We think they are, but what is your “better”??
Does “better” mean tastier? More nutrients? Happier chickens? Then the answer is a resounding YES! We’ll talk about that more later.
If your “better” means cheaper, then probably not.
You might think that we’d save a ton of feed if the girls were out on pasture, eating all that grass and bugs, and you’d be right to a certain extent. Thinking back 50-100 years, farmers didn’t have commercial feeds and all chickens ate were these things, plus garden leftovers, and even some of the butchering leftovers. Today it isn’t quite the same and for most farmers it’s not feasible. We don’t have a lot of leftover butchering pieces and we’re not quite sure if our customers would feel good knowing their chickens, who are actually omnivores (animals that eat both plant life and meat), ate such things. Commercial feed is balanced for the specific animal – such as laying chickens versus broilers, or meat chickens. And while the chickens do eat a lot of the grass and bugs, they still eat a lot of feed. Plus, our chickens are hybrid egg layers, which means their forte is not foraging – it’s laying eggs. They forage some, but are not as proficient as perhaps a heritage breed.
As a farmer and steward of livestock, you also have to consider predator protection in your cost factor. We usually keep our chickens fenced in somehow due to coyotes, hawks (who are aerial predators but can still be deterred by fencing). Some people get Livestock Guarding Dogs (LGDs) to protect their flocks, which adds protection but also the cost of feeding the LGD and vet care.
We do have a dog, but she is a couch potato who spends hours barking at a building because a bunny ran under it two weeks ago. When we first had the chickens she spent a good amount of time lunging and barking at them through the fence. One day a few got out and after hearing some squawking I found a chicken in her mouth! She has come a LONG way – even “helping” to corral them when they’re out.
But if your “better” is the former – nutrient-dense eggs, happier chickens, then let’s chat about that!
Yes, there are many levels of chicken containment and foraging – cage free, free range, pasture raised – and they all have their own definitions. And they’re all confusing! For a bit of information check out this article: Pasture Raised vs Free Range.
As a chronic researcher I had to find a good source of information (did you know page one of a Google search only brings you fellow blog information – can you verify that information??). So I was happy to finally find a study by Penn State. According to the study,
Recent research indicates that livestock products from animals that forage grasslands have a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins than livestock products from animals that are fed grain and stored-feed dietshttps://news.psu.edu/story/166143/2010/07/20/research-shows-eggs-pastured-chickens-may-be-more-nutritious
I’ll let you read through that for your own research, but it is good to know that eggs are more nutritious with the chickens out on pasture.
Now for happier chickens!
When I started advertising having eggs I said “Brown Eggs from Happy Chickens!”. One person joked – how do you know they’re happy?
If you’ve spent a decent amount of time with animals you can just tell when they’re happy! You can’t always explain it, other than maybe a feeling you get, like your own happiness. For example, new shavings make them SUPER happy – which makes me happy watching them scratch and peck around!
A while ago we got a bunch of rain, the cooler weather started setting in, and limited space and fencing meant the chickens weren’t getting as much grass forage as they did over the summer. It’s inevitable when you have winters that can get in the negatives with snow! So the chickens were in their pen. Like most chickens. And I’d collect the eggs like normal but I started noticing that some of the shells were thin. And then I started wondering why.
So I let them loose in the yard! now, this isn’t totally smart – we have Farm Dog Raisin that still isn’t 100% chicken proof, neighbor dogs, and the occasional coyote, hawk, etc., that prowl around (yes – even in daylight). But I did it. And boy were they happy! First they devoured all the extra tomatoes in the garden. They don’t eat any other garden scrap – seriously. We have weird chickens. They roam the yard, found new places to dust bathe, apparently they went into the timber because some had burs on them, and basically had a great time.
How do we get them back into safety?? At night, they already flocked (literally) to the fence when they saw or heard me, and whenever a few would get out they’d come at meal time. They’d kind of follow me around. So I was pretty sure their natural roosting instinct would kick in around dark, if not their stomachs at meal time, and sure enough – when they see me coming out, even during the day, they run towards me. Sometimes if Raisin and I have to go check mail we have to sneak around so they don’t find me! If I call Raisin – here come the chickens! It’s hysterical! But it allows us to get them all penned up for the night, meaning they can continue being free in the yard.
And yes – that makes them happy! They are excited to get out, they run to the garden or their other favorite spot. They still practically chase me around if I have work to do outside, but they peck and scratch at dirt, grass, and bugs. And then I noticed that the shells on the eggs were getting harder! Now, commercial feed has added calcium to make harder shells; plus, we feed oyster shells, another source of calcium. So theoretically the shells should be good and hard. But for some reason, they started getting harder with the girls being out in the yard, happy little hens, and I’m sure that happy chickens lay better eggs!
So before I leave this post with a bunch of happy chicken pictures, here are a couple “heads up” notes!
- Be sure to follow our Facebook Page! We post updates there often and is a great way to see when we have eggs and get fast news!
- Watch the Facebook Page BECAUSE – we are moving the chickens to a new coop, and it may just need a name! Very soon we hope to do a like/share/comment post with your coop name suggestions, along with a contest – more info on the page when we’re ready! (But we’re thinking there should be a giveaway!)
- Subscribe to our e-newsletter! You get insider information, a freebie for signing up, and are an official part of our farm family!
- EXCITING NEWS!! If you didn’t see our Facebook post, you missed the new, exciting step for our farm – offering our eggs to the public at the local business, Optimal Health! Of course, you can still contact us for your farm fresh eggs, but this is an amazing opportunity for our farm! We will still have farm-pickup and occasional deliveries, but if we are not able to schedule a time, consider checking out Optimal Health – they are a great business in our community and have some amazing things in store for the future!
Welp – we hope you like our happy chickens! They make us giggle and sometimes drive the dog crazy, but they have been a great addition to the farm! Be sure to let us know how your summer went, or if you have any suggestions for the farm. Maybe we need to consider offering farm fresh chicken meat (if Colton and Raisin don’t have a heart attack from the amount of chickens!?)
So here you have it – some happy chickens out in the yard!