As someone who loves chicken and has seen untold numbers of chicken houses, I’ve always been interested in how chickens are raised to provide protein for our plates. We talk to farmer Lauren Arbogast about their chicken farm in episode 306 of Grounded by the Farm. Videos & photos of the farm can also be seen on the site.
This podcast transcript was created through Otter.ai.
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Lauren Arbogast, Janice Person — Grounded by the Farm
Grounded by the Farm 00:03
Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice person, your host on grounded by the farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. Just a quick intro want to make sure you know this was recorded in the fall. And since then the weather has certainly changed in Virginia. I also want to let you know we have two videos go on with this episode on our website, one talking about harvest festival that she mentions briefly in the podcast episode and the other really showing us around the chicken farm itself. Here we go. I have crossed into the Shenandoah Valley, and it is gorgeous rolling hills, the Appalachians, beautiful stretches of green fields, cattle kind of dotting the countryside. And my friend Lauren Arbogast smack up in the middle of
Lauren Arbogast 01:01
it, right here all up in the middle.
Grounded by the Farm 01:05
And so this one, we’re going to be talking to Lauren, she and her family have a diversified operation. And today they had a harvest festival, which was a lot of fun. So we’re gonna have some photos and video of that. That’s one of those pieces that she’s doing to kind of build her local community and give back and really connect with people. But what we wanted to talk about today is what I like on my biscuits for breakfast. Chicken, chicken. I have a big chicken biscuit girl. I love them. It’s a southern thing. I found that when I moved to the Midwest, people do not eat chicken on a biscuit
Lauren Arbogast 01:41
for breakfast. That’s unfortunate. It is.
Grounded by the Farm 01:44
So tell me you guys have chicken barns.
Lauren Arbogast 01:48
chicken houses, column. Yeah. All right.
Grounded by the Farm 01:51
And what would that look like to somebody who hasn’t seen them before? Or maybe they’ve seen them? And they just didn’t know what it was?
Lauren Arbogast 02:00
Yeah, it’s a very, uh, just a large structure. Ours are 50 by 500. So you think about on the outside, it looks very much like metal siding, metal roof, low to the ground type barn. You might just even dry bass pass and not think that there’s anything in or around. It may be machinery of some sort. But it is that houses chickens, each of our house holds about 30,000 chickens.
Grounded by the Farm 02:33
That’s a lot of birds.
Lauren Arbogast 02:34
It is a lot of birds. Yeah, we raise them we raise what they call small broiler birds. So we do raise the birds. For me. There’s no egg production. Okay, involved where we are. And those birds stay with us for a little bit over a month when they’re about four pounds and then they are taken to market.
Grounded by the Farm 02:53
Okay, so he said small boiler birds? Are those the ones that would be used for like rotisseries. And things are those, like, what are those used for versus other kinds of broilers? Yeah,
Lauren Arbogast 03:07
so a small broiler bird, small meat bird in essence, is a lot of your fast food type. meals or entrees. So whether it be your chicken and biscuits, if you get a chicken biscuit from a fast food place, or your nuggets or you know something else like that, but you’re looking at a smaller portion bird, they don’t want larger wings, larger breasts larger, you know, they want a smaller, more compact piece. Okay.
Grounded by the Farm 03:37
So people that are going to be looking for like hot wing suppliers, would they go for smaller ones? Typically, yes. Okay. And then companies that are going to do like big breast. entrees go for larger boilers? Is that what I’m thinking? That’s correct. So
Lauren Arbogast 03:56
there’s actually three different sizes. Okay, of broilers. So, there’s a four pound broiler, a seven pound broiler and a nine pound broiler. So a lot of times when people say, Oh, I saw the chicken breasts in the grocery store, they’re huge. What did they put into them? They didn’t put anything into him. It’s in relation to the size of the chickens. So a bigger bird, a bigger chicken breast.
