A great place to be a chicken: Utah's River Rock Family Farm

Feb 13 2011 - 10:46pm

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(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Robert Radtke examines the foot of an injured rooster on the River Rock Family Farm in South Weber.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The farm has many breeds of chickens, which adds up to many different colors of eggs.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Robert Radtke examines the foot of an injured rooster on the River Rock Family Farm in South Weber.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) The farm has many breeds of chickens, which adds up to many different colors of eggs.

SOUTH WEBER -- A chicken and duck farm here has become the first in Utah to be Animal Welfare Approved (AWA).

The River Rock Family Farm in South Weber, owned by Robert and Suzie Radtke, has received the distinction as well as a $5,000 Good Husbandry grant.

The Animal Welfare Approved program is designed to improve the welfare of animals by promoting pasture- and range-based farming.

"We're glad to be giving funds to River Rock Family Farm to help them preserve heritage breeds of chickens and ducks," said AWA Program Director Andrew Gunther.

Suzie Radtke explained that her breeds often are those headed for extinction and that don't lay more than 280 eggs a year.

She said that's very different than today's production breeds that lay so many eggs the animals end up hurting themselves, often breaking bones.

But protecting animals is what AWA is all about, she said.

"We have to replace our own laying flock," she said. "They don't want you mailing your chicks."

The couple first bought a $1,200 incubator with their grant money.

They also are building a brooding house using trusses recycled from Defense Depot Ogden and improving their barriers against predators with such things as fencing and livestock guard dogs.

AWA is an Alexandria, Va. organization established in 2006.

Officials say the group was organized "as a market-based solution to growing consumer interest in how farm animals are raised."

In order to be approved, farms must be inspected for compliance to the organization's strict standards for animal care.

"The Animal Welfare Approved standards are the most rigorous and progressive animal care requirements in the nation," states information released by the group.

The organization claims it is continuously ranked as the "most stringent" of all third-party certifiers by the World Society for the Protection of Animals.

"We just love the Animal Welfare Program because we love taking good care of our animals," Suzie Radtke said. "People want to know where their food comes from."

The River Rock Family Farm is a small operation, currently with about 150 laying hens and 30 ducks. Suzie Radtke said AWA officials favor small operations.

A tour through the River Rock Family Farm shows the chickens and ducks running free at times when the outside air temperature allows. The couple also outlines their efforts to keep the animals from destructive habits associated with inadequate nutrition.

A variety of shapes and sizes in the farm's chickens also stands out.

"We have 14 breeds of chickens," Suzie Radtke said. "That's why I have so many colors. ... Our chickens come in as many different colors as the eggs do."

The popularity of the farm's colorful eggs has caught on.

"We have people from Salt Lake City that come up and get eggs from us," Robert Radtke said.

There's also a woman from Cache Valley who buys duck eggs from them because her children are allergic to chicken eggs.

The couple also raises alpacas on their 11 acres and hope to one day be AWA- approved in that operation as well if the program adds an alpaca arm to its offerings.

They have a small herd of horses on the property, which they keep around for recreational purposes.

AWA officials said they are hoping to expand their program to other small farms in the area.

Suzie Radtke said she hopes more area farms apply for the free approval, which qualifies participants for free advertising materials.

"I think 4-H kids and small family farms could totally take advantage of this stuff," she said.

"The intentions are that your small family farm will contribute to your family income."

More information about AWA is available at www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.

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