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Chickens on Pasture

May 31, 2012

Posting about the meat chickens has taken a back seat to calving.  The goal was to get the chickens out on pasture before Jane calved.  The chores take a little longer, but are more convenient, if that makes any sense.  The weather has been perfect for the birds too, not too cold or wet and not too hot either.  It was nice to get them moved and acclimated before I had to spend so much time dairying.

We get another head count when we have to catch all the birds and move them, which is good just to make sure no one is missing.

They have no idea what to think about the short pickup ride to the pasture pen, once they get there though, they get right to work.


Now the daily moves and pasture fertilization begins.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2012 3:54 am

    I believe you said these were cornish cross chickens. What are you feeding them when they are on pasture? I know Salatin does a special blend and I was curious to know if someone has had luck with a feed right out of the bag.

    • May 31, 2012 5:37 am

      We have fed Purina Sunfresh in the past. We moved away from it for several reasons beyond simply price. The birds don’t find it to be very palatable but will eat it when there is no other choice. The birds eat more of it by the pound than the fresh ground stuff we make so the conversion is worse. It goes in yellow and crumbly and comes out yellow and runny. If you have no ability to grind your own feed and can’t find someone else to grind small batches for you and have no other choice, hope is not lost. You could just add a bit of Fertrell Poultry Nutri-Balancer to your bagged feed. That will give them a dose of probiotic, vitamins and minerals that will make very healthy birds. Sometimes folks add a bit of brewer’s yeast if PNB is not available but that only makes up for a portion of the spectrum PNB covers.

      We have tried a couple of other feeds. I don’t see any real difference between the major unmedicated brands. They are all made from waste products not whole grains.

    • May 31, 2012 10:53 am

      Ellenseggs, yes they are Cornish Cross and I like the Fertrell recipe for broilers. Ours is a little higher in protein this year because we are using soybean meal instead of ground roasted soybeans. I will cut the protein with crimped or rolled oats as the broilers get older. We’ve tried different commercial feeds, conventional and organic and the difference from a mash made with grains is the cooking and extrusion process – they just get more out of raw feeds and you don’t see problems like pasty butt etc. You can imagine paste in and paste out. Ick. The key with Cornish is the higher octane feed in the neonatal period, after that you can lower the protein. And as HFS mentioned the Fertrell Nutribalancer, it is the bomb as far as minerals go. :D

    • May 31, 2012 5:52 pm

      Oh. BTW. My name is KellyJohnson. I have commented a few times on here under that name. I decided that since I felt the urge to comment on everyone else its only fair they can comment on me. I started a site on Woldpress. now I just have to get the time to put some content on there. Busy Busy Busy.

  2. May 31, 2012 4:06 am

    I’d love to see the pens you use for your pastured meat birds in more detail (when you have a minute – yes, I know that’s a joke!). We plan to raise meat birds on pasture at some point, probably just for us in the beginning, but I am asked if I sell chicken every single week at the farmers’ markets… Anyway, I’d love to see your process as and when (or perhaps you posted about this in the past?). And congrats on that beautiful calf!

    • May 31, 2012 5:50 am

      Sophie,
      This post shows everything you need to see. She uses a Salatin-style tractor, a Salatin dolly, a Plasson bell waterer and has big, fat, happy birds working to enhance her soil 120 sq. ft. at a time. I think this post does a great job of summarizing why we use chicken tractors at all, though it doesn’t specifically mention chicken tractors. We seek to protect the animals, minimize chore time and, above all, enhance the soil to grow more grass. More on this topic here.

      In Central Illinois, the big, flat chicken tractors work like ovens and cook the poor birds in July and August. We run a hoop-style tractor now. They are cheap to build, multi-purpose, durable, lightweight and easy to get into. No more crawling on my knees in manure to gather chickens on harvest day.

    • May 31, 2012 11:16 am

      Sophie, we are using the standard Salatin pen and we really like them. Lots of different designs though, I think the key is build them light and easy to move, with the pen dolly I have never had any trouble moving ours, nor multiple pens when we raised chickens to sell. HFS stated heat being a problem, but an old APPPA tip that you don’t see much and no one really observes is that the pens need to face east or north, that way the chickens aren’t baking in the afternoon sun, and the pen side and partial roof shades them. I was at Polyface in August and the humidity and heat were oppressive and the broilers were fine in the low pens. We don’t have much heat or humidity here, but we do get enough to bake birds IF the pens are facing the wrong way. Anyway, raise some yourself and find out what your market is and if it is worth doing, the more you free range, day range, or go to slower growing birds the less the profit is. Processing them yourselves also increases profitability whereas sending them out takes all the profit out of the operation if you plan on being paid for your labor. Lots of people want to reinvent the wheel with the bird and the feed, but Salatin is spot on if you want to make a profit. Pastured poultry can be a system that can enhance your land and pasture in a permaculture type way or it can be a disaster waiting to happen with “free-range” touchy-feely type “pastured” operation. There is a huge difference between fresh range and free range, and the biggest factor in chicken raising is marketing – there seems to be no limit on what people demand you do, but there is a cap on what they will pay. You need to make a living and be happy doing it.