Grounded by the Farm 04:20
So would that be different breeds of birds just like there are different breeds of dogs that are big, medium and small. Yes, part of that be that and then part of it would be how you’re feeding housing, how long you grow them out, all those things,
Lauren Arbogast 04:35
all those variables play into it. So just like when you think of the difference between beef cattle and dairy cattle, so beef cattle are genetically built muscles meet a heavier body load, dairy cattle cattle are built for milk production. And so they are their frame year and they’re not as muscular. And so when you look at chickens Yes, there’s a variety of different breeds. But also you have your egg laying chickens are a different frame a different build, yeah, then your meat chickens, which are your broiler chickens. And so there’s different breeds. And even within the meat chickens, and within the egg laying chickens, there’s different breeds within that, that specific to what you want and specific to what the goal of your your farm or operation is,
Grounded by the Farm 05:24
and, and backyard chickens. So I think that’s an area that a lot of us have seen people with, and I’ve got, I’ve got some footage, I think from a baton farmos on and, and Natasha Nichols has some in her urban garden, her urban farm, a lot of times those chickens look really different. Like, they’ll be some black and white speckled, and they’ll be some bright red, your chickens all look alike,
Lauren Arbogast 05:49
they do. So they’re all the same breed. So you think about putting like the same breed of dog together, or they are the same breed. There’s, there’s lots of neat things that goes on with science and genetics and things. And we know you can just look at like the American Kennel Club Dog Show to see that like, through the years and through breeding and through different things, you can see just differences and how even within the species of the dog species, there’s so many different things, you know, and I hate to keep comparing it to dogs. But when you think of any animal, there’s always a variety within that species. It may be big or small, but there’s always a variety. And so yes, we do grow one specific breed or raise one specific breed. But there are a lot of different breeds of chickens out there. The breed that we grow or raise is one that is a it gains, well, gains muscle mass, well, the muscle is the meat, you know. And so sometimes people shy away from the realities of you know, growing an animal for meat, but that is that is that is the reality. If you choose to eat meat, you know that. That’s how traced so
Grounded by the Farm 07:04
Right, right. Usually, people that may have exposure to chickens, it’s because of backyard chickens. Because you limit how many people can come on a chicken farm. Right?
Lauren Arbogast 07:16
Yes. Biosecurity, big, fancy word just mean that we’re trying to keep the animals safe. And we’re trying to get we’re trying to keep everybody safe and disease free.
Grounded by the Farm 07:26
Right. And we don’t always know what people may bring in. That may bother chickens just like different kinds of things that wouldn’t bother me here. In Mexico, I can drink the water and really have problems. But here I drink the water and I’m fine. So yeah, it may be the same thing. You’re exposing the chickens to something just as bad as you might be exposed to something in the barns. Right. Yeah. So very few people have gotten to see that. So the chicken that you’re talking about is going into a market and it’s bred to be tender and moist and
Lauren Arbogast 08:00
tender, juicy, meaty, like a thick meaty cut for chicken. Yeah, and it is going into it’s going into the grocery market. There’s a variety of ways to raise a chicken, you know, yep. I’d hate to say there’s many ways to skin a cat, but did the phrase, there’s a variety of ways to raise a chicken. There are different companies and different ways from like us mentioned, from backyard chickens, to raising them organically large scale to raising them what we would call traditionally large scale to somewhere in the middle with, you know, pulling the coops on wheels around the field and like pasture range chickens. So there’s a lot of different ways for a similar end product. You know, without getting too in depth, there’s, there’s a supply and demand. There’s lots of different pieces to the puzzle of feeding a community and a society and a world in essence. But at the same time, like for us and I’m going to kind of nosedive here, feel free to edit if you want to. But we raised chickens on a larger scale for me, we raised beef on a larger scale for me. And yet at the same time, we also are investing back into our community and just started a business where we’re selling our beef directly to the consumer right here in our community. And so for us, it’s about knowing that there’s lots of different ways to do things. Nothing is absolutely perfect. No way is absolutely 110% Perfect, but it takes diversified systems and diversified ways of thinking and operating to ultimately feed your neighbors right.
