Bresse free ranging





















































How a Small Farm Can Tackle Marek’s and Create Hardy, Disease-Resistant
Bresse Breeding Stock

There are many diseases that can plague your flock, and Marek’s is one of the more prolific. As small farmers, we need to understand what Marek’s is and its symptoms. Importantly, how can we manage it with an economical and forward-thinking approach?

What Is Marek’s?

Marek’s Disease is one of the most common illnesses in small flocks. Generally, birds four to seven weeks old can become infected with Marek’s Disease by inhaling virus-laden dander. Once infected, they are infected for life. However, not all infected birds will get sick or even have symptoms. Marek’s is not acquired through the hatching egg. And it will not make people sick.


Marek’s Disease causes inflammation and tumors in the nerves, spinal column, and brain. In this form, birds will become paralyzed in the legs or wings, or may develop head tremors. Once paralyzed, they won’t be able to move around to get water and food and will starve and die of thirst.

When you observe any of your chickens starting to limp around, walk funny, or just seem off (you’ll get better at noticing these signs the more you’re around the birds), they must be culled from your flock.
Do not continue to breed them even if they are vaccinated.

Using Vaccine to Manage Marek’s

The commonly recommended way to prevent Marek’s in your flock is to vaccinate your day-old chicks. The vaccine needs about four to seven days to work before exposing the chicks to other birds.

However, Marek’s vaccine can only help to lessen the severity of an outbreak if it should occur. The vaccine cannot prevent the bird from getting Marek’s. Another problem is the virus is constantly mutating – much like influenza and corona viruses throughout history. Therefore, your birds may be vaccinated against one strain of Marek’s but not the one that infects them.

If you are going to vaccinate your birds at home, you must take care to follow the instructions. These include:

  • Thawing the vaccine for a specific amount of time and to a certain temperature.
  • Using the vaccine no longer than 1-2 hours after reconstitution (as indicated on the label). This is because the live virus dies very quickly in vaccine form.
  • Discarding any unused reconstituted vaccine after two hours. It can’t be stored for later use as the vaccine is no longer effective.
  • Injecting the vaccine, usually under the skin.

One of the drawbacks to vaccinating at home is there are only a few companies and veterinary supply outlets selling single vials of Marek’s vaccine to small flock owners. The individual vials contain 1,000 to 5,000 doses of vaccine. The product arrives refrigerated with cold packs and must never be allowed to warm up while in storage. If the vials arrive warm, they are no longer effective. The vaccine must be refrigerated until used.

Vaccines Aren’t a Panacea

As mentioned above, chickens vaccinated against Marek’s don’t benefit from complete immunity.  Scientists have discovered the vaccine has helped the virus become “uniquely virulent.” Over the last half century, symptoms for Marek’s have worsened. In other words, what was supposed to prevent severe symptoms has done the opposite. Paralysis is more permanent, and brains turn to mush faster. And the highly infectious and deadly virus spreads to birds faster from a vaccinated chicken than an unvaccinated one.

Even with mass vaccination among farms of all sizes, Marek’s disease has plagued the chicken industry causing two billion in losses annually.

Using Traditional Farming Practices to Manage Marek’s

In light of the high failure rate of the Marek’s vaccine, and the out-of-reach cost for most small family farms, what can we do as small farmers to create a hardy, disease-resistant strain? The answer is to create resistance through a stringent breeding program.

However, this method requires a very disciplined approach by the breeder. The term “cull ruthlessly” is used consistently by experienced breeders who are in the practice of resurrecting endangered species.

The goal is to breed for innate and adaptive immunity – a natural genetic resistance to the virus. In the lingo of breeding, we’re looking for birds with good constitution and vigor. Birds that survive past 7 weeks either don’t have Marek’s or have a natural resistance to the virus. This natural immunity is a trait that will be passed on to offspring.

You have to run a *closed* operation. This means do not bring any new birds onto your farm – even if vaccinated! Practice good bio-security measures. Always keep this in mind. Otherwise, you run the risk that vaccinated birds will spread a highly infectious variant of Marek’s to your flock.

It Will Take Time

Obviously, the downside to the selective breeding method is that it could take several generations to sort itself out. But ultimately, the benefit will be sustaining your heritage breed flock in the same manner they did prior to the advent of vaccines.

