Free ranging your
chickens has several disadvantages (which I’ll post about later in the
week), but the management plan does have three huge advantages —
amazingly orange egg yolks, delicious and nutritious meat, and lower
Our pullets started
laying a couple of weeks after we added a
light to the coop,
and I was stunned to see the brilliant color of their egg yolks.
They spent most of October grazing in the woods, supplemented by about
0.15 pounds of storebought feed apiece per day. That’s a 40%
reduction in feed costs from the usual quarter pound we’d give a laying
hen each day, and an immeasurable increase in egg quality.
Our broilers have also
been enjoying the nomadic life, traversing our acre of garden and
orchard. They’re right under our feet all day, so I’ve got a lot
more data on what they’ve been eating — any bug they can find, lots
of white clover leaves, smartweed seeds, grass seeds, and the scraps we
give them. I keep meaning to increase their feed
from 0.07 pounds apiece to the roughly 0.12 pounds they each should be
getting per day, but the chicks always come home with full crops and
are growing well, so there seems to be little reason to feed them
more. I won’t have real data on feed
conversion rate and
meat quality for a few weeks, though.
However, I have to admit
that the biggest advantage of free ranging is the sheer pleasure of
watching the flock work. On Sunday afternoon, I went to sit in
the sun and found myself gravitating to the patch of lush clover
outside the kitchen window. Half of the leaves had been pecked
off by hungry chick beaks and the owners of those beaks were foraging
just a few feet away, but there were still plenty of flowers left to
attract bees from our hive. Who knew that twenty square feet of
clover could feed the bodies and souls of so many critters at once?
hydrated during a hard day hunting for bugs.