Famously, Carole Morison and her husband, Frank, walked away after more than two decades raising birds under contract for Perdue on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her decision earned her a starring role in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Food, Inc., in which she gave viewers an inside look at the industrial system and its negative impacts on animals and farmers.
Not one to quit, with technical assistance from Animal Welfare Approved Carole began to research alternative systems. “On farms across the country I saw chickens outside acting like chickens, and farmers doing what they do best – using their brains and experience to make the best decisions for their animals, their communities and the environment. I also realized that people value food from sustainable systems and that demand is greater than the available supply. We decided to give it a try.” On their decision to pursue Animal Welfare Approved certification, Carole explains, “AWA is the only food label that guarantees high-welfare production, outdoors on independent family farms – it’s a natural fit.”
At Bird’s Eye View Farm, the Morisons now raise a flock of 500 Rhode Island Red hens on pasture. Their transition from conventional to pasture-based management was made easier by using the infrastructure they already had. In a resourceful move, the Morisons repurposed one of their chicken houses for their new pasture-based system. They removed the black-out curtains, and instead of using fans for air exchange they now use nature’s own ventilation system – fresh air and sunshine. The building that used to crowd 27,200 birds indoors now gives hens a safe place to nest while allowing them to range out onto the surrounding pasture. This model produces healthier hens and tastier, more nutritious eggs, and allows the Morisons to add value without the huge capital outlays required for conventional indoor operations. “Waste not, want not,” says Frank, who enjoys the new working environment. Carole agrees: “We used to have to wear masks against the dust inside these houses. Now that the chickens can roam outside, the environment is much more pleasant – for us and for our birds.” With the first flock of laying hens now in production, Morison’s Bird’s Eye View Farm is a model for transitioning farmers throughout the region.