Cooped-Up and Running Free
Towards the end of the 2012 season, it was time to re-evaluate the chicken scene at Island Meadow Farm. With an aging flock, two coops that, although portable, required a great deal of back-bending human effort to move, and thoughts of procuring a small tractor rattling in our brains, it was time to rethink the poultry plan.
We began by starting a new flock of hens late this winter. Lacking better options at the time, we ordered some birds through the mail. That’s right, the sixty day-old peeps were shipped in a box from Pennsylvania, where they were hatched. Upon getting a call from the Vashon post office around six o’clock one morning early in February, we threw-on some sweats and zipped into town to bring them home to their preliminary situation — a bedded brooder box, indoors, where heat lamps and careful observation would help them grow into healthy young chicks.
Then came discovery of a suitable, free, old double axled trailer frame on which we could build a new coop. This second generation design would consolidate all of our birds into one home, allow for the flock to grow in numbers during the coming years, and get moved with the 1987 Ford tractor we managed to purchase in March. Here is a photo of the trailer midway through the construction process; at this point the rear six feet were already cut off by our friend Leslie and his cutting torch, the second axle was stripped away using a Sawzall, and preliminary framing was underway.
It was an effort to get the new coop during the accelerating workload of early spring, but with some hard work and kind generosity of numerous family members and friends, we managed to cobble together a rough-draft plan, scrap together a good deal of salvaged materials and get the hens’ new house built in time to move them out of the brooder room in April.
You don’t need to look too hard to observe the joy of chickens leaping out of their coop when it’s opened in the morning, racing to scratch the dirt looking for bugs and worms, eat grass, and generally run around with the wild look in their eye that only chickens get.
But the effects of raising chickens on grass goes far further than just that. It is well documented that eggs from chickens raised on pasture are nutritionally superior to those laid by hens subsisting entirely on grain for food — as is the case with most commercial eggs.
According to Mother Earth News, the eggs from pastured hens contain one-third less cholesterol, one-fourth less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, twice the Omega-3 fatty acids, and seven times more beta carotene than eggs from hens fed only grain. Read more here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs
Judging from the electric orange hue of the yolks from our birds out to forage on lush spring grass, I believe every word. We go to a substantial effort to move our entire flock every few weeks, closing the girls in every night to keep them (hopefully) safe from raccoons and other predators — all to give them access to fresh grass.
Try some eggs for yourself and let us know what you think.