About 3 months ago my wife and I decided that we wanted to contribute to this "organic sustainable" lifestyle that we so passionately and actively support. Although I would love to have a farm similar to that of where we get our lamb and chicken (table birds) from, as my wife reminds me 1.25 acres is not enough land to have a ruminant (cow, sheep, etc.). So I (we) settled for chickens, and a better choice we couldn't have made!
Up until now we have been buying our eggs locally from some of the farms in our area, and although we strongly support our local organic farms we have always felt that eggs seemed to be an afterthought in most cases; something that they provide, but not their area of expertise for lack of a better word. So what better of a way to contribute to this lifestyle we live, 'local food raised right', then to raise laying hens... and so we did.
The benefits are many; fresh organic eggs every day, a highly nutritious food packed with vitamin D and Omega-3, some of the best natural fertilizer around, and the joy of knowing you are doing something right.
With the past 5 years or so of knowledge in the area of health and diet that I've gained from research, experience, and my own trials and tribulations, I wanted to make sure that we entered this venture of 'man and farm animal' with the same motto I like to live (eat) by; "You are what your food eats!"
Although the past 3 months or so that we've had the chickens (4 hens and 5 pullets) has been a learning experience for us, I have learned a lot and would like to share a few important things with you.
Free Range, free range, free range! We currently have 200ft of electric fence surrounding a piece of our property which includes their coop, a mulberry tree, and plenty of grass and clover, and all the bugs they can find.
Organic Whole Grains. Just as nutrient rich organic and unprocessed whole grains benefit your body where their processed counterparts fall short, they will surely benefit your chickens as well! I have recently switched, thanks in part to much insight from the local organic farm where we by our table birds, from an organic "layer mash" which is basically ground up grains and grain by products, to a diet consisting of organic whole wheat berries, organic whole corn, and organic whole oats.
An Open Coop Policy! The bottomless coop we use, which we purchased locally from a retired man who builds them, is 8ft long by 4ft wide by ~5ft high, and aside from the nesting box area which takes up about 1/4 of the coop it is open to daylight and a cool breeze that comes right through the chicken wire that encloses all four sides. We keep the coop door open during the day so the chickens can freely come and go as they please. I plan to make a 2nd coop myself...
Fresh grass for grazing daily! It is important that chickens have fresh grass to free range on, and that means grass that isn't covered with their, well, droppings... In the wild a grazing animal will eat and move, contently roaming in search of green pasture. They don't stick around to eat around there poop. If you have enough land (or very understanding neighbors) where your chickens can roam absolutely freely then this is not a problem, but if you contain them to a limited portion of your property then you must take an active role in resolving this issue. That means pasture rotation and or picking up the chicken droppings, I do both. Because I don't rotate the pasture every day, I collect the poop in a bucket (which ultimately ends up in my compost), in both the coop and their pasture.
This may be the most important thing to remember, Enjoy! You will find that watching chickens do their thing is not only very relaxing but also funny at times.