Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pastured Poultry

This was our first year of actually raising poultry on pasture. It’s been a success so far. For years we’ve kept chicks in the green chicken tractor showed in these pictures but always moved them to a bigger pen as the birds grew larger.

But, this year with Joel Salatin as our inspiration we decided to go the whole route and raise them all the way to finish out on pasture. It has made a big difference. The birds are cleaner and healthier.

This summer we had a huge abundance of grasshoppers and crickets so these chickens have had lots to eat besides their regular ration of corn and broiler grower. One thing we didn’t do though was to come up with a custom feed to get away from that commercial stuff. Oh well, just taking it one step at a time. Maybe next year we will be able to come up with an alternative to the packaged feed.

The tractor with the gray tarp for a cover we built this year. Plus we modified the green one adding a watering system and a feeding tube identical to what we did with the gray one. The gray one is a little over 3 feet longer than the green one so therefore it is a “faster” unit. In retrospect I should have made them both the same length, as the gray one covers more ground with each daily move. We turn them around after about 130 feet and since they don’t keep the same pace there’s always one coming or going and they pass each other head on every so often.

I’ve noticed that the grass that grows back after the tractors have passed is quite a bit thicker and greener than the grass that is mowed just adjacent to were we started them off from. Lots of good fertilizer, besides the chickens scratching through and aerating the turf a bit.

In the video below you can see the chickens drinking out of the automatic water that we got for these units. I’m impressed with the simple design and the fact that they work well being gravity fed hooked up to a 5 gallon bucket. They have a real simple valve that looks similar to a tire valve. A spring keeps it compressed but as the bowl fills it decompresses the valve and therefore shuts off the water flow. The only thing is, every so often I have to take it apart and clean the strainer since bits of debris always manage to get mixed in the water.
We started with 58 broilers but now have 55. A few started getting leg problems so before they continued to get worse we simply ate them. They were pretty small then but, made we made family meals out of them nonetheless.

Actually we don’t have 55 anymore, since we began butchering them yesterday and a dozen are now in the freezer. We are very excited to now have an automatic chicken plucker. Our apologies go out to Herrick Kimball. We did not build the Whiz Bang. I got the plans from him some time ago and had every intension in building one but, as things go never got around to rounding up the parts and so forth so we bit the bullet and bought a Featherman. It works really well and it is totally unbelievable how fast the feathers come off. I’m sure the Whiz Bang works just as good. Actually we watched a couple videos on You Tube of Whiz Bangs and it seems just as good as the Featherman. But, now that we can pluck a chicken in nothing flat we are going to need to do something about scalding. So hopefully before next season we’ll have built the Whiz Bang chicken scalder from the plans we got from Herrick.

We are planning on raising more chickens to sell for next year. After butchering some of these I’m not going to be bashful about asking for a good price since they are some superior birds after being on pasture. Best birds we’ve ever raised, without a doubt!
Until Next Time


Blogger Lynn Bartlett said...

Thanks for the great post. We had 2 chicken tractors going this year, and tomorrow we butcher 50 roosters! I am going to pass this blog entry to my sons, as we need to find a better way of watering our chickens.

11:53 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Lynn,
The automatic fountains we got are the “Little Giant” brand. We ordered them on line through Cutlers Supply at

We purchased model 2500, the game bird fountain. It is supposed to water up to 200 birds per bowl. There is a larger one, the 2550, that waters up to 300 birds.

I opted for the smaller bowl because I was mounting our bucket low and didn’t want it too close to the ground. If the bottom of the bowl touches anything it interferes with the valve working properly. It’ll just keep on running and drains your bucket. That happened once with ours even with the smaller bowl. I parked it right on a clump of grass and next time I went out they were completely out of water. Boy were those birds thirsty. I had to throw in an extra bucket of water just so they could all get a quick drink.

Hope all went well with your butchering. Many hands make light work!

Take care and God bless.


11:14 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I noticed your link to the article on the danger of an EMP attack, and thought I'd mention this site: It gives some practical tips on what we can do to be prepared for something like that happening.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:18 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Thanks Jonathan, I went to that site and it sure looks to have some good practical information on how to take some preventative measures.

