If you’ve ever tried our pastured-raised eggs, you know how eggcellent they are. Bright orange yolks; sturdy, perfect-for-hardboiling shells; and uncommonly good taste. But have you ever wondered what goes into pasture-raising? Or wanted to try doing it yourself?
Although the practice of pasture-raising has yet to be formally defined, it’s generally agreed to signify a few crucial things. First, the animal is free to spend his/her days roaming spacious plots. Second, a significant portion of the animal’s diet comes from the live worms, grubs, seeds, and grasses foraged on that plot. And third, the plot must be organically certified.
First, in order to ensure that the birds receive adequate natural nutrition, you will need to construct a movable coop—sometimes called a “chicken tractor”. Not only will this afford the hens ample fresh pasture, it’ll also serve as a natural means of controlling weeds and insects, as well as providing natural fertilizer in the form of manure. Examples of movable chicken coop can be found here.
After you’ve constructed your coop, you’ll need to choose which breeds best suit your situation. An average chick costs around $2, with adults clocking in around $40. The breed’s temperament, its adaptability to confinement, how noisy it is, and the size eggs it lays are all factors you’ll want to consider. Certain breeds fare better in hotter climates; others prefer cold. A few versatile varieties include the Rhode Island Red, the Leghorn, the Buff Orpington, the Black Star, and the Ameracauna. PawNation has a great page about breed selection.
Now that you have your land, coop, and birds, you’ll need to consider supplementary nutrition. True, pasture-raised hens derive much of their diet from the pasture they feed on, but they will absolutely need feed, especially in the winter. Feed can be purchased at a local feed store, or, if you have enough acreage, home-grown!
Of course, you’ll also need to regularly check your birds for health, providing them with plenty of fresh water, and keeping their living areas clean. Keeping them safe from predators and ensuring environmental sustainability are other important concerns.