What is the most important detail of my homestead? It’s being in right relationship with the animals and plants around me and the earth beneath my feet. My role in this relationship is to serve and care for these sentient beings (yes, plants are conscious too) as best I can. It is my moral responsibility to treat this ecosystem that I am interwoven with respectfully. This means observing my surroundings and taking note of what is and isn’t working and making any necessary adjustments.
My relationship with my chickens has evolved quite a bit over the years. I have tried my best to make improvements to their quality of life. Whenever I have made a change for their benefit, I would always notice it in their temperament and in their eggs. A stressed chicken produces poor quality eggs, if at all, and a happy chicken produces an abundance of delicious eggs.
I am currently on my third chicken coop in six years. My first coop my husband bought me from Tractor Supply. It was roughly 5″x3″ and included two nesting boxes. I was so happy the day we moved our six red sex link hens from the basement brooder to this coop. The hens finally loved being out in the fresh air and sunshine.
It wasn’t long before i realized that this coop wasn’t going to be enough and our birds deserved more space to live. My husband Ryan got to work building an enclosure, usually referred to as a run, around the coop . The run allowed me to let the chickens out of their coop during the day but would keep them safe from predators. At night time the chickens would go back inside the coop instinctually. For extra protection, one of us would go outside after dark and close the coop door. This set up worked well for a couple of seasons.
One fall night the inevitable happened. A big animal, most likely a bear, got inside the enclosure, flipped over the coop, ripped off the side and got at a few of our hens. Ryan was able to repair a lot of the damage while we came up with another solution. That winter Ryan decided he would build a whole new coop, one that he cemented into the ground so it wouldn’t be so easily taken down. He kept it inside the run but raised it three feet off the ground. This worked well until June of 2020 right around the time our first child was born. One night, while we were in the midsts of postpartum bliss and exhaustion, something squeezed its way into the coop and picked off the last of the remaining flock and four 8 week old chicks we had recently purchased. Being new parents we both agreed to take a break from raising chickens.
Fast forward to January of 2021. While planning out the garden and ordering seeds the subject of chickens came up. I knew I wanted to try again at raising chickens but Ryan was a bit apprehensive. He decided to do some research to find a better way for keeping chickens. He stumbled on a Youtube channel called The Justin Rhodes Show and learned about a coop design called the Chickshaw. The Chickshaw is a mobile coop that you leave out on pasture that is surrounded by a mobile solar powered electric fence. For the fence we used a company called Premier1 fencing. The coop gets moved once a day within the fencing. Then once a week, we move the fencing and the coop onto an entirely fresh piece of pasture. This fresh pasture full of grass, “weeds” (they love clover!) bugs and microbes are excellent for the chickens and in my opinion, essential for them to thrive. The pasture benefits from the manure it receives from the chickens and the earth is deeply nourished by this. After learning all about the Chickshaw, Ryan was convinced that it would work for us and he got to work building ours.
All of this work is well worth it to me because we get the most nutritious eggs our chickens can offer. In fact, a lot of the workload is cut down because we no longer have to clean up chicken manure in their run since it goes right onto the pasture. The chickens get moved before any overgrazing can happen. The Chickshaw also has a 1″x1″ wire floor that keeps predators out while allowing manure to fall through. This relationship is a win for the chickens, the earth and us!
We have been using this set up for two seasons now. My only regret is that we didn’t discover this method sooner. What led us to this method is our ability and willingness to observe life happening within us and around us. Life is meant to thrive and if this isn’t happening then something is off. This doesn’t mean there is no death. Death is crucial for life to thrive (a post for another day). There is an interconnectedness among all of life, including humans. It is often suggested that humans are a burden and a curse on the earth. This simply is not true. We have just fallen out of relationship with the natural world. We still belong here on this earth and we can absolutely find our hearts once more. Through deep observation and deep listening we can come back into harmony with our world.