Backyard chickens—in a 8,000-acre backyard!
More From Biltmore 09/05/14
Written By Judy Ross
Chicken farming in your backyard is growing in popularity around the country as more people get interested in heirloom breeds and fresh eggs. Biltmore also has its own backyard chicken farm, although we have a bit more space than most families!
Visit the Farmyard in Antler Hill Village to see dozens of chickens, learn about their role in supplying our restaurants with eggs, and how they contribute to our educational programs.
“We keep more than 500 chickens that lay hundreds of eggs each week. These fresh eggs partially fulfill our restaurants’ need for 250 dozen eggs a week—that’s a lot of eggs!” said Melonye Trivett, Director of Equestrian and Antler Hill Farm Programs.
Chickens are not new to Biltmore; there were many different breeds raised here during the Vanderbilts’ time. Some of those same heirloom breeds, including Light Brahma and Barred Rock, roam our Farmyard and fields today, in addition to Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, and the odd-looking Transylvania Naked Necks.
“The Naked Necks don’t have feathers around their necks, and we get many, many questions about them,” Melonye said. “Some people express concern but that’s really the way they look. They are very healthy and good egg layers.”
The Farmyard houses everything from eggs to chicks to adult hens and roosters, enabling guests to understand more about chickens and their appeal.
“We have chicks throughout the summer and into fall, and a few during the winter,” Melonye said. “We bring them from our Brooder House and place them in a bin so guests can hold them. Children and adults love to do this.”
When you visit, you’re sure to see the head rooster or “yard bird,” a large Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster—one of 10–15 mature roosters in the flock. He frequently sits on a wine barrel at the entrance and allows children to pet him. He’s quite the celebrity, with some families visiting 3–4 times a week to see him and other animals in the Farmyard.
Our Farmyard chickens graze freely in the pastures, and we rotate chickens to different pastures to assure they have an ample food supply of grass and insects.
“Chickens are part of our intensive pasture rotation,” explained Melonye. “We use portable chicken coops called ‘chicken tractors’ that allow us to easily move the flock to different fields.”
The portable hen houses were specifically designed to be self-sustaining. Rain is harvested from the roof into rain barrels to provide water for the chickens, while the mesh floor allows droppings to fall to the ground and fertilize the pasture.
Inside the Farmyard’s chicken coop you can see dozens of colored eggs—reminiscent of an Easter egg basket—but these come by their colors naturally. Certain breeds lay specific colors; Amereucanas lay beautiful green and blue eggs; Leghorns produce white eggs, and Copper Marans lay the darkest brown eggs.
Almost all the eggs are laid in the coop and drop into baskets, but some are found among the wood shavings inside. The volume of eggs produced is determined by a variety of different factors, including the seasons and weather patterns.
Regardless of the time of year, Biltmore’s eggs find a ready audience waiting at estate restaurants. “There’s nothing like farm-fresh eggs,” Melonye said.