When Sam, his cousin and I toured Marin Sun Farms on Wednesday, the first animals we visited were the week-old baby chicks. The chicks were housed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled shed because the chicks need to grow bigger before they can become acclimated to the chilly temperature outside. Because hatching chicks is a complex enterprise in itself and it’s difficult to be a specialist in every aspect of farming, Marin Sun Farms buys their baby chicks from another farmer who ships them to Marin Sun Farms once a week. Baby chicks are excellent and resilient travelers: they can live for 3 or 4 days without food because they are still being nourished by the abundant nutrients that were available to them in the egg shell. Marin Sun Farms then raises these chicks as broilers, which means they are raised to be eaten instead of to lay eggs.
Near the chicken coops was a giant compost pile. Waste from the farm animals is mixed with sawdust and other compostable materials, which decompose to create a rich fertilizer that can be used on the farm. Here in San Francisco we are required to separate our compost, recycling and landfill waste, but we never see where it ends up after we throw it in the color-coded bins in the alley. Thus, I thought it was rather interesting to see a fully-functional compost pile.
After admiring the chicks, broiler birds and cattle, we embarked on a 15-minute walk to see the roosters and egg-laying hens. These chickens, like the cattle, are raised on the pasture. In the evenings they sleep in an eggmobile, which is transported throughout the pastures daily to give the chickens new grass to eat and new soil to fertilize with their droppings. Amazingly, the hens and roosters do not stray far from the eggmobile. I loved looking at the hens and roosters because their different colorings and patterns were beautiful.
The chickens pecking through the pasture and cattle foraging for their favorite grass may not seem like unusual behavior for farm animals, but the majority of farm animals in the U.S. are not raised in such natural conditions. Most chickens don’t even see the light of day their entire lives. If you’re curious about how chicken and cattle are typically raised in the U.S., I highly recommend watching Food, Inc. (it’s available on the Netflix instant queue). The movie also showcases examples of good farming practices in the U.S. and the Eggmobile in action. On a more local to the Bay Area note, check out this video to see the hard work and rich rewards of Marin family farms such as Marin Sun Farms, Straus Family Creamery and Dairy, Cowgirl Creamery and Hog Island Oyster Co.