As a Jewish nonprofit community farm and education center, we draw upon Jewish agricultural tradition to inform our growing and production practices. We work to balance the manipulation of land for the benefit of human consumption with the commitment to caring for and about the land and species that reside on it. Among our values is the concept of Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim, or ethical treatment of animals. This value in particular guides the Farm’s management of and education around our chicken flock.
Approximately 30% of the Farm’s chickens are heritage chickens, purchased from the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch thanks to an introduction from Jewish Initiative for Animals. We chose heritage chickens with Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim in mind to both promote better animal welfare and also to preserve their genetic diversity.
Heritage chickens come from traditional breeding practices, resulting in a more natural physiology than hybrid breeds. Hybrid chickens are bred using intensive, selective methods of crossbreeding to target specific genetic mutations such as fast growth and large eggs. However, this approach to breeding often comes at the expense of important traits such as resilience, temperature tolerance, and the ability to forage. While hybrid birds are more productive and therefore more advantageous for the commercial poultry industry, they often suffer from major health issues such as broken legs or heart attacks. Coastal Roots Farm believes in the importance of not only our chickens’ well being, but also ensuring heritage chickens’ long genetic lines don’t become obsolete.
The value of Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim is also reflected in the treatment of our chickens. Our flock has access to the outdoors and to the Farm’s grounds during daylight hours, where they can find bugs to eat that keep their bodies and eggs healthy. When in the coop, each chicken gets a minimum of 1.8 square feet of nesting space. Their eggs are collected for distribution at our pay-what-you-can Farm Stand. We honor the mother bird in our practice of shiluach haken, or sending her away before harvesting her eggs rather than taking them from under her.
Finally, Coastal Roots Farm aims to educate the public about poultry genetics and each of these practices. We teach that the price of eggs should be higher when considering the reproductive ability of healthy birds, and, as a small scale farm are grateful for our ability to invest in heritage birds and to model these practices. Our vision is to encourage those that are also able to invest in heritage breeds for the chickens’ well being and longevity. Ultimately, we believe that we possess an inherent responsibility to care for the animals that we are benefiting from. Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim reminds us to be sensitive to the power dynamic between us and our chickens, who have become an integral part of the Coastal Roots Farm family.