The chickens and hens are already outside and soon the turkeys, ducks and geese will join them. They will all be outside enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and green grass.
There are a lot of family farms in Alberta that are committed to raising chickens outside and have adapted to the challenges that come with raising chickens outdoors. These farmers believe that chickens are meant to be outside and do better when allowed to access the fresh air, green grass, bugs, grubs, dirt and sunshine. Our goal is to raise birds humanely outdoors and we have spent many years refining our model of raising pastured poultry. It is possible to raise birds outdoors but it is a continual learning curve. Recognizing then analyzing the challenges, creating a solution, learning and moving forward is the only way you can approach farming. We teach our family and staff to recognize the challenges and take appropriate actions.
We are now going into our 21st year of raising chickens outdoors in moveable chicken shelters. We are now on our 5th version of chicken shelters and the shelters we now have work very well but we’re always looking at making improvements. We now use a shelter and range combination that is 48 ft. long by 15 ft. wide by 6 ft. 3 inches high. We use metal roofs over our shelter and range to keep the rain and direct sun off of the birds and also protect them from aerial predators. The walls of the range area of the shelter is covered with 2 inch stucco wire and the shelter area has plywood walls. The shelter is also heavy and
Excessive rain and extreme heat challenge us the most. When we have excessive rain (like last Wednesday) we dam the sides of the shelters with natural wood shavings to keep water from flowing into the shelters and then spread shavings on the ground to keep the birds up off any wet ground. If the rain is very heavy or the wet weather persists for many days we don’t move the shelters and keep placing more shavings on the ground to keep the birds comfy and dry. In extreme heat (above 32 to 34 degrees C) we mist our birds with water every couple of hours to keep them cool. This gets the birds moving and keeps them active. We will also move the chicken shelter a second time in the afternoon so the grass and ground will help keep them cool. The plywood walls on the shelter helps keep the direct sun off of the chickens so there isn’t any thermal warming. When we first made this version of the chicken shelters we had used corrugated plastic on the walls but found that we were making a greenhouse and it was very hot. The shelter has a screen door on the front and the range part is wide open so any wind will create a vacuum and pull the hot air out of the shelter. If the forecast is for +35 degree weather, we have to be prepared and have a game plan including making sure all of our equipment is ready.
The water supply for our shelters is on a pressure pump and is supplied from our dugout with a pasture pipeline system. Many producers still haul water which is very time consuming and labor intensive. For feed we use 50 lb. tube feeders that are filled manually daily. Feed is brought to the field with our tractor and feed wagon.
We move the shelters ahead every day with our small tractor to save labor. They are moved slowly so the birds can move along with the shelter.
We are a predator friendly farm so we protect our poultry flocks by using an electric netting around our shelters. The predators that we have on our land have been trained to respect the electric netting. Because of the use of this electric netting fence and our shelters and ranges having mesh sides and a solid roof we have not had any problems with both ground and aerial predators for many years.
We have a very unique way of raising poultry and we feel that chickens raised outdoors in the sunshine have a happier life living on green grass, eating free choice grains and having the odd grasshopper as dessert.
Thanks for supporting us and our outdoor happy chicken farm.
Ron, Sheila and Isaac