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Photos and text by Debbie Roos, Agricultural Extension Agent.
Mike and Cathy added chickens to their farm in 2002 for a variety of reasons. They recognized the value of animal manure but didn’t want to import manure from off-farm. They also knew that the chickens could play a role in pest management by eating insects and weeds. Mike is responsible for managing the chickens.
Mike and Cathy constructed two egg-mobiles, or moveable hen houses. The hens are closed inside at night for protection from predators and allowed to roam during the day inside a large fenced enclosure. Predators include (but aren’t limited to!) stray dogs, foxes, possums, snakes, and raptors.
The hens act as gleaners – they are pastured in an area that was recently harvested so they can forage for insects, seeds, and weeds. They can also be pastured on cover crops. Portable fencing keeps them confined to the area. Perry-winkle uses electric poultry netting for their fence but they don’t electrify it. The birds rarely attempt to get out, probably because they realize how good they have it!
The chickens are rotated to new “pasture” every few weeks. It takes about 45 minutes to move the egg-mobile with the tractor and set up the new fencing.
Mike gives the hens antibiotic-free feed from a local mill to supplement their diet.
Cathy and Mike used their innovative building skills to construct their egg-mobiles. A hinged door provides easy access for harvesting eggs. This egg-mobile was built on an old wagon chassis.
Mike collected these eggs through the hinged door which provides direct access to the laying boxes.
Laying boxes along the far wall help facilitate egg gathering but the hens also find other places to lay their eggs just to keep Mike on his toes!
The hens lay about 5 eggs a week per hen. Eggs are harvested year-round, although production slows in winter. The eggs are cleaned before going to market.
Mid-March shot of one of the eggmobiles on last year’s pepper crop. These girls have pretty much cleaned up this area and will soon be moved.
All the hens at Perry-winkle are heirloom breeds such as Black Austrolope, Buff Orphington, Barred Rock, and Rhode Island Red. These breeds are well-suited for foraging outdoors. This photo shows a light-colored Buff Orphington and a Rhode Island Red hen.
This is GB, who pretty much “rules the roost” at one of the eggmobiles!
Cathy checks the girls in May. This egg-mobile was built on an old pop-up camper body.
Sometimes the chickens are a little more free-range than you want them to be! These hens exploited a flaw in the fence but were quite happy to be guided back inside the enclosure.