Breed with birds that have a proven track record of constitution and vigor. Your best bet is to breed birds that are two years old. The minimum age should be 9 months, preferably after a first molt. Chickens hatched from survivors of disease exposure are hardier and may carry natural antibodies that give them further immunity.

Remember the primary rule of thumb if you are going to employ a breeding program to improve the disease resistance of your strain: Cull.

  • Cull anything that shows signs of sniffling, sneezing, or coughing.
  • Cull anything that appears to be weak and feeble.
  • Cull all birds that are poor eaters.
  • Cull birds that do not have good confirmation of body and basic constitution and vigor.
  • No exceptions!

In a few generations, you’ll pride yourself in a very hardy, disease-resistant strain.

To get started on the right track with your breeding program, I strongly recommend signing up for the The Breeders Academy. The website is a wealth of information, Kenny has decades of experience, and he’s a fantastic mentor. (We have no affiliation with The Breeders Academy other than being a member.)

If you’re interested in starting your own family of Bresse chickens, we have hatching eggs for sale.




Tasty Charcuterie



Bresse chicken on platter













Benefits of a Carnivore Diet

It’s no secret that we raise pigs and chickens so that we can eat humanely raised, pastured pork and poultry. Our mantra when we must make tough decisions is “this is a farm, not a zoo.”

A good friend and neighbor in our farming community swears by the carnivore diet. He has lost a ton of weight by following it. So, we wanted to share the benefits he let us know about the carnivore diet.

In a nutshell, the carnivore diet high fat, high protein, and low carb. It consists mainly of animal products. No grains, no vegetables, no fruit, no sugar.

With just a quick Internet search, we learned the carnivore diet may help to:

  • balance the microbiome
  • stop autoimmune reactions
  • lose unneeded fat and gain muscle and lean body mass
  • increase insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose levels
  • feed our brain and improve our mood

The carnivore diet is made up of easily absorbed, bio-available nutrients.  Following a strict carnivore diet by consuming nose-to-tail (organ meat, not just muscle meat) helps boost the nutrient density.  And our stomach acid is highly acidic and very good at getting the nutrients out of meat. These nutrients flood your body with the building blocks needed to do its own repair of your brain, joints, muscles, and blood cells.

(Plant foods, on the other hand, contain anti-nutrients, as well as nutrients. This is a separate topic which deserves its own blog.)

What About Fiber?

Here’s another myth busted about the no-fiber carnivore diet. Fiber can be bad for people with digestive problems. We were surprised to learn that when a no-fiber diet is consumed, digestion may be improved. Studies of people with IBS, constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive issues show either complete elimination or huge improvement when fiber is greatly reduced or eliminated.

Another benefit is the magical state called ketosis which is all the rage these days. Basically, when our body is running on fat, not carbs, we are providing our brain with ketones instead of glucose. Ketosis is the metabolic process of using fat, specifically ketones, as the primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates. This is another topic that requires much more than a paragraph to explain. But the bottom line for most of us is that on the carnivore diet you can lose a lot of weight and gain muscle mass.

As we thought about and researched the carnivore diet, the benefits seemed endless. The main thing we will leave you with is this: It’s far better to consume humanely raised meats, without all the nitrates, arsenic, and other additives, than factory-farmed meats processed at slaughterhouses.

Enjoy a tasty charcuterie platter and a side of chicken breast tonight. 🙂

Contact us if you’re interested in buying charcuterie.

Bresse chicken foraging

Animals foraging together

Establishing a Bresse Breeding Program

We initially started raising chickens with a dozen laying hens (6 Black Sex Links and 6 Red Sex Links). We enjoyed raising these birds for their egg production. And as we expected, they were superior egg layers.

Allan is always thinking of new ways to improve on what we’re doing.  He thought that with the same effort and space, we could raise birds for meat production. So he began researching suitable birds. He stumbled across the Swedish Homestead YouTube channel. The Swedish Homestead raved about the Bresse chicken. Allan was persuaded because they are dual purpose (eggs and meat) and reputed to be the tastiest chicken in the world!

Excited about the Bresse, we researched American hatcheries shipping Bresse chickens. To our surprise, lots of the hatcheries were sold out of the Bresse! So we had to start our flock ordering from a few different hatcheries. We ordered roughly 30 chicks. Unfortunately, we lost about 8 chicks at the outset. Once the roosters started to get unruly (3 roosters fighting over 8 hens), we decided to thin the flock to just the hens and 2 roosters.

