Small Scale Pastured Poultry
Traditional Urban Coop
Before moving to our 2.6 acre farm, we lived on a tiny urban lot in Seattle. We raised chickens in a traditional coop with an attached run, and wanted to provide them with fresh grass and plants.
When they were small there was plenty of space for them and lots of grass to eat.
Once they got bigger they destroyed almost everything in our yard. Most of our yard was bare dirt, and during the winter and spring it would all turn to mud. Drastic action was needed...
After adding a cross fence, re-planting twice, and the addition of extra chicken wire barriers, we were able to let them roam. Unfortunately, there was very little vegetation left for them to eat.
At our new property we wanted to do a better job making sure the chickens had plenty of fresh grass and bugs. To save money we decided to ditch the traditional coop and use a small portable coop instead. Predators are a major concern, so with some reservations we purchased Premier1 electric poultry netting and an energizer. At first, I put the chickens right by our house so we could keep a close eye on them. I was also concerned about aerial predators, so I made sure to set up the fence around a small tree (fortunately we have 8 trees in our orchard) in order to give the chickens some added protection.
The chickens adapted quickly! As soon as an eagle came around, they headed into their coop. Initially one of the chickens, a flighty Welsummer, would fly over the fence and couldn’t figure out how to get back. After a few of these failed attempts, she has stayed put. We haven’t clipped their wings, but layers aren't typically big fliers.
I move the fence, the coop, and the accessories weekly. Eventually, I got over my fear of leaving them in the electric netting overnight. Now, they are way at the back of our property. There are tons of fallen leaves there, which they love to scratch up in search of bugs.
In the fall we added a PolyDome calf nursery to their enclosure to give them some extra protection from wind and rain. It also makes a nice dry spot for their feed and water. The PolyDome has been a great addition since we have been hammered with rain and snow this year.
We currently have four laying hens: a Buckeye, a Welsummer, an Ameraucana, and a Buff Orpington. Limiting your flock based on space and needs is a good idea. Since we don’t plan to sell our eggs, keeping only a few layers makes sense for us. Although we don’t have a rooster, they are typically great flock protectors.
At some point we might start raising meat birds. A similar set up would work well for them, but we would need to build a larger, inexpensive, movable coop.
The health benefits of rotational grazing are huge. Diseases and parasites don’t get established because the chickens are constantly being moved. The fresh air ensures that ammonia doesn't build up to levels which would damage their respiratory system. Also, pasture raised eggs taste amazing! They have incredible dark, orange yolks, and a rich, delicious flavor. Rotational grazing also allows chickens to do more of what they do in the wild: eat bugs, hide from predators, lay eggs, and just be chickens.
Portable coop (cheap Craigslist find)
Stay tuned for a future post about how we rotate the chickens.