Originally Posted by bruceha2000
I would add a fourth group - open air with commercial feed and as much range as they care for daily. Those would be my 16 chickens. They have a converted horse stall coop in an old barn. The other stalls and the barn alley are their indoor run. The PulletShut door on the coop opens and closes with the sun, I open the barn doors some time later depending on the season. I'm not up with the sun at 4:30 AM and when there is snow on the ground they choose to stay inside so no rush for me to go out in the cold. They have free run of the coop and barn alley all day and unless we have to go somewhere for hours, ~ 2 acres which includes the pond, house and barns that they choose to stay within about 100' of.
In the summer I go through about one 54 oz applesauce jar of commercial layer feed every 3 days (assuming I don't leave it out all day for the woodchucks to decimate). They forage bugs, plants and whatever else they want and eat the commercial feed. They get a bit of BOSS and kitchen scraps every morning and some scratch at roost time. In the winter the feed goes to about 1 jar per day given there is squat to eat outside in the snow. The concept of fully free ranging layers would be a joke in Vermont. Summer? Sure, Spring? Not until April/May, Fall? They would be hurting come November. Winter - HAH! Dead chickens. Free range summer broilers? Yep that would work and probably make for a healthier bird.
There is NO question that the yolks of my birds' eggs are much more yellow orange than battery cage eggs even in the winter. I have no idea about the nutrient content, the girls do not follow labeling laws.
Yes, I agree, that would be a good fourth group.
My birds definitely have beautiful dark yolks and thick whites vs. the pale watery things you get from the store, and the main factor for me would have to be fresh air and sunlight (even in my rainy Oregon) with exercise all day long foraging what they can get on a moderate 1/3 acre with occasional table scraps and scratch thrown to them in the mornings. All my customers and friends blessed with my eggs remark how beautiful, colorful and tasty they are compared to store bought.
I use commercial layer feed (Nutrena) with a bit higher protein in winter as they have very few bugs then. If I can keep the rat factor out (which definitely skews results), I use noticeably less feed during the summer and more during the winter as the birds bug forage on what is predominately fresh bark chips/composted shavings/soil and lots of chicken manure....that becomes super rich loam which my garden friends drool over, coming every spring, buckets and shovels in hand, to gather cheerfully, turning over and cleaning my runs for me. (There's a bit of ol' Tom Sawyer in my soul, yup.)
Even my daughter drools over my chicken yard soil and would haul a load back to her Tennessee organic, sustainable vegetable farm, if she could....so I suspicion bugs are plentiful during the summer even on my limited property (although I admittedly have never crawled around digging in my soil to count them).
Edited by Lady of McCamley - 1/20/16 at 6:37pm