Over the past several weeks, as they have for centuries in middle Tennessee, skilled masons have been hand-shaping and stacking locally harvested limestone into low walls that designate areas of Southall’s Kitchen Gardens. By early spring, compost from the farm will be added and seedlings from the greenhouse will be…Read More
For thousands of years, people around the world have utilized domesticated chickens for their healthy eggs and meat. It all started with the wild red junglefowl of east Asia, around 7,000 B.C., and as humans saw the opportunity, chickens were used as barter and spread far and wide.
Expeditions from Europe and Spain brought fowl to the New World in the 1500s, and colonists and Native Americans alike saw a chance to breed flocks that provided life-sustaining protein that also tasted great.
The eggs, breasts and thighs we know from modern grocery stores is not the poultry of old, but more and more people today are realizing the value of birds raised without the hormones, antibiotics and other negatives of mass production. Pastured poultry not only yields the healthiest chickens, but also provides pest control and other benefits.
At Southall, chickens play a central role in the symbiotic cycle. Here you’ll find the dark Polish, the Wyandotte and the Sussex, the California whites and the barred rocks, among other breeds, each providing thousands of eggs on an annual basis.
For Chef Tyler Brown, chicken husbandry is a continual exploration, even after years of observation. The blue egg of a Polish hen matches her bright blue feet, for instance, and some breeds produce a larger yolk, or a tougher shell, or have proven to be more prolific over time. Some hens can lay 250 eggs a year, while others are more finicky – but may well be worth the wait.
“There’s nothing better than the rich, bright orange yolk of a pastured chicken egg, which is full of proteins and nutrients,” he says. “From a culinary standpoint, they taste better and have more body, and the birds are beautiful to look at. I look forward to visiting the chickens every morning.”
Because the Southall flock is mobile, our chickens can be utilized for different purposes, rotating through sections of open pasture to manage insects and sent in behind the cattle and sheep within hardwood silvopasture areas to spread their predecessors’ manure, while adding a little natural fertilizer of their own. They even help remove mammal parasites from the equation.
Chickens on the farm forage on cultivated patches of rye, field peas and mustard greens, eating an area down over several days before rotating to the next lush location while the other regenerates. Scraps from the vegetable gardens also provide feed, and in turn are fed by the flock’s manure once it’s been composted.
And while most eggs are taken to eat, some hens are bred by roosters to grow the numbers. Adult hens can lose their laying abilities over time, and the volume of quality eggs needed on a daily basis can be substantial.
“We’re always experimenting with different breeds for egg taste and colors,” Brown says. “Some of these breeds are old standards but others are unique and fun, and we study their efficiency and hardiness and understand which ones produce the best eggs, in terms of the richness and stability of the yolk. There’s a depth that we’re looking for, and just like produce, some are better than others in certain qualities.”
Pasture raised eggs are also healthier, containing significantly less fat and cholesterol and four times the beneficial omega 3 fatty acids than what is typically found in a factory egg.
And while Southall will source meat chickens from other local free-range farms, pastured meat tends to offer far higher nutrient counts as well, without all the chemicals. Besides, they just taste better, and support the local economy.
“We raise everything we can on property and source what we can’t from other ethical farmers who share our passion for clean eating and living,” Brown says. “It’s just the right thing to do, for ourselves, for our guests and for future generations.”