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Pastured chickens from Hastie Lake

Who needs commercial chickens sold in plastic when you can buy naturally grown “pastured” chickens?

The Crowther family, which owns Hastie Lake Farms, should have their first batch of 25 pasture-fed chickens ready for sale by mid May.

They received their initial delivery of birds in early April and they’ve been feeding them ever since.

Joanie Crowther, who manages the budding bird business along with her mother, Ruth Kirschner, said she decided to raise the pasture chickens because she didn’t like the quality of the poultry found in stores.

“I wasn’t really satisfied with what I saw in the market,” Crowther said, so she looked around for something better.

After studying the options, she purchased some baby chicks and started raising them naturally on the family’s 20-acre farm.

“We feel it’s healthiest and best for our family,” Kirschner said.

Hastie Lake Farms acquired the chickens from Phinney Hatchery in Walla Walla. They came in the mail. When chicks are born, they absorb the yolk and can go up to three days without food or water. So they are alive and healthy when they arrive at the post office.

The chicks spend a week or two in a steel tub located in a greenhouse on the farm before they are big enough to be taken out onto the pasture.

Once on the grass, the chickens are placed in a moveable pen that is relocated daily. That allows the 25 chickens to have a fresh source of food while protecting them from predators that roam the island.

“That means they get the fresh greens, fresh bugs and fresh air,” Crowther said. The chickens eat a diet that is 20 percent grass and 80 percent grain.

Commercial chickens are commonly grown in crowded building containing 20,000 or more birds. Those unlucky birds don’t have access to pasture and sunlight.

While the Crowthers’ first batch of chickens is getting ready for sale, another 25-chicken group will soon be entering another pen built by Crowther’s husband, Keith.

Hastie Lake Farms has to follow some specific guidelines in raising certified pasture chickens.

Their cornish-cross birds must spend at least half their lives feeding on pasture. The farm recently purchased equipment to prepare the chickens for sale and will soon be inspected by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Don’t look to find their chickens in local stores. They are required to sell the chickens from their farm, off Hastie Lake Road. The chickens weigh between three and five pounds and sell at $2.99 a pound.

By buying from the farm, people can see firsthand how the chickens are raised, which may be a selling point for some folks.

“People are interested in where their food is coming from,” Kirchner said.

Crowther said she plans to also have turkeys ready for sale in time for Thanksgiving. She said she has to time that carefully. If she starts raising them too early, they can become too big to fit in an oven. Turkeys can grow up to 50 pounds in size.

In the first year selling pastured chickens on her farm, Crowther hopes to break even on the venture. Currently she is advertised by word-of-mouth to neighbors and friends.

The chickens will be sold through October and then again beginning next April. That also makes it easier for her since she also spends time homeschooling her daughters, Rachel and Carly.

Beyond chickens, Hastie Lake Farms offers a selection of seasonal produce, fresh cut flowers and hand-crafted soap.

Hastie Lake Farms is located at 1633 Hastie Lake Road and can be reached at 240-8602 or hastielake

farms@oakharbor.net.

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