Raising Chickens in Movable Shelters
In the past couple of years, it’s become glaringly apparent how important it is to grow your own food. It’s vital to know how to raise chickens for meat and eggs. (plus…chickens are easy!)
Here’s why you should be raising chickens in moveable shelters
Movable shelters offer protection from weather and predators. Joel Salatin puts it this way:
“Because predators are opportunists with a short attention span, they generally don’t spend a lot of time in one spot… This is why mobile shelters deter more than most people realize; each day the predator has to start over. But a stationary shelter offers ongoing opportunities for these bursts of interest.”– Joel Salatin, Polyface Micro
Moving your flock to fresh grass daily keeps your flock healthy, happy, and clean. Instead of the dusty run or dirt barnyard, your hens are enjoying the sunshine, fresh bugs, and clean pasture.
Chickens who are raised in portable shelters and moved regularly eat:
- consume less grain
If they are crowded or not moved regularly, the feed consumption will definitely increase.
Egg layers are probably the easiest to raise and the most popular. Their basic needs are feed, water, a roost for the night, and a place to lay their eggs. Layers consume up to 50% less feed when they are moved out to pasture.
Pullets can be bought ready to lay. Usually at 19-20 weeks old, or you can buy chicks and raise them yourself. Raising layer chicks is the same as for meat chickens – they need to be brooded with a heat lamp or thermostatically controlled propane brooder for a few weeks. Then you can move them outside in a pasture poultry shelter. Pullets are fed starter and grower feeds until they start to lay eggs, then you switch them over to layer ration. Always try to switch gradually by first mixing in the new feed for several days.
Layers need less feed than meat chickens, so they also require somewhat less feeder space. One of our 4-foot-long feeders is enough space in a 1312 shelter if you move the shelter and fill the feeders twice a day. If you want to have over 75 hens in a 1312 shelter, or if you will only move them once a day, you should have two 4-foot feeders. We put about 60-100 hens in a model 1312 shelter and move them twice a day. Model 812 does 25-40 hens.
The more you crowd them, the less pasture they get, so they’ll need more grain. If you put 100 in a 1312 you should definitely plan to move them twice a day. You should allow a minimum of 6 inches of roost space per hen. In the 1312, that would mean one 14-foot roost bar for no more than 28 hens. We prefer the nests without dividers, which have proven to accommodate more hens for their size.
A four-foot nest serves up to 45 hens, so the 812 needs one, and two will do the 1312. Roll-out nests are good insurance against hens pecking and eating eggs. The eggs roll out of the nest and under a cover at the front of the nest box where you can later gather them. The nests are not lined with bedding material so the eggs roll easily.
It takes about 10 weeks on commercial feed to grow out one flock of White Rock meat birds to about 8 lbs, so you can do at least two flocks in one season. The White Rock (Cornish cross) cockerels are the most commonly used for high production. These are readily available at standard hatcheries and will have a larger amount of breast meat. Specialty hatcheries have traditional ‘dual purpose’ breeds and crosses, that grow slower than White Rocks and therefore have tastier meat.
You need a brooding room that is safe from cats, rats and weasels, etc. In the summer you can even start the chicks right in the pasture shelter if you have the End-Closure kit installed. It is important to get rid of any source of drafts at ground level. Eliminating square corners is also a good idea, so they don’t pile up in the corner to keep warm and end up smothering each other.
Bed them with newspapers to start, or fine shavings. Later you can use coarser shavings or straw if you want. The chicks need to be brooded under heat lamps, or better, a thermostatically controlled propane brooder. Start at 33 degrees Celsius and adjust as needed as they grow hardier. They usually need 2-3 weeks of heat before moving them out to pasture, depending on the weather. Use chick starter ration for 3-4 weeks, then you can gradually switch them over to grower feed.
Feed them as much as they want, being sure to provide enough feeder space per bird. Two of our large 4-foot feeders are enough for up to 100 meat birds. The round hopper feeders have more feed capacity but only half the feeding space of a 4-foot pan type feeder, so they may restrict the feed consumption. Also, if you are moving the shelter before the feeder is empty, you have to move the extra weight of the feed as well. Therefore we prefer the pan-type feeders. We grow them to 5-9 pounds dressed weight, which is 7- 13 pounds live weight. Dressed weight is about 70% of live weight. Chickens prefer short forage, preferably less than 10 inches; this is also higher in protein.
Turkeys are notoriously hard to start off, but after they have been brooded for 3-4 weeks they can be moved out to pasture and usually will have minimal problems then. They need more heat when brooding, starting at 35-37 degrees Celsius and adjusting as needed. If they all huddle under the brooder, raise the temperature; if they avoid being under the brooder they are too warm, and you need to lower the heat.
It’s best not to use fine sawdust for bedding, as they may eat it. Be sure to have lots of feeders and waterers close to them, because turkeys have trouble learning to eat. You can try putting marbles in the feeder to attract them to the feed. Give them a high protein diet to start. Turkeys are aggressive foragers, so once they are on pasture, they won’t need as much feed.
If you plan to raise them to 15-20 lbs dressed weight, you can put about 45 turkeys in the Cackellac 1312, or 15 in the 812. If you want to grow them bigger you would reduce the amount accordingly.
Ducks and Geese
Use a higher protein diet for starting ducks and geese. After moving them out, they get some protein from the pasture. They eat lots of grass, so you need to move them regularly. Put about 60 ducks or 40 geese in a Cackellac model 1312; 25 ducks or 15 geese in the 812.
The purpose of this article is to answer from our perspective some commonly asked questions. But do make use of the many specific resources that are now available on the subject. We will mention a few to get you started:
Joel Salatin’s book, Pastured Poultry Profits, has been the standby reference for several decades (www.polyfacefarms.com).
Raising Poultry on Pasture by American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) is another excellent guide. The APPPA itself has good information as well. (Phone : 570-584-2309, website : (www.apppa.org).