Introducing Conventional Hens to Our Organic Flock

We’re an organic homestead. Not certified organic, but our practices are exclusively organic as much as they can be. It would be nice to say that our practices would qualify us as certified organic, but there are many hindrances preventing us:

  • We have neighbors who treat their lawns with chemical sprays.
  • Our property was a hoarders nest, with trash piled in the yard, until the year we purchased it.
  • We don’t have a breeding program for our livestock, and our feeders come from farms that are not organic.

For all of these obstacles, we try to be mindful in our counteractions. For example, we request to get our feeder animals the day they wean so at least they never touch conventional feeds. We also don’t allow animals to graze/range on the edges of our property that border the neighbors.

It would be easy to become obsessive and chase that highest standard, but we prefer to be content to do the best we can with what we have. So when friends offered us these 11 young laying hens, we were more than happy to accept.

These 11 will never qualify as certified organic, and neither will their eggs, but beginning the moment they landed on our homestead we are treating them no differently than our organic flock. Same feed, same pasture rotation, same everything. . . with two exceptions.

  1. They’ll be in a separate enclosure for the first two weeks while we feed them their new organic diet. The eggs they lay during this time will be kept separate from the rest of the flock as well. We’ll sell them as conventional eggs. After two weeks we’ll be integrating them into our organic coops and they’ll be no different in our eyes than the others. (Our egg buyers understand the difference between “certified organic” and “raised with organic practices”.)
  2. We gave these hens leg bands. Our normal course of action for a dead hen would be to feed the pigs, but these will go in the trash if we lose any in the next few months.

These situations are always a good opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the reason for your growing practices. If our goal was certified organic, our decision-making would have been completely different in this instance. As it stands, we were able to re-home these hens and give them the organic treatment without compromising the standard we’ve set for our homestead.

— S