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.
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).
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.