Broiler chickens on pasture

I thought I’d share a couple of pictures of the state of the pasture after the broilers have spent a day in one place.

There are 65 birds in this pasture pen.  We move it late afternoon every day.  In Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin, he moves them in the morning.  That’s great if you don’t work off farm, but for us, it’s always worked better in late afternoon – right after work on work days, right before I start supper prep on the days I’m at home.  It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.  It takes Polyface something like an hour to do 60 pens, which means my system is a “little” inefficient, or I don’t move fast, or both.  That’s OK, 15-20 minutes works for me.  If it’s just the actual moving of the pen, then I probably am up to speed, I think it takes me about 2 minutes…it’s all the other stuff – changing the water, topping up feed, putting the lids back on, that take time.

Why do we do it this way?  First off, to get some poop on the ground! We want the fertility for the soil.  Chicken manure packs a wallop of nitrogen.  Second, the birds actually eat a surprising amount of grass, given the chance.  For the first few minutes after a move, all you can hear is the chirruping noise they make when they’re happy, and the ripping sound of grass being torn off by 65 beaks.  Since you are what you eat, and chickens are no exception, this is good news for those who eat our chicken:  these chickens are getting fresh air, sunshine, protection from predators and a fresh patch of grass and bugs every day.  It absolutely makes a difference to the meat.  A good difference!

Take a look at how much of this they’ve actually eaten, not just trampled or pooped on:

They’ve been on pasture almost 2 weeks, you can see where they’ve been.  This will be a big strip of green about 3 weeks from now, right through to next year:

These birds are almost full grown.  They go up to the processor in just over a week.  It ain’t over till it’s over, but right now, they’re looking pretty good.

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9 thoughts on “Broiler chickens on pasture

  1. wildramp says:

    I would like to repost this to help explain the system to my readers! Love the photos!

  2. Annie Carlson says:

    Isn’t it amazing how MUCH grass they eat?? And there are those in the industrial agriculture complex who say that poultry don’t eat grass. Loved your words, “given the chance”!

  3. Better than grass are legumes and weeds. In the spring they race to eat the leaves off of the clover and dandelion plants. All that salad really seems to make a difference in the bird.

    I have a hard time with the concept of moving 60 tractors in an hour. I have seen the youtube video. My birds don’t walk that fast. I don’t walk that fast. Let’s go through the motions though. Lever the dolly under the tractor, walk around in front of the tractor, lift the lid, grab the feeder, set the feeder down ahead of the tractor. Lift and begin pulling. Hope the chickens stay out of the way of the dolly wheels and you don’t have to wait for them or, God forbid, run over a bird. Top off the feeder, lift the lid and pop that feeder back in. Walk around behind and lever the dolly out and walk it to the next tractor, stopping to catch any birds that managed to escape.

    Again, I know the routine. I have practiced it for years. I can’t do it in a minute. Ain’t happening.

    We find the birds move better in the morning.

    • Yeah, I know that’s true about the leafy stuff, I’ve learned that from the layer flock. There isn’t a lot of variety in my hay field – yet. As to the timing, I agree with you. I also slow down to let the birds move away from the dolly/edge. I am using a 5 gallon water jug type waterer instead of the 5 gallon bucket gravity feeding a bell waterer, and that adds to my time. In the end, as long as I’m not running more than a few pens at one time, I’m fine with the 15-20 minutes it takes me. If I was doing more than 3, that would mean an hour on the field, and then I’d be looking to streamline things. Believe it or not, last year, with this pen, I didn’t have the dolly, so moved it with the help of kid power or an ancient and not very helpful moving dolly – the wheels were too close together, and much too high, but in the absence of kids, they allowed me to move the thing. The dolly definitely matters to the success of this pen.

    • Yes, I’ve heard the birds move better in the morning. This is one factor that might make the moving time matter more – I’m already pretty stretched on work mornings to get through everything in time. On mornings when I’m home, of course, I can manage it, but consistency is important. Another plus about doing the move in the morning is that they get more time to eat the grass/sward before they’ve spoiled it by lying around and pooping. I guess the solution is really to set my alarm clock even earlier than I already do. Sigh.

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