Why did the chicken cross the road?
Most people answer, “To get to the other side.” While that makes sense, I would argue that the chicken probably saw green pastures with pretty little hens on the other side and decided to cross the road!
In our many years of homesteading, there have been several conversations about how to raise chickens. The food corporations think that chickens should be raised in overcrowded, poorly ventilated, disease infested chicken houses. For most consumers, ignorance is bliss and $2.00 lb chicken breasts are great! But for those who know where the grocery meat is coming from, raising chickens at home is becoming more of an option.
But even homesteaders have different ways of raising their chickens. When we first started raising chickens, we kept them in a coop with a large chicken yard. We built nesting boxes and roosts to accommodate our feathery friends. But we found out quickly that chickens scratch up an area pretty quickly. In the picture below, there used to be grass. After 2 months, the ground was bare and sandy. We realized that our chickens were trying to tell us something. The like GRASS. They like it so much, they will scratch it up till it is all gone.
So then we tried a mobile tractor system to protect them from predators. This worked for meat chickens, that were only alive for 8 to 12 weeks. Here you see our beloved dog, Midnight, guarding a batch of broilers. This tractor was fenced around the top and sides with one panel covered for shelter and open on the bottom to allow the chickens to eat the grass. Great idea, bad execution! This tractor, however, did not protect the chickens as we moved them to new grass. It was also heavy. So we started playing around with the idea of a mobile chicken coop with electric fencing. This would allow our egg layers to forage each day on new pasture and be safe at night in a closed up coop. Our first coop was nice, but not very mobile on our bumpy pasture. We ended up placing large PVC pipes under it to allow it to roll. That got old very quickly.
When we moved to Elberton, GA, we decided to rebuild our mobile coop. Looking around, we realized we had a few pairs of wheels from dead lawnmowers and such. So we rebuilt our coop, but this time we put two axles across the bottom and attached some wheels. Each evening, the chickens go inside to roost and we close the door. Each morning, we attach the coop to the truck pull it to new pasture and reset the electric fencing to allow them to forage safely.
After a year, the weight of the coop got to be too much for our lawnmower tires and axle. So we started brainstorming about other ways to keep our chickens on pastures and keep them protected. Now, we have some chickens in a permanent coop with electric fencing like this.
In my opinion there is no question that pasture raised chickens are happy. They live longer, they produce more consistently and the eggs are delicious. And since you know what your chicken has eaten or been exposed to, it even makes moments like these less gross and more liberating!