Free range chicken experiments
Last year, I
summed up all of the chicken experiments I'd been posting about
throughout the year on our Avian Aqua Miser site, and I thought you might
enjoy seeing the highlights again this year.
One of the most timely
experiments I wanted to mention involved letting
our chickens free range in the woods over the winter. I was fascinated to
see that the flock concentrated most of their attention around the
bases of big trees, where they scratched through the mulch in search of
invertebrates. They only foraged over about three quarters of an
acre, probably because the flock had to stay close enough to the hen
house so that ladies could drop by at intervals to lay their eggs.
forest worked as a good escape valve in the summer too, when the grasses stopped
growing and the ground began to look bare in their rotational
pastures. I think this system really depends on a quality
rooster, though, since when I tried the same trick with some half-grown broilers, they
just sat on the other side of the pasture fence and begged to be let back
into their home turf.
If you start
young chicks free ranging from week one and keep them close to the
house, they're the very best chickens to let run semi-wild. Having
trees or bushes available to hide in makes chicks (and
adult hens, for that matter) feel safer, so they spend more time
hunting wild food.
are reasons we don't let our main flock free range all the time, though. The book Free-Range
gives some tips for helping chickens coexist with a garden during the
growing season, but we like to keep the garden extremely productive, so
the chickens get relegated to pastures after they reach two months
old. We were forced to clip
a couple of chickens' wings (and then eat one of them)
when they didn't toe the line and thought the garden was still fair
game during the summer months.
I don't feel like we
have much more experimenting to do with free range chickens. Our
system just works!
An automatic chicken waterer at the edge of the woods
lets the flock refresh its thirst without running all the way back to
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