Grounded by the Farm 09:41
So the chickens are all raised for the system. It’s kind of a closed system to go straight into the market. Correct and and you raise them from babies we
Lauren Arbogast 09:52
do so we get them the day they’re hatched. So okay, day one and the closed system that you mentioned. So we Have he right here in our local area? We have a hatchery. Let me go back a step actually. So we have what’s called the breeder broilers. So, let me break that down. This is all stuff I’ve learned over the past 15 years, married into a farm family. There are chicken houses around here that look like egg producing houses, which they are. They have the egg layers in there, but they also have roosters in them. So they are fertilized eggs. Those eggs are collected, not to be eaten not to go to grocery store shelves. But to go into a hatchery. The hatchery like incubator kind of city like a yes incubator city would be a great way to think about it. It’s awesome. If you ever get a chance to look inside a hatchery, just the technology, the computers, the manpower, it’s amazing. The logistics in getting that is phenomenal. Anyhow, so they are our chicks here literally are bred right here in our area. The eggs are incubated in the hatchery. They hatch at the hatchery and day one, that first day they’re born, they bring them to us. We raise them for 32 to 35 days, and then they are processed right here in the Shenandoah Valley. So it it’s a closed system in that it’s all literally right here within like 30 miles a 30 mile radius. Yeah. But from there it’s trucked outward to grocery stores across the US.
Grounded by the Farm 11:30
That’s awesome. Yeah, I mean to have it all sort of in a local chain. And and then it makes sense that you’re in some parts of the country and you say more chicken houses and more chicken barns, groupings, sort of like it’s not like all across the state, but it will be in different pockets of an area. What makes one area better for chicken production than another? Is there anything in the G geography or?
Lauren Arbogast 11:55
Yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into play, I would say with that. Certainly land. So a very mountainous area, if you don’t have the flat space to build a pad to build a chicken house, that can be detrimental water, so there has to be an adequate supply of water. Because chickens as an animal drink a lot of water. Also, you want to look at feed supply. So the feed primarily being corn, soy or soybean based whatever the the meal is, if you’re in a state that doesn’t grow that so you’re trucking it in to make the feed. That’s cost prohibitive. So really, you’ll see a lot of the poultry clustered around areas where there is adequate corn or soybean,
Grounded by the Farm 12:44
corn, soybeans, water all big.
Lauren Arbogast 12:47
Okay, yeah. And flat flat ish land. Yeah. So
Grounded by the Farm 12:50
it makes sense that the southern southeastern parts of the country, do it more than like Southwest where it’s really dry?
Lauren Arbogast 12:57
Yes. Yeah. Or where water would be an issue? Yeah.
Grounded by the Farm 13:01
Okay. That all helps me out. So what’s the, what’s the toughest part about? Chickens? So I’m, I mean, I’m just thinking, you got a lot of chickens in a house. So if something goes wrong in that house, it gets big fast. So
Lauren Arbogast 13:22
it can get big fast. Yeah,
Grounded by the Farm 13:23
I assume there’s a lot of effort made to keep people out and keep the birds safe. And all the supplies, quality checked and all that kind of stuff. But do you actually look at the chickens?
Lauren Arbogast 13:38
Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s funny, because because when I talk about chicken houses, I talk about the technology a lot that’s in there, I talk about the computer systems that help us I talk about how the, the chicken houses have air conditioning. And so if my husband complains that I don’t turn on the air conditioning, I tell them to go to the chicken house, they have a heat air conditioning, they have a 24 hour supply of food and water. And the systems help us monitor that. But that does not take us out of the equation at all. ourselves, or the people that work here closely with us are in the chicken houses at least three times a day. And when when you’re walking through the chicken houses, you are you are all the time checking for the health of the birds. Number one, so you’re looking to see, are they headed to feed and water? Are they are they getting up? Are they walking around? Are they you know, able bodied? Those are things that you look for all the time, but then you’re also checking, Oh, is there an equipment malfunction? Is there something? Is there a feed spill that the computer didn’t catch? You know, so just because we farm with technology does not take the human out of farming at all it? I mean, it helps shore it, but there’s absolutely no way that we could, you know, take us completely out of it that wouldn’t be farmed that take the farmer out farming
Grounded by the Farm 15:01
So what else do you do by computer? Yep, I assume like feed mixtures, you know how much goes to different?
