Joel Salatin's laying hens
A few weeks ago, I
regaled you with a summary of Joel
Salatin's broiler chicken operation. This post continues
the story by looking in on his Eggmobiles, which house laying hens on
Although most of us
won't be able to recreate Salatin's success, it's worth understanding
how he's able to raise laying hens while spending only 33% as much on
feed as the average egg-producer does. Here are the key factors
in Salatin's layer operation:
- Non-hybrid breeds ---
Salatin raises Rhode Island Reds, Barred
Rocks, and Black
Australorps. Even though they only average about five eggs
apiece per week, he believes that these heavier birds experience less
strain per egg since they lose a smaller percentage of their body
weight with each egg.
- Young hens --- After the
chickens have been laying for two years, Salatin kills his layers and
sells them as stewing fowl. This keeps egg production high and
the operation economical.
- Free choice food ---
Hens in the Eggmobile enjoy a buffet of whole corn, oats, meat and bone
meal, and oyster shells in separate compartments. Since they get
plenty of protein from pasture, most of the chickens' storebought feed
consists of cheap grains. The feed analysis I listed earlier in
the post is a bit misleading --- if you weighed the amount of feed you
give each laying hen and the amount Salatin gives each of his hens, he
wouldn't be feeding only 33% as much. However, since Salatin's
birds focus more on ingredients like corn, his feed cost is only a
third as high.
- Plenty of bug-filled pasture
--- This is the real reason most of us can't replicate Salatin's
results. He keeps about 100 birds in each Eggmobile, letting them
free range as far as they want (about 600 feet), then moving the coop
every three or four days. Since Salatin rests each pasture area
for four weeks before letting chickens back on it, one Eggmobile ends
up covering about 50 acres each year, or half an acre per bird.
Also keep in mind that Salatin's pasture is home to cows, so the
chickens get plenty of fly maggots in the manure.
Although it's not
relevant to the discussion of lowering feed costs, I thought you might
also like to know that Salatin solves the winter
chicken pasture problem by simply moving his hens to
houses full of deep bedding.
I like to look at
systems like this as an incentive to make our homestead-scale pastures
even better. No, we don't have cows and 50 acres of pasture, but
surely we can use some of Salatin's techniques and a bit of ingenuity
to lower our feed costs at least a little. Stay tuned as I
continue to experiment with the backyard-scale chicken pasture.
Our chicken waterer makes any pasture operation
easier by providing lots of clean water.
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