Win. Win. Win.

We let our little flock of Dominiques forage in garden plots to help prepare and fertilize them. But we aim to have them off the land at least 120 days before we put a food crop on it.  For the last month or so they’ve been grazing a garden of oats and crimson clover, which we’ll be planting in vegetables this fall.

IMG_6675

But now it’s time for them to move.  This time of year, with our spring gardens still producing, and our summer and fall gardens ready to produce within the next 120 days, they don’t have any garden work to do. So we rotate them onto a hay field, where they can enjoy grass and any grasshopper unlucky enough to hop into their area.

Allowing chickens to forage and supplement their diet with grass and bugs is what makes their eggs so wonderfully amazing.  As I’ve often warned on this blog, don’t be fooled by “free range” or “cage free” claims on supermarket egg cartons.  Federal law allows a producer to claim their eggs are from “free range” hens as long as the hens have theoretical access to a “porch.”  So all a producer has to do is put a little run on the side of a factor farm chicken house and cut an access door to it.  It doesn’t matter if the chickens ever actually go outside (and the operator will provide them no incentive to do that).  Without the natural foraging the yolks of the eggs will never have the firmness and the rich orange color of a naturally raised hen (or the taste, of course).

“Cage free” hens

“Free range”

A real farm-fresh egg and a factory egg

A real farm-fresh egg and a factory egg

On our farm we not only get the benefit of the chickens’ work as tillers, fertilizers and pest control, but we also get wonderfully delicious eggs and they get a life worthy of living.  Win, win, win.

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19 comments on “Win. Win. Win.

  1. DM says:

    and you have happy chickens.:-) ( I used to think about the mental well being of my free range pig vs. his peers who lived in confinement.)

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    • Bill says:

      The mental well-being of our animals is a major concern to us. For some that is irrational sentimentality. But we raise our animals for human food, not for pets. Nevertheless we feel that we have an obligation to them to give them a life as pleasant and natural as we can. Once upon a time that was called “good husbandry.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. shoreacres says:

    And dare I draw an analogy to our kids? Obesity and an assortment of other issues would decline if they weren’t kept caged up, and allowed to range a little more freely. (Might be true for adults, too, now that I think about it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Yep. True for everybody. Life spent inside a cage, being fed cheap feed designed to fatten the animal quickly. Sadly that might describe life for more than just farm animals these days.

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  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, farm and homestead days do start early and sometimes end late. My day yesterday started early as well but not as early as yours. A friend and I went to a well known tulip festival about a 3 1/2 hour drive away. So seven hours of driving time and seven hours at the festival made for a tiring day.

    I’m glad that your sales were relatively good for the day. Here in Nebraska, we have the farmers markets which last pretty much all day during the summer months. Also we have road side stands that dot the parking lots especially when the warm weather crops are in season. I some times wonder just how local the produce is when the truck that is sitting behind the stand is licensed in other states farther south. Well, I have to be content with it being closer than California or …. Mexico. I suspect that the produce is not very organic because it’s too perfect to be totally organic. Since I have my own gardens, I don’t frequent them too much.

    It’s getting really close to the time for warm weather planting here. May 15th is the last frost day here but last year we got a major killing frost a week after that so I’m skeptical about putting plants out too early. My plan is to start setting out a couple each day until the entire 20 tomato plants are planted. So if a killing frost should come, I won’t be caught like last year with no back up plan.

    Have a great market growing win win win day.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s time for our summer crops to go in. Today is the day I usually target to get them finished. But I haven’t started yet. Last week was cold and wet and this week has been hot and dry. We have confused plants.

      Hopefully we’ll get it done this week.

      And it is important to beware those trying to profit unethically from the growing demand for local organic food. There’s a lot of that going on.

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  4. daphnegould says:

    That is why I always buy pastured eggs. If I had chickens they couldn’t really be pastured on our city lot. And I can always tell how well they are pastured by the color of their yolks. We had a great farm that came for a year to our farmers market. I was really sad when she quit coming as hers were so good.

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    • Bill says:

      I hope you find another source for great eggs. You’re right about the yolks being a great way to identify eggs from pastured hens. Now that I’m accustomed to eating “real” eggs, I don’t think I could ever go back to eating the factory version.

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  5. Great system for both chickens and gardens. And those Dominiques are beauties. I am about the only person in my neighbourhood keeping my chickens on pasture – there are several of us selling eggs via roadstands, but most of the others have the typical house with dirt yard set up – and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me how much better my eggs taste than the others available locally. I too have to keep reminding people that the wording around how their food is raised can be quite misleading. The one I love locally is “farm fresh”. I don’t intend to slam my friends and neighbours who use the phrase, but really – they could be keeping caged chickens in a battery house and selling the eggs as “farm fresh”. Or the eggs could be coming from a half starved, parasite infested backyard flock, and they’d still qualify as “farm fresh”. But people think it means happy, bucolic, green. And define “fresh” – a day? Three days? A week? At the same time, I’m happy to have the freedom to describe my eggs how I please, so I’m not in favour of labelling per se, but I do wish consumers would exercise a little thought around their food choices – at least the people who are stepping outside the supermarket and shopping at farm stands and farmers markets.

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    • Bill says:

      I could work myself into a frenzy writing about how words like “fresh” and “natural” are being abused. Some of the claims used to sell industrial eggs are particularly outrageous.
      Like you, I want the freedom to describe my eggs as I please, but the problem with unregulated descriptions is that they can be misleading and suggest false equivalencies. It’s always best if customers buy directly from farmers and ask the questions that matter to them. I tell people that if they’re paying extra for supermarket eggs that say they’re “cage free” or make any kind of quality claim like that, there’s a good chance they’re getting ripped off.

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  6. Sue says:

    Every time I drive past a place that has their chickens in some tiny pen, I always mentally sing that song—don’t know the name–that has the verse “let my people free”. Let the chickens run and peck and all the other hilarious things they do. You’ll have happy hens eating a healthy and varied diet-bugs, grass, ???.
    Your hens look wonderful amongst the tall grasses.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Once at the farmers market someone asked my wife what “free range” means. So my wife was explaining that it permits the chickens to forage for a natural diet of things like grass, bugs… When she got to the word “bugs” the person shrieked “Eww! Bugs!” and walked away with a disgusted look on her face. True story. 🙂

      Like

  7. Joanna says:

    I feel bad enough at times with our chickens in arks that get moved around (some are genuinely free range), but they certainly have more room than in the picture you posted and they can peck in the dirt while still being safe from predators.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      We have friends who raise their chickens in those kind of moveable pens. Even if not purely free-ranging, they get to live a far more natural life than those factory chickens–enjoying sunlight, fresh air, grass etc. We keep one flock that is entirely free range, which does result in losses to predators. Another one (the ones pictured) we keep inside portable net fencing that we move among garden plots.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. EllaDee says:

    My best friend is staying with us overnight this week, and her husband has backyard chooks. She just text me to ask if I wanted some eggs. Yes! I feel like I’ve won the lottery 🙂

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  9. Leigh says:

    I agree it’s a great system. I take it the 120 days is to allow fresh manure to age?

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    • Bill says:

      Yes. It’s probably not necessary, but we do it just to make sure any manure is fully composted by the time the garden is producing food.

      Like

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