How We Began Raising Pastured Poultry
“Wouldn’t it be great to have our own hens so we don’t have to buy eggs at the store!” Already advocates of homegrown vegetables and living an organic lifestyle, it was a natural step for us to begin raising our own poultry.
We started with 4 pullets purchased from a commercial egg farm. Our 4 birds have gradually expanded to approximately 200 pastured birds. It’s been a lot of work, but we feel good about what we are doing, and it’s obvious that the birds are very happy to be out in the sun and enjoying nature.
A Hen’s Life in the Great Outdoors
We had a hen house built from a design we saw online, and fenced in an area for them to forage. After picking up our birds (in a dog crate!), and moving them into their new hen house, we were shocked to discover that they were terrified to go outside! Having been raised in a commercial building with thousands of other birds, they had never been outside.
They were afraid of the sun. They were even afraid to step on grass. We finally forced then into the outside enclosure where at first, they just huddled in a tiny shaded corner. It took some time, but finally they learned that sunshine and grass were good things and our girls were off and running.
We also discovered that their upper beak had been cut back, which was appalling. This is done in commercial settings to prevent the birds from pecking each other when they are crowded. Needless to say, there was no more crowding for our girls, and their beaks eventually began to grow back (sort of like a fingernail).
Inspired, we decided to expand our flock with other breeds of chickens, especially Heritage breeds which are becoming harder to find. We wanted to compare their egg production, egg color, temperament, and to just have fun with different birds.
We love the mix of different colored eggs. Blue from the Ameraucana, dark brown from the Wheaten Marans and Welsummers and various shades of tan/beige from the other girls. There is one white egg layer in the mix (we think she is a Houdan, but not pure so we won’t breed her).
The Chicken Tractor – A Movable Chicken Enclosure
As our brood expanded, we soon found out that a grassy enclosure doesn’t stay grassy for long when chickens are living there. Before long, it looked pretty much like a lunar landscape. This led to the next phase of our chicken-raising enterprise…the chicken tractor.
A chicken tractor is a movable chicken enclosure for moving birds to different areas to forage. Some even include roosting and nesting areas as well as a foraging area. The choices and designs are limited only by your imagination, and what works for you.
We build portable roosting houses with a separate movable nesting house. Our birds are out on pasture surrounded by fencing and we move them to a new area once a week. There are lots of predators out there, so we bought electronet fencing for protection along with a solar fence charger.