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I had a bad experiance OR Why to do daily pen moves

September 27, 2011

Back in late winter a friend of mine realized he could get a good deal on some Cornish Cross chickens, and approached me about raising them.  I was planning on starting to raise that breed on the pasture in the spring, so I figured it would be good experience.  Since it was winter, I went into my garage/shop and setup a large, 12×20 space with sawdust and fencing to keep the chickens in.  After a flurry of activity, the first chickens arrived to their new home.  Of course I was impressed with the irony that I, the aspiring pastured poultry farmer, was essentially doing a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), just like the industrial farmers, but a deal is a deal.  And it was instructive to attempt to keep these chickens clean and healthy.  I lost quite a few of the first batch and did a little better on the second, but it was a steep curve.  It was dirty, unpleasant work to try to keep that pen bedded and clean-ish.  The Cornish Cross is an amazing cross-breed, growing from the size of an egg to a six pound bird (dressed weight!) in only 8 weeks.  However, it really only lives to do three things: Eat, Drink, and the result thereof.  And it eats and drinks a lot.  What started out as fun and informational soon became a lot of work just to stay on top of what these birds were producing everyday.

Switch to the pastured poultry model.  Exhibit A, take a look at the grass after the pen is moved in the morning:

That Grass is pretty beat down!

Now take a look at the last few days:

Imagine that all stacked up!

Now this picture shows you three great things.  First, you can see how much “output” we have each day from the chickens.  The daily pen moves are critical to maintain a clean, sanitary environment.  Second, look at how the squares fade away about eight days back.  The soil is metabolizing the nutrients, breaking them down, and using them for the plants.  Want to see it?  Well, Third, look down the right side – see how green that grass is?  That is where the chickens ran a few weeks before.  You can even see the squares from the chicken tractor.

So instead of creating loads of chicken “output” that has to be hauled off, dried, and added to cow feed like the industrial facilities do it (yes, that is correct), or washed into the nearest water reservoir (have you heard about the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay?) instead we are able to feed our pasture and build it up for even better grazing for chickens in the future.  That is all part of raising healthy chickens with a sustainable process – no hidden costs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lanlan permalink
    September 28, 2011 10:22 am

    It is really amazing, I thought you need to feed them at least some grains, that is what my mom does at home, she feeds her chicken with some grains every morning and evening, I really didn’t realize that chickens also eat so so many grass!

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