We raise all of our chickens from 1 day of age. When the new chicks arrive, we place them into a barn that has been preheated, kind of like a nursery, so that the chicks are comfortable as soon as they enter the barn. In fact, the entire barn has been designed to create ideal conditions for the new chicks.
The feeders and waterers are smaller and lower than those used in the barns for adult birds. The entire area is covered with either shavings or rice hulls so that the new chicks have something to keep them off of cold surfaces. We raise them in these rooms for about 16 weeks and at 16 weeks we move them to a larger area so that they have more room to roam.
During this time we are very strict about who is allowed to visit the chicks because their immune system is still developing and we want to make sure that they experience as little stress as possible. It's just like taking care of a newborn baby. We even give them vaccination shots to boost their immunity to provide them with as much protection as possible.
Once the hens are big enough, we move them into a larger space. Since the barns are open-sided with curtains on the outside to control the light, we use all natural light to illuminate the barn. The sun is able to shine straight in, so the hens are able to bask in the sun.
The hen houses also use 100% natural ventilation, except during the cold winter months when the hens need to be protected from the elements. We are lucky that the Petaluma area has such a great climate for raising chickens. In years past, it used to be called the "Egg Basket of the World" in large part because the weather conditions were so ideal. Heaters are not used in the laying barns because adult chickens are full feathered and can handle a bit colder temperature than the young chicks. All of the houses have insulation on top of the roofs to help keep the temperature down inside the buildings during the summer months and warmer during the wintertime.
The laying houses include comfortable nests where the hens can lay their eggs in seclusion and darkness, since even hens like a little bit of privacy. Once they lay their eggs, the eggs roll out of their nests to be hand gathered.
The laying houses also feature roosting slats where the chickens can hop up and roost, similar to roosting in a tree. The hens always have free access to feed and water, so that they can feast to their heart's desire. Our Uncle Eddie's hens are fed a 100% vegetarian diet.
We are one of the original cage-free egg farms in Northern California, which means that before anyone was thinking about cage-free, we were breaking new ground. Now, of course, there are many copy cats, but we were one of the first to raise cage-free hens and unlike most other chicken farmers, we have never raised a caged chicken. So what does this all mean? It means that we have been raising our hens the right way, for the longest time, so we have the experience to make sure that our hens and our customers are happy.