Monday, September 1, 2008

Chickens Should Eat Grass and Bugs

Colored Range chick 4 weeks old
Our chicks are now 4 weeks old and ready to be outside. Besides making the meat much more healthy, raising chickens on pasture makes the chicks themselves so much happier. You can tell that they love wandering around, pecking at things, finding yummy bugs to eat and fight over. The chickens we bought this year are a mix of Colored Range chicks which are "derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken and developed in the early 1960’s to meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program".

Before we could bring them out, I had to fix the chicken tractor. Last year, the chicks we got insisting on roosting on the roof and since the coop is only made out of PVC pipe, welded wire, and a tarp, they made the roof sag in. So, today I added two new supports to the inside of the coop. I cut new pieces of 3/4" pvc tubing, attached elbows to each end, and then made an arc with a larger piece of 1/2" tubing. The tricky part was that I had to crawl inside and assemble the pieces there since the completed arc wouldn't fit through the door. Then I attached the new arcs to the existing frame with some bits of wire. I think it'll hold up to some outdoor roosting now. (If you click on the photo, you'll jump to Flickr where I've added some notes to identify individual parts of the photo.)

Colored range chicks on grass

The chicken tractor is covered head-to-toe with 2" x 4" welded wire, including the bottom. That way, the chickens can peck the grass, but they can't get out unless we open the door for them. They're also more protected from predators.

Colored Range chicks

We also enclose the whole contraption in an electric fence so that when we eventually let them graze outside of the tractor, they'll still be protected from our not-very-ferocious-but-still-very-fond-of-chicken Laika.


  1. My wife and I have always wanted a small hobby farm, and we've been talking about raising chickens, rabbits, a goat, and alpacas. Thanks for the pics on your coop, it looks like a functional and easy to build design!

    Do you find the eggs taste or look different with the chickens being free range instead of processed feed fed?

  2. Sorry for the late reply.

    Well, even chickens that forage eat grain as well. We think that they eat less grain, but to be honest, we haven't done a strict comparison. Perhaps more importantly, their diet is much more varied, as they eat bugs and grass. Mother Earth magazine had an article a while back that said that eggs from free-range chickens have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene, and 4-6 times more Vitamin D than typical supermarket eggs from cooped up chickens. Not to mention how much happier the chickens are.

    Yes, I think they taste better too.

    All that said, I have to confess that these chickens in the tractor are being raised for meat. In fact, as I write this (albeit late) comment, they are already in our freezer :)

    (We do have laying hens as well, that also free-range.)


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