One of the questions I hear the most is this, “Why do you move your chickens around like this?” This often comes from neighbors who see the chicken wagon slowly traveling around the front field, and they wonder why am I wasting my time? Or more likely, they just think I’m crazy!
There are a lot of reasons Why Rotating Our Chickens = BETTER Pastured Eggs! The big reasons are quality, humane treatment of our birds, and sustainability.
Eggs from pastured hens are far superior to those raised in cages or barns. Not only is the flavor better, but the nutritional profile shows that pastured eggs are the healthier choice. I’ll address the nutritional profile of pastured eggs in more depth in a future blog post.
Why is the quality so much better? I believe that this is mostly because of the natural diet of chickens on pasture. Chickens on pasture have access to insects, worms, seeds, and green plants.
No, chickens are NOT vegetarians. I’ve seen them fight over a live mouse, tear it up, and eat it! Not to mention how they follow me around when I’m doing any gardening, in hopes that my digging will result in the exposure of some tasty and juicy worms. There’s one hen in particular who always has her head in the hole I’m digging – she’s lucky she hasn’t accidentally lost her head to my shovel! Apparently it’s well worth the risk to her.
I also believe that our pastured hens are happier. Happy means lower stress levels. Lower stress levels means healthier birds. Healthier birds lay better eggs. It’s that simple.
Pastured chickens are raised humanely.
Humane. This is a word that rarely even crosses my mind. It’s a word that to me describes how every animal on our farm is raised.
The hens here are outside every day with rare exception, and not just outside, but running around scratching in the soil looking for the insects, worms, seeds, and greens that they love to eat.
They are free to give themselves dust bathes, right there in the soil, whenever it suits them.
Their beaks are never trimmed – commercial laying hens have their beaks cut very short to prevent them from tearing each other apart. Yes chickens kept in close quarters will fight, and not just fight, but they will begin to cannibalize the injured birds.
Our pastured hens always have enough personal space, which means they don’t fight and tear each other apart, and they do not need their beaks trimmed.
They get lots of exercise as they move about scouting for the next tasty morsel. They even race each other to be the first to reach a tasty morsel and then try to steal from the winner!
I think that access to the sun may also play a role in the happiness and health of our chickens. I mean it! Don’t we all know how it feels to be trapped indoors at a desk all day? Or how the incidence of depression increases in the winter when there is less natural light available (and let’s face it, it’s so cold we don’t want to go outside)?
All of this, to me, defines keeping chickens humanely. I can’t imagine keeping our chickens any other way.
When left in one location for very long, chickens will quickly tear out all the plant life in their constant search for something good to eat. Their manure begins to accumulate and the high levels of nitrogen in the manure burns the plant life. Keeping the chickens moving ensures that the manure dropped by the chickens is spread about evenly and that their scratching and digging is limited.
Sustainable is defined as “a method of harvesting or using a resource that replaces and renews the resource, rather than depleting or permanently damaging it”.
Under this definition, rotating the chickens regularly ensures that they have access to a fresh supply of natural foods, that they do not overuse or destroy the pasture, and that they leave the pasture in a better condition when they are done with an area.
Our careful management of the chicken’s time in each location ensures continuous improvement of the pasture.
The end result is that we reap the benefits of lots of tasty nutritious eggs, and the areas where the chickens have moved through are some of the greenest and healthiest areas on the farm!
A better question might be, “Why would we NOT move those chickens around?”
I can’t really think of a good reason NOT to rotate our chickens on pasture!
Yes, it’s a lot more work. But this is a farm – everything is work.
No matter how you look at it, rotating our pastured hens is a win-win situation which results in better eggs. It’s healthy and humane for the chickens, the quality of the eggs is better, and the soils on our farm are improved. It simply has to be done!