Chickens raised on pasture are healthier, happier, and more nutritious. But being out on pasture means they’re exposed to several dangers. We have to protect them from the hot sun and cold rain yet still allow them to get sunshine when they want it.
Chickens, especially meat chickens, are easy and tasty meals for nearly every predator you’ll run into. Raccoons, possums, and foxes are the most common. You’ve heard about the fox in the hen house. But aerial predators like hawks, eagles and owls are also a problem. This is where chicken shelters come in. they offer protection from all of these things while still allowing the chickens to have fresh clean grass every day.
Keep the Predators Away
Chickens are tasty treats for predators. They don’t see well in the dark. When they can’t see, they tend to stay put. This makes them especially easy to catch at night. A Fox or raccoon merely has to grab them and start eating. Many predators are so relaxed that they eat the chickens in the coop and leave what they don’t eat for the us to find the next day.
This situation is bad enough with athletic egg layers. It’s even worse for lethargic meat chickens. Americans have become accustomed to plump cornish-cross meat chicken. These chickens grow very fast, even on the natural feed we use. They don’t need hormones or antibiotics to grow fast, they’re bred to grow fast on their own. This fast growth rate makes them tire easy. It takes a lot of energy to haul around twice as much weight as a normal chicken.
Cornish-Cross’ large size makes them slow. It’s harder to get that much weight to move quickly. They can’t just jump away when a predator grabs them. That makes them sitting ducks, or chickens.
So far the only predators I’ve talked about were ground predators. Chickens also have to deal with aerial predators. Eagles, chicken hawks, and other predatory birds like to swoop down and grab a chicken, then take off with it. Fences will keep out the ground predators, but aerial predators simply fly over. This is why our chicken shelters have roofs. The roof keeps the aerial predators out, but also serve two more important functions.
Shade from the Hot Sun
Meat chickens are raised in the summer, when it’s hot out. They don’t do very well in the winter. It’s cold. Meat chickens don’t have as many feathers as normal chickens. This cold makes them, uncomfortable, grow slower, and not to mention, dealing with frozen water sucks. It’s uncomfortable for both the chickens and for the farmer.
These are just a couple reasons sustainable farmers choose not to raise their chickens in the winter. The only exception are some farms in the south where it doesn’t get so cold in the winter. This means raising them in the summer. In most parts of the country it gets hot during midday. Pastured chickens love sunbathing in the morning when it’s cool out, but once the temperature rises, they go waddling for the shade. Heatstroke is a real problem for livestock, especially meat chickens.
The metal or plastic roof provides a cool barrier against the sun. Farmers make a point to include vents near the bottom to allow airflow. Hot air rises, this pulls cooler air in through the vents, providing a natural cool breeze.
Shelter from the Weather
Being out on pasture means weather. That means rain, cold temperatures, and wind. Frequently at the same time. Rain and wind together are a double whammy to chickens. Meat chickens live on the ground. They’re too big and clumsy to roost. They would also be too heavy. Ten full grown meat chickens would collapse most roost poles.
Being on the ground can be a good thing. Grass can provide a soft warm place for the chickens to snuggle together. Not to mention, it’s clean. Good pasture will absorb lots of water. Even in a steady rain you can look inside the shelter and see nice dry ground. Only when the rain starts pouring do farmers have to bring out the straw to give their chickens a dry place to lay.
Being a pasture based farmer, means worrying about the weather. While you may get to sit inside watching the thunderstorm in comfort. They’re out in the rain stuffing straw under the shelters so their birds can get dry. Wet birds can get sick rather quickly. This is the commitment to humanely raising the best meat in the world.
Keep Them out of Yesterday’s Poop
Moving chickens everyday leaves yesterday’s poop behind. Being in a shelter means they are separated from it. This eliminates most of the disease vectors that chickens suffer from. Many diseases have about a 24 hour incubation period. Poop dropped 24 hours ago contains pathogens looking for a new host. When a farmer move his chickens, those pathogens are left stranded to die in the sunshine. This is how sustainable farmers are able to raise chickens without antibiotics.
Another benefit of moving chickens every day is that it gives the chickens fresh grass and bugs to eat. We’ve all been told we need to eat our greens. Well that goes for chickens too. Chlorophyll is a detoxicant. You’ve probably seen chlorophyll tablets in the health food store. Fresh grass provides vitamins and nutrients to keep pastured chickens healthy. You can’t get any fresher than eating it off the ground.
These nutrients that pastured chickens ingest go into their meat. That is why pasture raised chicken is so much healthier than factory farm chicken. Farmers move their chickens everyday, sometimes twice a day, because the grass gets dirty quickly. You wouldn’t want to eat dirty food, neither do chickens.
Pastured Chickens like their Shelters
Occasionally while moving the chicken shelters, one or two chickens will get out. You might think that they would run off, happy to have their freedom. This doesn’t happen. A newly freed chicken will look around for a moment, then run over to the shelter and begin looking for a way back in. They will circle the shelter looking up and down for a hole to climb through.
Perhaps this sounds crazy. Why would a chicken want back in? Isn’t it happy to be free? Not necessarily. Chickens are social creatures. They live in flocks. When one gets separated it wants to get back to the flock. Meat chickens are not used to being outside the safety of their shelter. It’s scary. Maybe if they got used to it, they would like it. If they survived long enough.
The truth is, pastured chickens like being in their shelters, it’s what they’re used to. They get plenty of fresh air, and as much sunshine as they want, but not too much. Pastured chickens have more than twice the amount of room as factory farm chickens.
As you can see, sustainable farmers are not putting their chickens in chicken shelters to be mean. They’re doing it because they love them. You wouldn’t let your baby crawl around wherever it wants, you keep it safe. That’s what playpens are for. They keep babies safe. Chicken shelters keep Pastured chickens safe and comfortable. They allow us to raise the best chicken possible.