The other day my friends asked me what it meant that Battle Rock Farms’s eggs were “pastured raised” and I think it is important to explain the difference. The egg industry has many of the terms relating to eggs defined and there are rules relating to what qualifies as cage free, or free range etc. Most people know that your regular eggs are raised in huge houses with cages stacked on top of each other. I won’t get in to the yucky details of the quality of life for these birds, but let’s say it isn’t great.
Our philosophy is to allow chickens to be chickens. Joel Salatin made an impression on us when we first began raising chickens and you can see this is in the way we chose to house them. Chickens need space to roam, dirt to dust in, bugs and greens to eat, a safe place to lay eggs, fresh air, safety from predators and roosts to sleep on at night among other things. We started out with chickens in a stationary house and would allow them out to forage. This would be what is called free-range. The downsides of this are that both pests and pathogens can build up in the house. The chicken house also must be cleaned out regularly and you know everyone loves shoveling sh*t! Don’t get me wrong, local free range eggs are great and are much better than standard eggs.
We set out to build a coop which we could move around using a tractor and would utilize electric fences to keep them contained. Our first house is essentially a covered carport on an open wooden frame. The allows all the said sh*t to fall through to the ground and the house to be moved over nearly any area on the farm. The first house has boxes that hang from the center and when we ended up wanting more chickens in a second house we moved the boxes to the sides which was a big improvement. The roosts run across the back in both of them. The electric fencing is really adjustable. We can create an outdoor run that goes around trees or anything else we want them to clean around. The orchard loves it when the chickens are moved through fertilizing while also working on eating lots of bugs and plants. While they do spread their fertilizer out nicely for us, the concentration is higher where they house sits for about 10 days between moves so once we move them we do pick up most of that for our compost piles.
The chickens getting to range on pasture makes for some very deep yellow-orange yolks. The look alone tells you they are better but there have been actual tests run to prove this as well. We believe that happy healthy chickens makes for healthier eggs. Moving the house confuses the pests and pathogens which also makes for healthier chickens.
While these movable houses have come with some challenges like keeping prowling mountain lions (and other predators) from eating all the tasty chickens, it is the only way we could ever raise chickens. Often the time it takes us to care for them is increased due to having to walk farther out into the fields and there are sometimes tight places that can be difficult to move the chickens through. But the whole farm is happier because of the chickens; the fields all respond quickly to the fertilizer and mowing.
When we have little chicks we still use a small non-moveable house that is our brooder house. Last spring we undertook rebuilding the ancient one with what we now refer to as the “chicken palace.”
I hope this helps clear up what we mean when we say pasture raised eggs. Thanks for humoring my long chicken rant. You can be sure it won’t be the last one!