In spite of all the changes going around here, we are still backyard chicken wranglers. We decided to get some chicks again this year.
Last year’s chickens for some reason were the worst foragers we have ever raised. We would open the door on the chicken run in the morning for them to head out and be free ranging chickens eating seeds, bugs and scratching in the dirt looking for all sorts of tasty morsels. This was something every previous flock was gun hoe and very good at. Instead this flock insisted on staying in the coop, lazing around and eating chicken feed. It made no sense to me, they were breeds we had had before that had demonstrated their ability to get most of their diet in the summer out in the pasture. I seriously thought about locking them out of the coop, but they would need access to lay eggs, so that was not really a feasible alternative. It was frustrating as the locally milled organic food was not as inexpensive as commercial chicken chow was, and they went through more than twice as much as prior flocks have. On top of that chickens who stay close to the coop make for more clean up. If they free-range out in the pasture, no one cares where or how much poop a chicken can generate. And chickens do generate poop.
This year I have ten chicks and I am hoping for good free-range foragers who like to get out and look for their dinner as much and as long as they can. To this end they are just two weeks old and I am already pulling little cheatgrass plants and feeding them to the new chicks roots and all. The chicks are showing interest in picking at the grasses and do lots of chirping and digging around when I add that to their cage each day when I clean it.
If you are wondering who cares if they free range or not, here is a little information that you may not know about free-range, pasture raised eggs according to tests done by Mother Earth News comparing commercial eggs vs. the eggs from chickens that actually get out and free-range in the pasture. My chickens who get outside daily to eat grass, dandelions, bugs, grubs, seeds, and what ever other goodies they can find and with a good dose of daily exercise produce eggs that 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. Yes there is a difference in eggs.
Keep your fingers crossed that this year’s finds their natural instincts and the become the mighty forager’s that commercial chickens can not imagine is even possible.