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Tree-Range Chickens Take Flight
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is producing, processing, and marketing “tree-range” broilers in a free-range/fixed building system. Instead of open pasture, chickens are raised in fields of plants, bushes and trees.
“I grew up in Guatemala, where chickens are raised in their natural jungle habitat,” says Haslett-Marroquin. “I couldn’t find a single place in the U.S. that operated that way. I didn’t want to raise them in confinement or with mobile housing in an open pasture. I had to innovate a design.”
He started with less than 2 acres of land and began researching options and experimenting with scalable concepts. What he came up with over 7 years was a complex system from production to processing to marketing.
In 2020 he and his wife purchased a 75-acre farm near Northfield, Minn., with 29 acres of woods. He began putting his concept into full-scale practice. He planted an additional 8,200 hazelnut bushes and other plants under taller trees and began building out his infrastructure.
He cycles three flocks of 1,500 birds every 10 weeks through the system. The model includes two 3/4-acre, fenced paddocks. A 1,600-sq. ft. coop provides a square foot of space per bird and is situated between the paddocks with exits to each.
To date, Haslett-Marroquin has built three production units with another three in the planning stage. Production in the units launched this spring.
Chicks spend their first 4 weeks inside the coops before teaching them to roam by moving feed and water outside for the next 6 weeks. Once released into a paddock, they naturally return to the building to sleep and for shelter.
“We feed them a core ration of ground feed that’s supplemented with a mix of easily sprouted whole grains, as well as anything they forage in the paddock,” says Haslett-Marroquin. “The grain is soaked and then spread in an empty paddock where it sits for 2 days, swelling, sprouting, and feeding the biome. Then we turn the birds in to eat it over the next 2 days. It adds water to the birds’ guts and gets the most value out of the grain.”
Haslett-Marroquin identifies a wide range of advantages to fixed housing over mobile chicken coops. They include being more predator secure with less maintenance and wear as feeders, waterers, and housing are not moving daily. He believes it also reduces stress on the birds from wind and weather and reduces human labor.
Haslett-Marroquin selected breeds that have strong legs for ranging ability. Heritage breeds take too long to mature, and industrial broilers aren’t designed to range.
Haslett-Marroquin uses wood shavings for litter in the building, as they’re antimicrobial and absorb ammonia and waste. When they’re cleaned out at the end of a flock, they can be spread on land that will produce crops, some of which will feed future flocks.
Early in his R&D, Haslett-Marroquin realized he needed to include processing and marketing, not only for the birds, but eventually for annual harvests of hazelnuts, and other understory products like elderberries and eventually maple syrup and mature trees for lumber.
Currently, Tree-Range Chickens are marketed through several food co-ops in the Twin Cities and small towns like Northfield. New national accounts are being developed.
“We were able to secure a market for our current production in a very short time, from January to April this year,” says Haslett-Marroquin. “We have enough buyers now for significant growth for the next 3 years. We don’t sell chickens. We sell a story of a healthy animal, a healthy farm, and happy chickens that are as nutritionally dense as any chicken can be. Consumers are looking for that level of integrity.”
For Haslett-Marroquin, Tree-Range broilers are just a first step. He’s also working on an egg-laying version, as well as agritourism opportunities for his farm and others in the system.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, 301 Division St. S., Northfield, Minn. 55057 (ph 507-664-1088; info@regenagalliance.org; www.regenagalliance.org).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #4