Chickens On The Farm
Hey Everyone! Wanted to share a little more in-depth about our new pasture raised chicken set up. We have been using traditional chicken tractors but unfortunately those just don’t seem to work well for us! First, lets break down the reasons why farmers use chicken tractors over conventional chicken growing methods.
They provide a safe inclosed space for your birds so they can stay comfortable and away from predators.
The allow the chickens to be grown in the fresh air and sunlight as well as providing them fresh grass daily for both eating and bedding
They help the soil with the benefit of rotational grazing, basically meaning keeping larger amount of animals on small amount of land to heavily fertilize the ground and encourage new growth rapidly.
All of these reasons are super awesome and allow many farmers to be able to raise healthier birds for their customers as well as keep them safe and happy! Unfortunately, as it is with most things in life, It doesn’t work for everyone everywhere. Let me explain. Our area of NC gets both tons of rain and periods of drought, Starting in end of May and continuing through October we experience an average of 95 during the day… and trust us its nothing for us to go a month or two with the average being 100+ of scorching heat. After a full year of using chicken tractors, we have found that we have to stop production for 2 months at least in the summer due to it being too hot in a small inclosed space for our birds, the only remedy being to put sprinklers on them which is a waste of water and creates other problems. We also have to wait to start production till our rainy season is over even though it is warm enough outside to begin raising chickens outdoors. It simply gets too wet here in the spring and summer to comfortably move out chickens twice a day as they will be constantly on wet ground causing other problems. For these reasons farmers in our area normally only produce pasture raised chickens for 4-6 months out of the year even though we live in area that can handle almost 8 months of production due to our warm climate! This spring was extra wet and it was an absolute disaster! As a farm that is not just trying to raise food for ourselves but for other people, we would have to be able to raise a HUGE amount of birds in a relatively short time or we are just stay constantly out of stock. We started doing some research on a different way to raise pastured birds and we have come up with a way that is suiting our farm very well!
We found several farms along with a farm in Texas that also shy away from traditional chicken tractors due to heat reasons and instead focus on a more stationary coop and provide with one very large pasture attached to it, or several smaller ones to rotate the birds through. The farm we liked the most was Yonder Way Farms in Texas. They converted a carport into a completely open air coop and used movable electric netting to keep their birds on fresh pasture. We immediately decided to try this model out! We had a few concerns so we constructed a makeshift area first. We wanted to make sure the coop area would stay clean enough so that we wouldn’t be making any health concerns for our birds, we needed to make sure they would be active enough to actually move about the pasture(traditional broilers are very lazy….we didn’t want them just sitting in their house all day if they weren’t being forced to move), and we also wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t taste tough since all you hear is to confine a meat bird so they will retain their fat and stay tender.
Our first test batch did unbelievably well! With a tall open air coop it managed to turn itself into a large wind tunnel, providing a cool space for our birds to relax in while at the same time being large enough that they didn’t have to be right on top of each other like in a tractor. While the electric fencing took some time for them to adjust to, they came alive with all the space to run about freely in! We’ve never seen meat birds run before and its such a cool thing to witness, hilarious too! They tend to stay out in their yards during the mornings and evenings and in the afternoons(its already in the 90’s here) they prefer to stay inside the coop for shade. We’ve decided that confining them so they retain their fat and tenderness is a myth because we have produced some of the most tender, juicy meat ever this spring! All of these things combined lead us to the decision that this model with the right step for our farm at this time.
We began the construction of our first real coop and completed it pretty much in one day. We were able to snag a used carport for the main frame and decided to use a mix of chain link panels we already had on the farm and chicken wire for the sides. We also inclosed the triangle portion of the roof with extra tin from off the farm. We decided to add some tin to the top portion of the walls for added shade and wind protection but chose to keep the bottom portion and the front of the coop completely open. We added chicken wire along the bottom of the chain link sides to keep small chicken in as well as smaller predators, thankfully the electric fence keeps the big dangerous ones out. We do have to close them up at night as you would layer hens in a coop but we feel like thats a small price to pay. We are able to have water both insides and outside but we choose to keep the feed outside so they aren’t ever tempted to just stay in the coop and eat all day(did we mention meat birds are lazy?). We are really enjoying this set up and its very clear the chickens are too! They only draw back so far is that we do have to clean out the coop to make sure it stays clean and sanitary since just like any stationary coop, you can’t move this one to fresh ground everyday! We feel like this is a small price to pay for the rest of the benefits of this system. We are using movable fence so once the chickens eat/trample down an area well enough, we move the fence and let them out again!
What do you think of this new setup? Be sure to let us know your thoughts! Farming is different for everyone and we enjoy learning from others and seeing what works for them and what we can change on our own farm to better us and our animals!