The sooner your chicks
get out on pasture, the healthier they’ll be…as long as they don’t
die of exposure or get eaten by something. Most large-scale
pastured poultry producers don’t have the time to baby chicks on
pasture, so they keep their flocks inside for their first one or even
two months of life (up to two thirds of the entire life span of a
Cornish cross broiler!) But I figure if the weather’s warm and
dry and I place the flock right outside our back door, we can get away
with pasturing chicks as early as one or two weeks old.
This spring, we
made little enclosures to keep the flock within bounds, but with this last batch we
opted to let the youngsters entirely free range from their first day
outside. We’ve located the outdoor
brooder in a shady
spot between a peach tree and a row of raspberries, and the chicks
naturally gravitate to these sheltered zones for their first week or
two in the great outdoors.
They travel as a flock,
all fly-running after the leader when he or she decides to move to a
new patch of earth, or to scurry back inside. Watching the
chicks’ antics as we eat dinner feels like we’ve turned on cartoons.
Each evening, I go out
and shut the chicks in just to be on the safe side. They make
quite a mess even with their automatic feeder, so I don’t want to
attract rats (who might stay to dine on
my baby birds). And for the first couple of days I do have to
spend a few minutes helping chicks find the brooder door when they get
lost five feet away — the alarm peeps are easy to hear from inside.
The only other thing I
do regularly is to keep an eye on the weather forecast and make a
judgement call about whether the day is fine enough for chicks to spend
outdoors. It’s easy for a chick in the fluffball stage to get wet
and chilled, so if it’s going to be extremely stormy, I just leave them
shut up for the day. That said, by the time they’re even two
weeks old, our chicks are bright enough to stay inside during downpours
since we’ve selected for good foraging breeds.
You may have other
problems to contend with if your pets aren’t as well-trained as ours,
if you don’t have a sheltered area to protect the flock during their
youth, or if you’re raising a dumber breed. But I highly
recommend figuring out how to get your flock out on pasture early
regardless — they’ll be healthier, and so will you when you eat the
higher quality meat and eggs.
stay disease-free and healthy.