Friday, September 26, 2008

A Downside to Free Range Chickens

Finding eggs in the haystack.

I've changed the way the chickens are handled. I had been using electric netting to contain them in a section of the pasture, and then moving the pen once or twice a week to a fresh spot. This involved getting all the chickens into the movable house, locking them in, tearing down the fence, moving them to a new spot, setting up the fence, and herding the ducks into the new location. It was just getting to be too much with all the other chores I have out there.

So now I'm going with a modified free range/Balfour method. The Balfour method is basically a pen with a deep layer of straw or other dry vegetable matter. The chickens scratch it up and turn it into compost, and find lots of bugs under it. They spend the night and at least half the day in the pen, in order to confine the eggs to a small area, and then they are let out to free range over the full pasture until evening.

This has been working well, and the birds have learned the routine and are eager to come back to the pen at night. In fact, one day I had choir practice until after dark, and when I came back to the farm to put the birds away, they had all already put themselves to bed. All I had to do was shut the gate.

Now, the bantams can fly over the fence, so that's why I find clutches of eggs in weird spots around the pasture. I don't mind, though. They were free and their eggs are too small to sell, so it's just a happy bonus to find a batch of eggs from them.

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