This Family Knows Outstanding Farm-fresh, Free-range Chickens
Meet the family behind the free-range chickens raised at Hollyhock Hill Farms.
"So this is what chicken is supposed to taste like!"
These were the first words out of my mouth after I tasted my first bite of a Hollyhock Hills Farms free-range chicken that I had simply roasted at home.
Yes, there is an Elmhurst connection. Yes, Joanne O'Brien's extended family runs the farm. But I would not endorse a product I did not feel was truly superior. Renata stands by this chicken!
I have tasted the whole roasted chicken, the cut up pieces and the skinless breast. They all have a unique, gentle flavor that tastes, well, like the first time I ever ate real chicken. Though I have tasted free-range chicken in England that was superb, this may be the best chicken I have tasted this side of the Atlantic.
Hollyhock Hill Farms is proud to supply Amano Boucherie in Elmhurst with their farm-fresh, free-range chicken. You can also browse their Web siteand order chicken (which will be delivered frozen) to pick up in Elmhurst on special order delivery days.
I realize not everyone will be able to afford Hollyhock Hill Farms chicken. The one I roasted cost $17 for a 5.7 pound bird. But if you are someone who would notice the difference in taste between a free-range and an ordinary chicken, this is the one to blow the budget on.
Hollyhock Hill Farms is located in Sterling, Ill. Joe Reaver and his daughter Heather Reaver run the farm that produces free-range chickens, turkeys, eggs and more.
Heather smiles when she describes the way their family lovingly cares for the chickens from day one.
"Chickens are raised in the nursery for four weeks. Then they go out into the chicken house which is 60 feet by 20 feet."
"Do the chickens every stay in cages?" I ask.
"No," she said. "The chickens can come and go as they like. During the daytime they walk out of the covered house together."
She adds with a giggle, "It's almost comical the way they walk in a single file line to go to bed for the night."
After eight weeks, the chickens are taken to Decatur.
"We are an independent farm," Heather said. "Independent farms use the only USDA slaughter plant in the state of Illinois located in Decatur."
At the plant in Decatur, chickens are packaged with the USDA seal of authenticity.
I ordered my chicken online and it was delivered to Heather's cousin's home in Elmhurst. Sisters Gigi Owens and Joanne O'Brien were both at home helping their cousin and uncle to deliver orders to people who had placed their orders weeks in advance.
I received a flyer with my order which says it all.
"We feed (our poultry) all natural grain that contains no antibiotics, hormones or animal bi-prodcuts. They also eat the leftover produce (greens, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, etc.) as well as grass, weeds, bugs, worms, pebbles, rocks and even their own broken eggs!
"Our turkeys and chickens are free-range. Daily, our animals wander, feeding and resting along the way. During the day, the chickens and turkeys roam about together, at night they voluntarily return to our 'chicken-coop' so they will not be eaten by the local predator population. The only time they are left in the coop during the day is when the weather is below zero."
Heather is very proud of her father and their family's farm.
"In summertime, people will come and pick out a turkey they want to eat," she said.
The cousins gathered around Joe Reaver to pose for a picture in Gigi Owen's kitchen. He is clearly the center of life on this family owned and operated farm in beautiful Sterling.