If you drive past our farm in the summer months, you will see 4 chicken tractors marching in rows down through our fields. You might wonder why!
Why would farmers raise their chickens outdoors? Is that not a more labour intensive way of doing it? Is there really value in that? What about predators? We believe there is value and in our experience have clearly seen the difference! If you look very carefully in our fields you will distinctly be able to tell where the chicken tractors have been and where they have not been.
Here's two main reasons why we raise them outside:
The value added to the soil
The value added to the meat
As you probably have learned by now, here at our farm we are all about improving the health of the soil because we believe if the soil is not healthy, anything raised on it cannot truly be healthy either. At a microscopic level, there are thousands of different species of bugs, worms, minerals and organic matter that all comes together to comprise healthy soil. If we want to raise mineral rich food, we need mineral rich soil!
As I mentioned, we have been able to distinctly see where the chickens have been. When we were selling our previous property and taking aerial photos for the listing, it was so neat to be able to see very clearly where the chickens had gone. We had started them in our lawn and there was a bright green strip, visible by air, through the middle of the lawn where the chickens had been.
When we bought our current farm, it had been used for horses and the pastures were pretty rundown. In the one pasture, instead of redoing it, we've been putting the chickens through pretty heavily, moving them twice a day. This allows their manure to be spread out evenly and the strips where they have been are a lot greener with better and more varied species of grasses growing.
Being outside, the chickens also have opportunity to eat bugs and grasshoppers. It's pretty fun during chores to watch them stretch out their necks to catch bugs.
Because of predators and because chickens tend to hunker down instead of run from predators, we keep them contained inside a chicken tractor. This is just a chicken coop with netting sides and tops and wheels to allow for easy moving but no floor or bottom which gives them access to the grass.
It takes time and patience to allow a field to rejuvenate itself, with the help of animals and manure, but the value added is not quantifiable either!
There you have it, why we believe pastured and free range chickens are better - better for us and better for the soil.