This post includes all you need to know about how to raise chickens on pasture beyond 8 weeks. For the first 8 weeks see this post here.
Learning how to raise chickens on pasture is one of the best things you can do for your flock and yourself. When chickens are out on pasture everything about their health improves which greatly impacts the quality of the eggs they produce. Adequate sunlight, fresh air and access to bugs and grass are what chickens require to thrive and produce the most nutritious eggs. If you’re going to do it then do it right! Let me tell you how.
Raising chickens on pasture has many benefits
The chickens are happier and healthier:
Chickens don’t want to stay in one spot all the time. Foragers by nature, they like to keep busy exploring and scratching around in fresh pasture, taking dust baths, and eating bugs. This is how chickens are supposed to live, not crammed in cages and denied fresh air and sunshine. Conventional chickens living inside are heavily medicated with antibiotics and other drugs due to their severely weakened immune systems. Chickens raised outside on pasture don’t need these drugs to thrive.
Cut in feed Cost:
My chickens get 20% of feed off the pasture. This means i do not have to spend as much money on grain then if i had them stuck in one spot all the time. Chickens are not vegetarians! They are in fact omnivorous and fresh pasture supplies them with bugs and other critters to give them a more complete nutrition than just grain alone. The grass and seeds that make up the pasture are also an integral part of the chickens diet.
More Nutritious and Better Tasting Eggs and Meat:
Chickens on pasture are able to forage for a variety of plants and bugs, which results in a more flavorful egg and more tender meat. Eggs from chickens on pasture have double the amount of vitamin E and omega fatty acids. They also have a healthier balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. If you are growing the birds for meat they have triple the omega-3s, considerable more vitamin A, D, and E, and less saturated fat than a conventionally grown chicken.
My least favorite chicken chore is cleaning. When chickens are left in a permanent spot there is an endless amount of manure that needs to be shoveled out. When on pasture and moved frequently enough this miserable chore disappears. The biggest nuisance of having chickens, their manure, turns into a positive that benefits the pasture. My Coop has a 1″x1″ wire mesh floor that allows manure to fall through onto the pasture. I only have to clean out my coop a few times a year. I do add hay to the nesting boxes and make sure they are free of manure daily.
Pasture Raised Benefits the Land and Earth:
Pasture raised chickens is a regenerative farming practice that reduces your carbon footprint. Chickens on pasture help to reduce soil erosion and improve the soil health by distributing manure. Each year that I have chickens on my property i can see notable improvements to the pasture. Chickens will work their manure into the pasture building soil for healthier grass. I never have to bring in chemical fertilizer and my grass is always the greenest in the neighborhood.
The Coop – Chick shaw
A mobile coop is essential for pasture raised hens. The coop I use is a design by YouTuber Justin Rhodes of https://abundanceplus.com/. It is equipped with two removable nesting boxes, a self cleaning floor that allows manure to drop through to the ground, and centered wheels making it very easy to move by one person. The chick shaw can accommodate up to 24 chickens at a time, which produces more than enough eggs for my family plus extra to sell to friends and neighbors. It also has a predator proof door that I can lock up in the evening for peace of mind. I move the coop everyday inside the fenced in area so manure does not build up. After a week I move the fence and coop to a new spot on the pasture.
How to Protect Your Flock
You may be thinking if I have my chickens exposed on pasture won’t they just be picked off by predators? Or even run off somewhere? Here in New Jersey you may be surprised to know we have our fair share of wild life, and we have not yet lost a chicken raising them on pasture. The game changer product we found to keep our chickens safe is electric poultry netting. Our net is 48″ tall, 100′ long, and only ways a little over 20 pounds. We got ours from https://www.premier1supplies.com/. We use a solar powered energizer that packs a serious punch. It is easy to move around our pasture and has yet to let a predator in to get our chickens.
If you find your chickens hoping the fence clipping one of their wings with scissors works well. Make sure to only cut the tips of their feathers off. This does not harm the chickens at all. I have found the heavy heritage breeds, like Buff Orpington and Australorp, do not hop the fence as long as there is adequate feed.