Breeding for Success

As we waited for this family to mature, we started studying breeding programs to improve the quality and performance of our Bresse chickens. We found a mentor who taught us that the goal of breeding is to breed for balance and stability. That means having birds with a complete package of Form, Function, and Beauty. We also studied from many websites hosted by French agricultural authorities and breeding clubs.  We learned about the so-called “standards of perfection”

Once we had a game plan for our breeding program, we began the process of growing the numbers of our flock. Our mentor suggested we aim for 100 birds to create a spiral mating system. Because we have such a small starting family, we won’t be able to reach 100, but we hop to end up with at least 60-70.

In the photos you see we have the hens and roosters separated from each other. When they are big enough, we’ll let them out during the day to free range.

Contact us if you’re interested in buying hatching eggs.


Berkshire pigs messing around



Brent digging trenches



Gopher-proof holes






Busy Weekend on a Small Farm

Running a small farm is a TON of work, but it’s very rewarding.

We always start our day by opening the coops so the chickens can free-range during the day. Then, the pigs get their whole grains (soaked overnight for better absorption). We fill all the watering stations and troughs for our chickens and Berkshire pigs.

Outsmarting the pigs

One of the first projects we had to attend to was securing the watering trough for our 3 younger, female Berkshire pigs. Pigs love to turn over anything that has water in it and roll around in the mud it creates. They are not great at long term thinking — like having no water to drink. Allan secured the watering trough inside a cattle panel turned on its side and secured it to the outer fencing. Then he cut a hole that the pigs can get their head through to drink, but not big enough for them to tip the trough with their nose.

Getting the garden ready

Last year, we dug a trench 90-feet x 30-feet and buried hardware cloth to prevent the gophers from getting into the garden. Unfortunately, because we live in the foothills of some very large granite mountains, the trencher could not always get down a full 2 feet. The gophers capitalized on the spots the hardware cloth didn’t reach!

This year, we are digging holes 2-feet deep — by hand. We line each hole with hardware cloth and then fill the hole back in. We are doing this instead of raised beds for a number of reasons. Have you seen the price of lumber? Crazy expensive! Even if it wasn’t, we’re still busy trying to finish the walk-in cooler/butcher station so we can process our first Berkshire.

If we want any garden at all, we figured we have to resort to holes and hardware cloth as the next best option. Digging through hard, dry clay is not easy and it’s a slow process. So far we have 5 holes and have planted 4-5 varieties of squash, 4 varieties of cantaloupe, 4 varieties of watermelon, snap peas, slicing and pickling cucumbers.

Only one variety of squash and cantaloupe sprouted so far. We suspect the squash seeds might not be viable, so we replanted them as an experiment. If they don’t sprout the second time, we’ll know it was the seeds and not the gardener!

We started 2 more gopher-proof holes this weekend. They are 10-feet long and 4-feet wide. These are going to take a bit longer to complete. We will plant carrots and peppers (companion plants) in one, and probably beets and another companion vegetable in the second one.

We ran out of time to start tomatoes from seeds last year and we didn’t enjoy the varieties we had anyway. But because we’re getting a late start on our vegetable garden, we’ve got some growing in pots.

Chickens earning their keep

Another advantage to creating these gopher-proof beds instead of raised beds is that we can continue our companion farming philosophy. For the Mechelens (aka Malines), we’re going to create a coop and chicken run off the garden area. In the winter, once the growing season has come to an end, we’ll let the Mechelens forage through it. They’ll clear out all of the remaining plants and weeds, scratch and till the soil, and fertilize the soil with their poop. This will save us a ton of work come late winter/early spring when it’s time to plant our vegetables.

And we’re finishing 4 Bresse roosters that hatched about 12 weeks ago. We are adhering as closely as possible to the traditional Bresse method — corn/grains and milk. However, we are not stuffing them into small boxes (referred to as the Spruce by the French). They are in a small coop with some light and a little room to move around. We’re not willing to compromise our happy, healthy farm philosophy for a chicken dinner.

A wonderful weekend is coming to a close. A friend brought us fresh cherries from a roadside stand on the highway to Kings Canyon National Park, picked by the Mennonites. We’re looking forward to eating a scrumptious, homemade cherry pie for dinner to celebrate Memorial Day!

Contact us if you’re interested in buying Berkshire breeder piglets or heritage breed Bresse chicken hatching eggs.