Lauren Arbogast 15:07
Yep. So we can tell exactly how much feed comes in how much you’re eating, how many gallons of water they’re drinking per day per hour, we can see through that, we also can regulate and look at the different heat zones. So we can tell exactly the temperature throughout one of the neat things about the chicken houses is it’s also hooked up to to a security system. So things like you know, you’d have Hawk security for your home or something. It’s also on each of our chicken houses. And so if we set a temperature range, say the chickens come in as babies, and we want the temperature throughout the entire house to be between 89.1 degrees, and 90.1 degrees, the minute the sensors, sense in the houses, it’s gone outside of that range, it kicks the security system to call us. Wow. So if we’re not in there at that moment, checking and notice that that you know, the sensors are off or something is going wrong, the system calls us which is really neat. Also, if we lose power, we have backup generators on each of those that kick in in 30 seconds. So there’s a lot of different pieces of that puzzle.
Grounded by the Farm 16:16
That’s kind of wild, because you know, when my power goes out, I just sit there and wait for the electric company, you know, phone calls and find the candle. Exactly. So just like about the birds, so I went in one of the barns earlier. Yeah. And as we walked in the birds all like went, Oh, wait a minute, maybe we don’t want to be next to her and they ran away. And then they came back slowly. Like maybe she’s okay. Yeah. Do they kind of choose like an area of the barn that’s kind of home? Or do they move around or wander
Lauren Arbogast 16:50
if you were to put a piece of tape on the back of one of them or dot A dot have some time a GoPro next time a GoPro on the back of the chicken? I think it’d be the same. Wait, I don’t know how that would work. But you would watch it would wander the entire house. It’s funny to just watch how they move.
Grounded by the Farm 17:07
Yeah, yeah, yeah, they just wander around, because it is very open, there’s not like stalls and Nope, they’re not it is
Lauren Arbogast 17:14
a wide open building. The feed lines run the entire length of the building. And there’s three, five feed lines that go the entire length. And then there’s six water lines that run the entire length of the building. So they walk under the feed lines in the water lines and just kind of weave their way around.
Grounded by the Farm 17:29
So when you think about the fact that you’ve got alarms going off, would they go off? If like the water wasn’t working in the section of the barn? Or if they’re not getting food in the section?
Lauren Arbogast 17:41
Yes. That, you know, we’ll get a call from the alarm company 2am. And they’ll say house five water. And that that’s all they know. And it’s really funny because the company’s out of California. And so they’re calling us on the East Coast. And they’re saying, you know, house five water on Lacey spring road, and we’re like, Yeah, okay. And so that means for us, you know, a drive to the house to find out what’s going wrong and to fix the problem. But when we think about if we didn’t have those, those checks, so stop gaps. That could be extremely detrimental. By the time we got in there the next morning at 7am. Yeah,
Grounded by the Farm 18:20
if they’re that thirsty of an animal they are they drink a lot of water. So yeah, yeah. So you got to have it out there all the time.
Lauren Arbogast 18:28
And temperature needs to be right, you know, for them to grow into to develop, they need to have their feed, obviously. So yeah.
Grounded by the Farm 18:35
Yep. What are the other things about the chickens in the barns? Like do they ever fly?
Lauren Arbogast 18:41
They will. So chickens are funny animal. I mean, I’ll just just
Grounded by the Farm 18:47
some roosters or chickens or something they like sort of fly ish.
Lauren Arbogast 18:51
They do. So we keep since we raise small birds, they are a younger sore. They have not really figured out at that point, whether they’re male or female. And so the females are not laying eggs. They’re nowhere close to like egg laying age, and they will flutter around, they’ll jump on top of the feed lines. It’s funny COVID their CO Ed chicken I’m gonna use that for now. One, we run coed chicken houses.