I've heard of faraday cages before but, was unaware that you could use it to protect electronics from EMP.

Thanks again.


9:33 PM  
Blogger Hogleg said...

I would really like to see how the feed distribution pipe works. What does the feeder look like on the other end and how do you get it to spread out the feed? Does it clog up?

Also, what is the size of the black pipe that makes up the hoops? Do you have any wire under the tarp or just the tarp for protection from predators?


8:21 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi John,

The pipes are simply cut off flat like they are at the top. There isn't any means to spread out the feed. It just piles up on the ground and the chickens do all the spreading.

Occasionally, if the chickens seem extra hungry and mob the food I'll take a couple scoops to the other end and throw it in through the door. None of them goes without, in fact when we started butchering these particular birds over the weekend we found they are a little on the fat side.

We have a feed scoop that fits nicely with the 3" pipe. I'll pour in about 10 scoops in the longer unit and about 7 scoops in the shorter (green) one. During rainy or humid days the feed will stick a little in the pipes.

The longer one doesn't have as steep of an angle as the green one since it is not as tall, so that one sticks more. When I first started using them I'd take a stick and push the feed on down but, in time I found that it would slide down by it's self without pushing it if I just let it be. The green one which is taller never stuck up enough to warrant pushing it.

If I build another tractor I'll probably just use a shorter pipe so I can make a steeper angle. What I did with these is I had bought a 10' foot pipe and cut it in half so the pipe on each tractor is 5' long. They are supported by a 2x4 which is mounted cross ways down low. I cut a V in the 2x4's and tied the pipes down with straps so that they would stay centered and not get pushed around by the chickens.

The gray tarped tractor has just the tarp for protection. I new I was pushing my luck by not putting on chicken wire first but, I was in a hurry to get the chickens in it so I took the risk. A coyote or dog could easily tear through it I imagine. If I had put on wire first wouldn't have had to run the tarp all the way end to end. It would be better to have a spot where they could get some direct sun. A sun porch?

We wanted to use fiberglass sheets like we used on the green one but, it cost more than what we had to spend. I think the fiberglass sheets would make a better covering. Stronger and more durable. The green fiberglass we used on the first one was given to us. Couldn’t beat the price on that. We put that one together our first summer here in 1998. It has stood the test of time. It has metal conduit as hoops. Those also were given to us, already bent and everything.

I think the black pipe is 1,1/4". I'll have to measure it to be sure. I have various sized length's of black pipe that I have collected over the years, throw a way’s collected from our trash business. I like working with it as it is light weight and easy to cut.

I ripped long 1 inch boards to bolt long ways to the pipes as stiffeners’ to tighten up the unit. I used carriage bolts going from top down. Didn't want to use hex head bolt’s because I was afraid the edges might wear through the tarp when the tarp is buffeted by the wind.

The Joel Salatin style chicken tractors might be better but, I like to be different. The hoop house seems like a more simple design to me but, then again I’ve never tried to build one like Salatin’s.

Now that half our chickens are butchered the green tractor is empty. I thought I might take some more pictures showing more of the details. Hopefully before the week is over I’ll get a chance to do that so keep checking in.

Hope this is helpful.


8:03 PM  
Blogger John said...

Thanks Russ. That helps a lot...

6:19 AM  
Anonymous James Morris said...

Great post, Russ. I think I'll give the chicken tractor a try next spring, and see if I can't raise 8 or 10 birds on my little half-acre yard.

Might need a different design to accommodate the heat, storm and varmint problems native to north central Texas, but I've gotten a few ideas (and several chuckles!) from this chicken tractor page. :-)

James Morris

2:50 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi James,
Thanks for the the link on the chicken tractor page. Lots of neat idea's! I'll make a quick post and include the link. I'm sure there are others who'd like to see it.


6:58 PM  
Blogger deconstructingVenus said...

these pictures and video are very informative. what are the dimensions of your tractor and how many chickens can you keep in them?

9:43 PM  

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