After making the decision to discontinue growing our Pete & Gerry's home farm in New Hampshire, we've been committed to creative solutions for meeting the rising demand for humanely raised eggs. We've been sincerely fortunate to partner with dozens of small, family farms that need a market for their free range and pasture-raised eggs. As a great decision for many, many reasons, this transition meant more than simply building more barns on our property. As a network of independent family farms, our flocks are now spread across the country. These changes make it vital that we have a great relationship with each partner farmer to ensure that our high standards of holistic, hands-on hen care are never compromised.
Keeping our free-range and pasture-raised hens safe
So how do we give our hens the space to roam freely on open pastures while also keeping them safe from potential risks? This is where having an Outdoor Access Policy that each farmer agrees to comes into play.
As much as our flocks enjoy frolicking in open pastures under sunny skies with friends in tow, spending time outdoors isn't as safe for hens as being inside. Threats to a laying flock include predators like foxes and weasels, Avian Influenza from passing migratory foul, cold weather, and even rain and standing water. Hens can behave like young children in that they don’t always know what is good for them, and can easily fall sick after too much exposure to chilly, cold weather or rain.
It's also essential for our farmers to ensure our hens learn to lay their eggs in nesting boxes inside. Otherwise, the labor required to collect the eggs quickly becomes untenable. For this reason alone, it can be tempting to keep the girls inside. Most of our farmers enjoy seeing healthy hens in pasture every day so much, they don’t need to be encouraged to open up the doors. However, we still find it important to guarantee all our flocks receive the same humane treatment, which is where an outdoor policy becomes useful.
Pete & Gerry's Outdoor Access Policy
Some of the stipulations our partner farmers follow include:
- If the temperature is below 45 or above 93 degrees Fahrenheit, we recommend keeping the hens inside.
- If there is rain, snow or standing water, we recommend keeping them inside until it clears.
- During the short period when the hens are laying their first eggs, the farmers need to train them to lay in nests to ensure they do not lay eggs outside.
- During high-risk periods where a disease like Avian Influenza is a known hazard for that area, in consultation with our team of experts, we may request that they keep the flock inside.
- Lay times – most of our hens become accustomed to laying in the morning hours. In order to accommodate laying in nest boxes rather than pasture, they may keep the flock inside during the morning lay hours.
Each farmer must record their decisions and any exceptions to normal outdoor access due to the above conditions in log books that our farm team can review each week.
This is one of the many ways we are working to help restore human-scale agriculture back to a country with 320 million mouths to feed. It’s a balance between doing everything we can to help the farmers be successful and reduce their risk, while at the same time ensuring that our eggs are responsibly raised and ethically produced.