Project Free Bird

Discussion in 'Pictures & Stories of My Chickens' started by mattlock1983, Jan 2, 2017.

  1. mattlock1983

    mattlock1983 Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 10, 2016
    Nor Cal

    Question: Can chickens be raised entirely on pasture without any commercial feed?

    Goal: Spend nothing (or as close as possible) on a flock of pastured chickens.

    - Only purchase necessities,
    - attempt to reuse or recycle as much of the project as possible.
    - Any capital expenses must be offset by egg production sales.
    - Expenses will be tracked, current total: $4

    It all started with a blog post. I read a blog by a guy who was attempting to pasture chickens and he wanted to know if it was possible to raise chickens without commercial feed. That question intrigued me, since I had wondered the same thing myself. As life turned out, I ended up working for this same guy and eventually I became the poultry manager of his farm. He had 2k+ birds on 22 acres; however much of that acreage was soon cultivated, leaving very little to no pasture for that many chickens. In that particular case, the answer turned out to be no; no it was not possible to raise chickens without commercial feed inputs. In fact, it turned out to be very expensive to feed that many birds. I have since left that job and moved on to greener pastures, so to speak; but that question has remained with me: is it possible to raise chickens entirely on pasture without commercial feed inputs?


    Recently, life has conspired to put me back into the chicken business. I was offered a position managing a small organic farm, and the opportunity to live on the property. Along with the house came a small flock of old hens, three americanas and ten barred rocks, leftover from the former tenant. They were housed in what should have been the backyard and had been raised on commercial layer feed. My initial intention was to put them on pasture simply to free up the backyard area for a lawn. The property consists of a large vineyard area with lots of forage, where chickens could be pastured in the winter; as well as a large orchard area to pasture them in the summer. On the property there is an old barn that is full of old junk, or treasure, depending on your definition. The first time I went exploring the property, I came across a few items that got me thinking about that question again... Could it be possible for me to raise chickens on pasture with no cost to myself?


    Anyways, inspired by the resourcefulness of my new employers, I set out to build a chicken tractor from recycled parts and spend nothing on the endeavor. It began with the discovery of a small utility trailer frame that had been in the scrap pile on the back of the property. One day, while drinking beer and looking at this trailer, an idea was hatched. The next day, while exploring the old barn on the property, I discovered a cache of wire panels, (the kind used as shelving for merchandise in big box stores) which must have been liberated from behind a home depot by some former tenant. After some minor repairs and removal of the rotted plywood from the trailer, I cut up an old piece of hog panel that I found behind the barn and zip tied it to the trailer frame to form a wire "sub floor". A bunch of 1/4 inch hardware cloth (aka wire mesh) was also found in the barn, so I cut out undamaged pieces to fit and zip tied them to the hog panel. Since chickens do most of their pooping at night, I felt that having a mesh floor was a very important design consideration. This will facilitate cleaning and removal of poop.
    Also found behind the barn were a few old beat up chain link fence panels, the kind used temporarily around construction zones or at outdoor concerts. I figured that I could use them for my pasture operation, so they were wrestled to the build site.


    To attach the wire mesh to the trailer, I used a lot of zip ties. No, I mean a lot of zip ties. In fact, my only expenditure so far has been $4 worth of zip ties.


    The FreeBird Tractor is a work in progress, but I plan to finish it soon.

    The next weekend, while working the farmers market, the vendor in the booth next to ours happened to mention that he had two Rhode Island Red roosters who had been causing him trouble and that he needed to get rid of one of them. I immediately offered to take the rooster off his hands, with the intention of crossing him with the barred rocks to make black sexlinks. Since I already own an incubator, I decided that this will be the cheapest way of quickly building a flock for pasture. The old hens are not currently laying yet, but I am planing on going to pick up the new rooster sometime this week anyways. Their new tractor has a light bulb installed in it (yep, found one in the barn) so I plan to give them supplemental lighting once they move into it.

    my interwebz is being very slow tonight, so ill upload more pics tomorrow
    To be continued
    1 person likes this.
  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    For sure it can be done - that's how most people keep chickens in the Africa, for example. Egg productivity is likely to be considerably lower however. I would have thought that heritage or landrace breeds may be more suited to being raised in this manner. Better still, popping across the border to get some landrace chickens may be even better [​IMG]
  3. FluffyWyandot

    FluffyWyandot Chillin' With My Peeps

    definitly an interesting idea!
  4. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    Depends on quite a lot of factors, the primary one being quality of forage. That means variety and lots of it, not just pasture. Mowed areas will be where they get their greens, areas left to go to seed will be grain sources. Berry patches provide shelter from predators and food. Compost and heavy leaf litter will be where they forage for insects, their primary protein source. Another issue is predation. Chickens need spots to take cover under so that they can escape birds of prey. The more areas you have for them to take cover, the safer they will feel ranging away from the coop.
    From looking at your property, I'm not seeing a whole lot of variety. They can survive, but they probably won't be very productive birds. I would still have feed available, just to help minimize any potential deficiencies.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by