Chickens together

Chicken coop in pig pen

Chicken roosting perch

Raising Pigs and Chickens Together


Our companion farming endeavor is a huge success! The chickens handle the poop by picking through it for any undigested grains. The rest gets scratched and scattered around the pen. The flies don’t have a chance to use the pile to create larvae. As a result, the fly population is way down. There is also low to no odor at all. Anytime there is a moist area, we toss a flake of hay to absorb it. We’re very happy with this project!

One of the many things we’ve learned about raising our own livestock is they poop — a lot. And with poop comes flies — a lot of flies. Unless you resort to chemicals, you’ll need a method to control them.

One method is high-frequency rotational grazing. The downside with this method is that you will need a very large acreage. And even with a large acreage, pigs will usually destroy much of the vegetation before they eat it. They love to root through soil.

Another method is using things like fly sprays, fly traps, etc. We don’t want to use chemical sprays or traps that use chemicals. So we use Dr. Bronner’s in a spray bottle attached to a hose to spray the flies. We love natural methods to solve natural problems, but truth be told, our natural recipe does not work as great as its chemical counterpart.

Yet another method for controlling flies is referred to as manure management. This can be accomplished through regular clearing, mounding the manure to create compost, spreading the manure, or dragging the pasture (which requires large machinery).

Joel Salatin offers a different spin on manure management. In the winter, his cows deposit manure on a “giant carbon diaper”, layered with hay and other materials. In the spring, the pigs move in, root around, and aerate the lot. For a detailed description of his Polyface Farm operation, check out this article from The Atlantic, “Inside Polyface Farm, Mecca of Sustainable Agriculture”.

We don’t have cows or a large shed or barn to employ the Polyface method. We pile hay on top of the pig manure to control flies and odor, but we wanted to do more.

Our Companion Farming Program

In the spirit of Salatin’s method, instead of cows, we considered chickens to accomplish a similar outcome. The chickens will dig through the pig manure and eat undigested grains, bugs, larvae, and other parasites. The constant scratching, overturning, and spreading will also help to aerate the pile of hay and manure. And this should expedite the drying process.

So, we constructed a hoop coop inside the pig pens to raise some of our chickens with our Berkshire pigs. Our goal is to control our manure-related smell and disease without costly fertilizer, machinery, or buildings. I read somewhere that 2-3 chickens can get plenty to eat from just one pig’s manure/hay pile!

Contact us if you’re interested in buying Berkshire breeder piglets or heritage breed chicken hatching eggs.

Mechelen chick

Mechelen chicks feeding

European Meat Birds Arrived Today

During the course of our research into a breeding program for the Bresse, we stumbled across the Mechelen. They are another dual purpose heritage breed chicken with European roots. Mechelen are classics of the heritage meat bird trend, stocky and large.

As novice farmers, we began our adventure in animal husbandry with our Sex Links laying hens. Raising laying hens was another perfect addition to our five acres. We love having farm fresh eggs to eat and share with the community.

After learning how easy it is to keep chickens, we wanted to begin raising our own poultry for meat, instead of buying factory-farmed meat at the grocery stores. We first tried raising Cornish crosses. These are the chickens you buy at your local grocery store. (Even the chicken labeled *organic* is probably a Cornish cross.) Their claim to fame is “6 pounds in 6 weeks” – and sometimes less than 6 weeks. We elected to adhere to our healthy, happy philosophy and free-range our Cornish crosses. The birds are calm and docile which is great. But these birds are a genetic mess! (I’ll post separately about the challenges we faced.)

We also raised Freedom Rangers (or red broilers), but these are just the Cornish cross mixed with another breed (I believe it is the Rhode Island Red). These chickens were okay to raise, but nothing special in terms of taste.

Ultimately, we decided to raise heritage breeds exclusively. One day, while researching our options, we came across the Mechelen (often called Coucou de Malines).

The Mechelen will reach sizes of 7.5 to 11 pounds. Like most heritage breeds, they are slow growing. It will take about 5-6 months to attain these weights. Because of their large size, they don’t fly. As a dual purpose bird, they are good egg layers. But their primary purpose on our farm will be for meat production. The Mechelen have a calm and balanced disposition which is perfect for our happy farm. The chicks have arrived and we’re on our way!

Contact us if you’re interested in buying hatching eggs.

Bresse chicks love the new coop!