Grounded by the Farm 19:21
Do they make much noise
Lauren Arbogast 19:22
they are they’re pretty noisy, especially when they’re babies and we get them that first week. There’s a lot of Peeping, and you can actually hear it from the outside. Yeah, when you go past but a lot of it too is because we have the the windows of the vents open and so it’s you know, open with the airflow and everything and but then when they get older, they’ll start to you know, test their wings and they’ll jump on top the feed lines or the water lines and things and chickens are really funny if you just walk in and you just sit down you crouch down so that they’ll they’ll pretty soon they’ll just cocked their head sideways at you and you know, walk towards you and then start pecking or a ring or your shoelace or something it’s really funny, but then they’ll also like turn to their chicken neighbor and start a little squabble. You know, like, the pecking orders. It came from chickens, that phrase because they are very peculiar about life. I’ve seen it in em in this and yeah, I’ve
Grounded by the Farm 20:14
seen it in egg laying facilities. So where I went to an egg farm is because then the chickens, you’re using the same hens for a longer period of time. Yes. And so the pecking order in the cage free, the action was really some
Lauren Arbogast 20:31
it’s real. I mean, and you see that in backyard chickens. Yeah, they somebody is top dog and somebody is not top dog. So
Grounded by the Farm 20:38
yeah, yeah. Something really important. Do you eat much chicken?
Lauren Arbogast 20:43
We do. It’s for dinner tonight. Actually. We eat a variety of proteins here. We do eat chicken. So before chickens, my husband and his family raised turkeys. And then prior to that it was actually arranged turkeys. They’re not very fond of Turkey, I will say, but chicken is okay. And so I haven’t figured out like is it because they got to year X on turkeys. And then it was you know, over or because I’m joking. I’m sorry. This is a podcast and you can’t see me being sarcastic and joking.
Grounded by the Farm 21:16
We’ve done an interview on turkeys and talk to a farmer about them. And it is pretty interesting, because we kept asking him questions about chickens. And he’s like, I really don’t know. I’ve never been around chickens. Yeah, so they’re probably listened to that episode. But I mean, part of it for me is just kind of thinking about, you know, the way chickens behave is, you know, the way they want to eat their food. They typically like peck at it. Mm hmm. Yeah. And so the feeders are set up to do that kind of
Lauren Arbogast 21:51
supply. Yes. Yep. As they pack at it more comes down out of the top. So it’s yes. And when they’re babies, when they’re first out, we have large they are like half the size of this table. So let’s just say at least two by three, if not three by four large trays all throughout the house extra so that they have they can get to feed faster when they’re little babies. Okay. As we they kind of train to the feed lines. Yeah, if you will. Yeah. So
Grounded by the Farm 22:22
interesting. Yeah. So what are your favorite ways to make chicken?
Lauren Arbogast 22:28
Oh, this is like a question from left field. I love chicken in always, I love it in a taco or a good chicken stir fry. One of my favorite ways to make it is similar to actually what we’re having for dinner tonight. It’s to do it started on the stove and then finish it up in the cast iron skillet in the oven. Especially like with a good rule on it. So you know, flour and butter and milk and all those good southern things. And then to put that on top of a carbohydrate of course, because you know, everybody loves a good starch. Most people do not everybody, but most people do. Yes. So yeah, I like like chicken a variety of ways. But I would say like in a cast iron skillet is probably one of my favorites.
Grounded by the Farm 23:18
Yeah, cast iron does some amazing. Yes,
Lauren Arbogast 23:21
absolutely. Yes and Amen.
Grounded by the Farm 23:25
What about the environmental side? Yeah, the smell
Lauren Arbogast 23:28
this smell. So you were in there today, you noticed it’s not maybe a smell that you smell out of your favorite rose or flower? It is an animal smells. I have asthma
Grounded by the Farm 23:37
and allergies. And I didn’t feel like I couldn’t breathe, which I’ve been in some places where they’ve been a little overpowering.
