredibly rich flavor. Unlike laying hens who live indoors, our layers take a biological cue from the shortened days of winter and reduce their production. They also slow down in the late summer during molting. This makes it hard to pay the rent sometimes, but we believe happy, healthy hens who live in a pasture produce the best-tasting and most nutritious eggs, and it's worth the financial trade-off.
Our broiler (meat chicken) flock this year consists of Cornish Cross and French Ranger chickens. The Cornish Cross is a North American cross, or hybrid, breed which grows faster than a laying hen and also develops a very plump breast. This reflects a preference of many U.S. consumers for white meat over dark. (Note that the term "hybrid" refers to natural breeding processes, NOT genetic modification. GMO is not a part of any aspect of our farming.) Under factory-style farming conditions, these birds achieve historically unprecedented weight gains in unbelievably short periods of time, and a variety of factors in conventional production methods result in the characteristic lack of flavor that has lead to the cliche saying that anything tasteless "tastes just like chicken." The quality and flavor of meat from even a standard Cornish Cross raised on pasture is unlike anything you can buy in a store, and the chickens' quality of life is of course incomparably better as well. The French Ranger chicken (also known as Freedom Ranger) is derived from the brown French/Italian breed developed for the French organic label, "Label Rouge." They are slower growing than the Cornish Cross, and our taste testers generally agree that the dark meat from the Rangers is even more heavenly than that of a pasture-raised Cornish Cross. No one however, not even a professional chef, could tell a difference between the white meat of our pastured Cornish and the white meat from our Rangers. Side by side, a Cornish Cross chicken has a larger, rounder breast and smaller legs and thighs than a Ranger; the Ranger has thinner, more elongated breast and noticeably larger legs. (Check our "Special Projects" section for updates on other breeds that we experiment with.) All of our chickens have mobile, open-air housing that we rotate either weekly (laying hens) or daily (broilers) around the pasture. Constant access to fresh pasture promotes good nutrition for the birds, and the resting (chicken-less) period promotes good hygiene and regrowth of the pasture. The chickens graze and forage on the pasture during the day, and their pens/trailers are closed after sunset when their instincts cause them to voluntarily seek shelter there. When our guard dogs are doing their job, we can leave the trailers open even at night, which saves us some work. When we need to focus the chickens' attention on a certain area of the pasture (or keep them out of an area that has been planted with new seeds) we use a light electric netting to imply some boundaries. With lush pasture beneath them, about 5% of the birds will fly over or run under the nets. When the enclosed pasture gets more sparse, over 90% leave, quite literally "in search of greener pastures."
Our pasture has never been certified as organic, however it is for all intents and purposes, organic. We never use pesticides of any kind, and the chickens' own manure is the only fertilizer needed. Unlike cows and sheep, which are ruminants, chickens and pigs are omnivores and cannot be "100% grass fed." In addition to eating grass and other greens on the pasture, we see our chickens eating bugs and frogs and killing rodents as large as moles (though we have yet to see one actually choke down a mole!). We also supplement their diets with organic veggies and certified organic feed from Modesto Milling, which was the first organic mill in central California and now participates in the Non-GMO Project. We are considering undergoing the rather expensive process of organic certification, however we encourage anyone who truly cares about how their food is produced to look beyond labels and "Know Your Farmer." Our feed invoices and Organic Systems Plan are always available to our customers to inspect. And more importantly, you are always encouraged to visit the farm and see for yourself how we do things. This level of transparency is an important part of Surfside Chickens' philosophy, and goes far deeper than any of the labeling conventions which have become so important to a food system in which most consumers have zero relationship with the people (and machines!) growing their food.
At harvest time, our meat chickens are slaughtered quickly and respectfully, eviscerated and inspected individually by hand, and immediately immersed in ice. The chickens are sold within 48 hours of harvest for maximum freshness, however our customers report that our chickens look, taste, and smell "fresh" much longer than grocery store chickens. Both Aurelio and Sarah have maintained vegetarian diets in the past, and respect vegetarian ideals. Some of our customers are vegetarians who buy only our eggs, and others are ex-vegetarians who have begun eating meat again after discovering Surfside Chickens as a source of clean, humanely raised, and respectfully slaughtered meat. We invite anyone with an interest in the full circle of life that results in meat for their table to join us for a harvest, either as an observer or a participant. For some, this experience will reinforce the sentiment that taking another life to support their own is unacceptable. For many others (including ourselves), we have found this to be a healing experience which demonstrates that clean, humanely raised and slaughtered meat can nourish us in many ways as human, omnivorous animals.
For more information, please contact Sarah & Aurelio Lopez at 831-331-9051, or e-mail SurfsideChickens@gmail,com