Happy chicks in the coop

Moving Day for 3-Week Old Bresse Chicks

After a very successful hatch, our chicks were ready to be moved from the large brooder to the hooped coop. They will stay here for a couple of months until they are large enough to integrate with the rest of our flock. They love the new coop and are very happy to with all the space!

These chicks were our second attempt at a test run of our best Bresse rooster. The first attempt was all Bresse and resulted in zero chicks — likely because the rooster and/or hens were too young. This time, I did a mix of Bresse hens, Black Sex Links and Red Sex Links. 

So, it will be obvious who’s who.  The Bresse will be all white with blue feet. We’ll cull the Bresse-Sex Links mix when the time comes. (Culling on a small farm such as ours means we will process them for meat.)

UPDATE April 25, 2021:

Two of the main characteristics of the Bresse are their white plumage and blue feet. These chicks started out light blonde. We figured that we would eventually see the black and red start to show for the chicks with the Sex Links mothers. After 8 weeks, all of the chicks are still white!

Another surprise is the majority of their feet are blue. After learning about dominant and recessive genes, we discovered the white feathers of the Bresse are dominant. As far as the blue feet, when a cock with blue feet breeds with a hen with blue feet, both pullets and stags will have blue feet. When a cock with blue feet breeds with a hen with yellow (or white) feet, the pullets will have blue feet and the stags will have white feet.

Therefore, this experiment with breeding my Bresse rooster with a mix of Bresse and Sex Link hens has resulted in me having no way of knowing who’s who.  Except we’ll know the stags with the white feet are 100% Bresse.

These birds will now be part of our separate layers and/or meat bird flock. We’ll be raising these birds with our pigs in our companion farming program.  

Contact us if you’re interested in buying Bresse hatching eggs.


Walk-in cooler under construction

Walk-in cooler exterior

Walk-In Cooler for Processing Berkshire Pigs

We are in the middle of converting one of our out-buildings into a walk-in cooler. This will be used for processing and storage of our Berkshire line of pork and Bresse chickens. And we’ll also use it as a root cellar for our vegetable garden.

This project will take us about a month to complete. The photo shows the state it was in when we purchased the farm. We have been so busy tending to our property that refurbishing this out-building did not become a priority until we started raising Berkshire pigs. Stand-by for the “after” from this “before” photo.

Our first feeder pig will be ready in another two or three months and he is the brother of our Berkshire sow. He has been raised in the foothills of the Sierra mountains. He will be finished as close as possible to the traditional European method.

Inspired by Brandon at Farmstead Meatsmith, we will be producing naturally processed Berkshire charcuteries, bacon, hams, specialty sausages, and chops. The Berkshire pigs are known for their marbled, red meat quality. It is prized for its juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. Yum!

Berkshire pork is served in some of the most renowned restaurants around the world. Chefs rave about the meat. When cured, Berkshire meat makes unsurpassed hams, charcuterie, and salamis.

2021 Berkshire Piglet Reservations Available Now

Bresse chicken foraging

Animals foraging together

Foragers Paradise in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevadas

Since we acquired our Bresse chicks last year, we learned the French take the raising of these heritage breeds very seriously. France’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food produced an official bulletin in 2019, setting forth the specifications for the designation of the “Poulet de Bresse” — the Bresse chicken.

The bulletin explains the specific external characteristics for the Bresse. I’ll cover these in later blog posts, after we begin line-breeding (genealogical selection) our Bresse flock.

The Bresse originated in the former Bresse province, located in the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in eastern France.

Like California, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is described as a collection of areas of diverse topographies, climates, and natural resources. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is endowed with a great diversity of landscapes and unspoiled nature, including lakes and mountains. We’re in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, at a comfortable 2500 feet, and share many similarities with the Bresse region.

According to the French Ministry, in keeping with local, loyal, and constant practice, Bresse poultry must be reared on grassy ranges after a maximum of 35 days. We are beyond that for our small starter flock, but we’re raising them for breeding. Nevertheless, we always intended for our Bresse chickens to spend their days on grassy ranges.

Challenges …

The first was predators. While there aren’t many predators during the day, it’s not 100% safe. That’s why we have dogs. However, our dogs needed to get used to the chickens. And our new addition, Bruno, needed to be trained to not hunt them.

This week was our first try letting our whole flock out of their fenced pasture and onto our entire parcel (fenced only around the perimeter). They had a lot of fun foraging around our grassy hills. A successful project launch!

Contact us if you’re interested in buying hatching eggs.