Lauren Arbogast 23:46
That’s good. We passed that test. Okay, environmental wise. So when we’re talking about the litter and when I say litter odd that is the manure from the chickens. Yeah, mixed with the bedding. So for bedding, we use a mix of shavings, wood shavings as well as peanut holes. So a byproduct from another agriculture industry is actually reused in ours. So when we take when the birds leave for harvest, we have usually a two to three week window before we get our next group of birds in. And during that time, we do several different things with the houses. So number one, we take off the top crust of the litter. And that is an excellent fertilizer that we use, but we use it on pastures and also crop fields, but we use it in correlation with the DEQ for Virginia. So that’s Department of Environmental Quality, as well as nrcs usda NRCS. So we work very closely with programs to say like yeah, looking at soil tests and say this field needs this. It’s lacking in this or this field has too much of this we need to not you know So, the litter is a very important fertilizer on our farm and on a lot of farms around. But then also when we clean out houses, once we take that top crust off, we windrow them. So we actually put the houses the litter into a compost, and then we go through two heats. So we’ll put it up in a big long pile, it goes through a heat and a heat, and then we actually turn it in that gets rid of any microbes bacteria there in the house, we spread it back out, and then we top dress it again. So there’s been a lot of research and things done with that, like what’s best to clean completely out. What’s best to windrow is it best just to take the top crust off.
Grounded by the Farm 25:38
It’s amazing that there are people who get PhDs and studying this stuff to me, they’ve been blown away by it.
Lauren Arbogast 25:44
Same that Yes. And they’re really excited. And I’m glad they’re excited about studying that. So I can reap the benefits of this is what’s best what we know is best Yeah, this time. Yeah.
Grounded by the Farm 25:56
And then the other thing I noticed when we looked at your barns is you guys have solar panels, so you’re looking at ways to do energy more efficiently and things along that line, too.
Lauren Arbogast 26:05
Yeah, that was a COVID project for us. Something good came out of COVID. We got all of our chicken houses have solar panels on them. And so they are fully powered by the sun, which is really cool when you think about it. And, you know, we give back to the grid, you know, the extra energy goes back on the grid. But that was something for us, again, is we’re a multi generational farm. So there’s actually three generations that you could say, are active in farming here, from my husband’s father, to my husband and his brother, and then the next generation coming up that are all in like the middle school ish years. But they’re very active and passionate about farming. But when we’re looking at what is best for the farm, what’s best for the land, and the animals that we steward solar panels fit into that for us. Because in reality, when we think about stewardship, and we think about farming in general and agriculture, we look to the future, like, it might be just kind of flippant to say, but you can’t be a farmer and not look to the future. Because you plant a crop and you look to the harvest, you get a chicken on day one, and you look to what it’s going to grow into. There’s always a bill, there’s always a build. And for us, we’re building towards the next generation, and we want to leave it better than we found it. And so for us, that’s a driver, that’s also a driver of a lot of conversations around the farm. Because anytime you work with multiple people or multiple generations, there’s different perspectives and different feelings and just everything when you’re coming together to say what’s best, well, what’s best for us and our family might not be best for the farm that’s a mile down the road. And so I just think as we think about like agriculture and farming, there’s a lot of different ways to do things. And it’s really neat to just see how families have said, This is what’s best for us, at this time in relation to just you know what all else is going on? When Yeah, sorry, I kind of dived off from chickens there until now that stewardship and family
Grounded by the Farm 28:16
we’re gonna include some pictures of Fivay meats, which is your children and your nieces and nephews. Right? Yes. So put some pictures up. Awesome. That kind of stuff. And some video from today, the hayride stuff with some of that next generation driving the tractor. Yeah, so but I really appreciate it if people wanted to get in touch. What’s the best way to find you online or?
Lauren Arbogast 28:40
Yeah, absolutely. So social media Instagram is my fave. That’s probably the best way to find me. But it’s just at Lauren dot Arbogast, le u r e n.ar BOGA. Es t. So you can find me on Instagram there you can find us five A meets like just numeral five, number five, a meets. And then yeah, I’m on Facebook as well. So she you can shoot me a message there.
Grounded by the Farm 29:09
Great. Thanks so much.
Lauren Arbogast 29:10
Thanks for having me.
Grounded by the Farm 29:12
Really appreciate your spending your time with us today. And just coming back and checking out grounded by the farm in the future. If you want to get caught up. There’s some things on the website grounded by the farm calm. We’re on social media, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We have a YouTube channel and this episode with Lauren granite us to new videos. So please go ahead and check us out on the other platforms and tell your friends who also love food to come and check us out. We’d love to have more among our ranks. Thank you and have a great day.
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