How Much Pasture Per Chicken?
Having too many birds on pasture can be a problem. If there is too much manure load on the ground it can create an excess of nitrogen. This will kill the grass and harm the pasture. About 50 birds per acre is a good rule of thumb, but each pasture is different. I move my chickens every week and wait at least 6 months before putting them back on the same piece of pasture. Following the chickens i will throw down a pasture seed mix on any bare spots the chickens will inevitably make. I only will throw down seed in the spring and fall seasons.
Feed and Water
The pasture itself will supply great nutrition for your birds, but they will require supplement feed in order to keep them healthy and laying. I give them an organic layer feed daily. Give them enough feed for one day without anything left over at night. 1/4 pound of food per bird a day usually works well. Adjust the amount based on if they are running out of food early or there is food left over when you are locking them up at night. Try not to leave out food during the night because it attracts pests like mice and rats.
Don’t forget to have grit available for your birds. Grit are small pieces of stone chickens keep in their crop to grind up grain to make digestion easier. Grit acts like teeth to the chicken breaking up the food into smaller bits. Also have oyster shell available to the chickens. Oyster shell is high in calcium; without enough calcium your chicken shells will be thin and fragile.
I usually have a couple of waterers for the birds out at all times. I am of a fan of gravity fed waterers. Like this one. These seem to last the longest without breaking on me. Switch out the water every couple of days even if the container is not empty, so the water stays fresh and algae doesn’t form.
Nipple waterers are another type of waterer I use. This keeps the water very clean, but i have found the birds prefer to drink out of the gravity fed bowl waterer. It is very important to never let your birds go thirsty. This can negatively impact health and egg production.
What Do I Do in the Winter?
Check out my blog post: The Best Winter Permaculture Chicken Coop. Here I explain how to turn this seemingly negative problem into a positive solution by moving the chickens into a high tunnel.
Daily Chores for Chickens
The first chore I do in the morning is fill feeders and waters. Hauling water is the most time consuming daily chore for the chickens. I use a Gorrilla Cart to drag waters from my spigot to the chickens each morning. I then move the coop a few feet, so the manure does not build up in one spot. Once the feed and water is full and coop is moved, I let the chickens out of the coop. Take a couple of minutes to inspect the birds for any abnormal activity. Luckily birds on pasture rarely come down with any serious health problems.
Weekly, I move the entire perimeter fence to a new spot. I have gotten quick at this chore and can get everything moved in as little as 15 minutes. One trick is to leave one wall of the fence where it stands and move the surrounding three walls to a new spot on the pasture. Here is an example of what makes up a pasture seed mix that I have used for my area Zone 6:
- 20% White Dutch Clover
- 20% Strawberry Clover
- 20% Hairy Vetch
- 15% Alfalfa
- 15% Field Pea
- 10% Common Flax
The feed is the most expensive input when it comes to our chickens. We always have a food scrap bucket under our sink to dump any uneaten food into. With young kids that bucket can fill pretty quickly. Chickens are very good at avoiding foods that will make them sick, but these are foods I avoid giving chickens just in case.
- Fried foods
- Very salty or sugary foods
I also sell extra eggs to other local mothers in my town for $5 a dozen. I am not making much, but it helps cover the feed bill and my family gets the best eggs possible. The upfront cost for the coop and electric poultry netting was substantial, but they are both quality and should last years to come.
Hopefully this takes some of the mystery out of how to raise pastured chicken. In a lot of ways its easier than having a stationary coop in your backyard. The quality of the eggs are much better than anything you can find in a grocery store. So go ahead start raising on pasture, your chickens will thank you!
My Children’s Children’s Children
Raising chickens on pasture give us the most nutritious eggs possible. It heals the earth by regenerating the soil that has been depleted and neglected for decades. These practices aren’t just for us in the here and now, they are actually shaping and benefiting the future. I do this for my children’s children’s children. The generations who will inherit the earth and our bodies. Everything we put into our own bodies and into the earth, good or bad, will become the fabric of our descendants.