Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Free Range or Prairie or Coop Raised Poultry

When doing some research I stumbled across an article on Mother Earth News that reminded me I should probably do an introductory post about how you decide to raise your chickens. There is much discussion about raising chickens in a coop or letting them graze on your property (a.k.a. free range or prairie grazing).

From what I've been able to gather some people feel that having them in the coop with some supplemental time in a chicken tractor is comparable to free ranging. Personally that wasn't our approach and we don't live in an area where we've had a problem with unrestrained dogs or predators so I can't speak too much to it however the longer we have chickens the more I realize I wouldn't just keep them in a coop alone. At minimum we would add some time in a chicken tractor with the remainder of their time in the coop. One of the positives I see with this approach is it would force the chickens to eat what is in front of them as opposed to wandering around and picking off their favorites eats.

We decided however that we would allow our chickens to wander around our property with a few restrictions and forage for themselves. The never seem to wander too far from the coop (less than 100 feet) and the amount of feed they eat is significantly less then when we had them in the coop during their first couple of weeks with us (remember that the first batch we bought when they were ~4 months old). Aside from the cost benefit I believe the chickens will find the food that offsets whatever deficiencies they have in their diet. Although we're using a higher quality feed now than the stuff from the feed store I believe that poultry has been fending for itself for thousands of years successfully so it seemed counterproductive to restrict them requiring more money to be spent in the restricted process.

Before providing a few links related to free ranging and pasture poultry be sure to take a few minutes and read the article (linked above) titled Free Range Chickens from Mother Earth News.
The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association
Free-Range Chickens on my Small Farm
The Free-Range System in a Nutshell

One last note, if you are going to raise chickens for profit make sure you find a niche and service it well...don't attempt to compete with the grocery stores and just market your chickens as chickens and/or eggs as eggs. Focus on antibiotic free, organic, etc. but make sure you understand what those terms mean and the legal ramifications of selling the birds.

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