From Co-op to Coop
We eat a lot of eggs. At first we were buying them at the co-op – kind of silly when you live on a farm, huh? So we decided to get some chickens. Before we could even start looking, a neighbor stopped by asking if we’d take 40 chicks off his hands. Um, yeah? Totally awesome, and the chicks are the coolest little birds ever. But they won’t produce eggs for a while. So we figured we’d buy 30 or 40 egg-laying hens to provide eggs for us and extra to share.
We found a guy in the process of selling his organic chicken farm who was selling his chickens for a buck a bird. So we showed up last week, told him how many we wanted, and started filling up the trailer. After 40, he kept handing them to us and told us to “just take them.” He stopped handing us birds at 100. So….now we have 100 Red Star hens in addition to the chicks, and we’re producing 6-7 dozen eggs a day!!
We bought the birds thinking we’d integrate them into our pasture rotation following the cows. They’d follow behind, eating bugs and scratching the dung. We put them in the coop, and left the door wide open. “Go out and play birds, you have 100 acres to run, hunt, forage, and live the ultimate chicken life!” We thought they’d be excited after life in a feedlot. We were wrong.
These birds came from a 10,000+ bird farm, and although they are organic and “free-range,” They’ve lived their entire lives with their beaks in a grain trough. Sure, they had access to a yard outside to “range,” but their diet was corn and soy from a mechanical feeder. Organic of course. These birds have been bred and their behaviors trained to convert grain into eggs. When we opened the coop doors, they didn’t go outside. They stood by the trough, squawking and demanding food. After a while, they got aggressive, picking at each other and attacking the young chicks. The only way to calm them down was to feed them grain. Lots of it. And grain is expensive! The whole point was to integrate these birds into the farm ecosystem, so they didn’t have to be fed external inputs. What are we gonna do with all these crazy birds!? What are we gonna do with all these eggs??
That was a week ago and now things are getting better. They are starting to come outside more and more. They are becoming less aggressive and much calmer. They are starting to look healthier. Some have made little nests and are laying their eggs underneath hazelnuts and poplars. 100 is still too many for us. Over the next week we’ll be selling and eating some of the birds until we get down to a more manageable (and affordable) number. With the ones we keep, we’ll slowly aclimate them to a life out foraging, gradually bringing down the proportion of grain in their diet. We’ll see how they do, but in the meantime we have lots of delicious eggs to eat!