      • May 31, 2012 11:36 am

        Our pens face East. The tractors were kind of down in a hollow, the heat index was well above 100 and it hadn’t rained for weeks, in fact it was part of a 5-month dry spell…unusual for our part of the country. We lost a total of 7 birds across 3 particularly hot days. 7 of 150 may not sound like much but I hated feeding a bird that was ready to dress out to the hogs.

        The flat tractor I have the best luck with is open all the way down both sides. I put a portion of an old tarp on the sides when the weather is cool early in the season. But temperature is only one consideration behind the move to the cow panel tractors. I raised pigs in one all winter. I could make one into a hoop house. They are a more versatile structure.

        • May 31, 2012 3:01 pm

          HFS, I hear you on versatility the field pen is nothing but a field pen for sure! Our summers are sure different – we don’t get much if any rain from July 5 to September or October as a general rule. Unless of course we have some hay down… ;)

  3. May 31, 2012 10:34 am

    Joel Salatin is going to be here for the Mother Earth News Fare and I am so bummed I can’t go! I love the idea of pasturing chickens – the science and economy of it, when done right, is above grade. Also, chickens like the cornish cross do much better on pasture.

    I as well would love a peek at your pastured chicken pens. I like the Salatin model, but it looks so clunky sometimes! I made mine out of 1×2′s and light chicken wire with repurposed wheels on one end and it’s held up well for 2 seasons, but next year we have to retool and make another…

    Hope Blake is doing well!

    • May 31, 2012 11:19 am

      Lindsey, I’m just using a Salatin style pen and this design works really well for us. Lots of different types of pens out there though. I like the removable dolly so when I am done moving the pen, I don’t have to worry about predators getting in.

      Blake is doing great, I am about to go and milk her mom and let Blake help me.

      • May 31, 2012 11:30 am

        It is also worth noting that not all Cornish Cross are the same. We have seen huge differences between the vigor and vitatity of chicks from different hatcheries. I don’t know what Ross cross I get from Schlecht but those birds are awesome.

        • May 31, 2012 3:02 pm

          HFS, we’ve been lucky as well, only once did we get some duds that had some birds in each batch that never got over 3 weeks size. Too tiny for game hens even :(

  4. May 31, 2012 4:52 pm

    This is something I have been trying to get underway, however I have not got the damn thing built yet. I am the only one who is full time on the wee farm. My chickens are layers, i sell and barter the eggs (for hay believe it or not!!) in the winter they are in with tons of straw which is hauled out to the compost .. in the summer they free range in the evenings, plus all the other buggers that free range forever, kicking about the cow pats and are called the barn flock.. but i really like the idea of having them pooping in the fields in an organised fashion. Our grass is recovering corn fields and as you can imagine it needs all the help it can get.. but gently, slowly so it sticks, thank you again.. c

  5. May 31, 2012 7:56 pm

    Nita I would love to see your predator control. We have cougar (I know you do too), coyote, racoon, opossum, weasels and dogs not to mention the aerial predators. How do you keep something like a weasel from digging under?

    • May 31, 2012 8:28 pm

      Annette, the chickens are close to the barns, and the dogs have access to that field and the barn cats take care of the weasels. Moving the pen daily helps too, a fixed set-up is an invitation to predation. Don’t forget bobcats, they love leaping Feathernet and helping themselves…the pen works pretty good for the meat chickens and they are only here for a short time. So far, so good.

      • June 1, 2012 7:08 am

        Oh yes we’ve got a bobcat as well. I think I just need to send my barncats to camp Nita for some training. Our old family dog just died this week so now it’s time to think about livestock dogs. We’ll see how that works out with 5 unfenced acres and subdivisions around us…

        • June 1, 2012 10:42 am

          Annette, I hear you, our dogs barely get to use our place because most of it is not fenced good enough, and we have way too much road frontage :(

    • June 1, 2012 6:47 am

      I was reading one of the firefox books the other day and read something very interesting. It seems that the old folk use to keep Purple Martin houses around so they would run off chicken hawks. They are so teritorial they will gang up on a hawk and run it off. I dont know how usefull this is but I picked up a seed pack of gourds yesterday so I will give it a shot since all its costing me is $2 and my time. If nothing else the martins will be entertaining.

      • June 1, 2012 10:41 am

        Kelly, makes sense, ravens keep them at bay here.

        • June 1, 2012 11:25 am

          But the purple martin eats dragonflies. Maybe barn swallows can do the same thing for you while keeping the fly population in check. Both of these migratory birds are gone when the raptors migrate through in early winter and it’s the migratory raptors that cause the most problems for us.

        • June 1, 2012 12:55 pm

          We don’t have purple martins here or migrating raptors, just our resident raptors which pretty much mind their own business. I guess I can be glad for that.

  6. June 1, 2012 7:26 pm

    Yeah. I know the season for purple martins is short but I reasoned that if the hawks are use to getting run off from an area with white hanging gourds that maybe, just maybe when the hawks start to migrate they will stay away from them. I know its a stretch but who knows. I like to try everything I can before I pull the shotgun out. LOL

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