Minus a plume.

The 5 resident chickens never left the coop before we moved in last June.  And having never raised chickens before, the first few weeks of our stay didn’t provide those chickens with anything more.  Each time I walked by, I felt a bit guilty.  I knew I wanted to head in the direction of pasture raised chickens, which means chickens that roam around free eating bugs and worms resulting in healthy deep orange yolks and firm whites, but I just didn’t have a clue how to get there.

Until one day, Dad and I passed by on the way up the barn, and I think I just couldn’t bear it anymore.  The conversation went something like this…

Me: “Let’s let the chickens out.

Dad: “Ok.”

And there you have it.

Just like everybody says, as soon as the sun began to set, the chickens walked right back in their coop.  We shut up the door, brushed off our hands and reveled in our chicken’s first official day of freedom.  The second day was similar.  We were getting cocky, until mid-afternoon on the third day when I stumbled upon a pile of feathers that resembled the plume of one of our two roosters.  We looked everywhere.  Nothing.

I worried and felt crushed that my decision resulted in an untimely death.  I didn’t want to go back and change anything, per say, because I still wanted the chickens to roam free, but I wished I was more knowledgeable and could have prevented this from happening.  I emailed my husband in South Africa, and he felt certain it was the neighbor’s dog.  Me, too.

That night, we went out to close up the chicken coop with only 3 hens and 1 rooster.  We were still a rooster short.

We turned to head for home, and what do you know… bolting up the pathway, most certainly sprinting home from the tree he hid in all day long, was the blue & red rooster – minus his plume.  The poor feller looked incredibly pitiful, and it might be my imagination, but I swear his cook-a-doodle-do’s even sounded a bit pathetic.  Poor guy, but man, was I happy to have him home.

The next day, after a bit of mental ping-pong, I let the chickens out again, and we have everyday since.  We still have 5 chickens in the coop, and in fact, one of the hens is currently roosting over 7 fertile eggs.  We will probably lose one someday, but in the meantime, I feel happier about the life we’re allowing for our chickens.  And, I think they feel happier, too.

Got any pasture-raised chicken suggestions?  I could obviously use them!

xo – Organic Spark

15 comments


  • Merina

    I’m no expert for sure. But our organic raw dairy who also raises laying hens uses a great pyranese to guard their hens. If you get them as a puppy and keep them well fed, they are a great chicken friend. Also you can check out http://www.backyardchickens.com/ and ask questions on their message board.
    We have beagles so chickens are out of the question until our pet status changes. They are not good chicken friends ;)

    July 3, 2011
  • I sometimes get tired of hearing about Joel Salatin (only because there are so many farmers doing great things as well), but I think his chicken tractors for moving chickens around pasture while protecting them is genius. Don’t know if it would work for you, but it would be worth looking up, I think, if you aren’t familiar with it.

    July 4, 2011
  • We did the same thing and just let ours out. Sometimes, they start hiding their eggs so we lock them up until later in the morning (10is) and we usually have all of our eggs by then and then we let them out. Our problem is that the chickens have started to congregate at our front door to hang out with us instead of foraging.

    July 4, 2011
  • Awww, poor guy without a plume! Lots to learn on the farm ‘eh? No advice over here – I will learn from you :) xxoo

    July 4, 2011
  • I had no idea they would free roam and then return… but I love that they can! God is sure good at this whole creation thing.:)

    July 4, 2011
  • Good for you for letting them out – you are living the phrase “Coming home to roost!” I just hope Mr Fox doesn’t come calling – Sadly if he gets into the chicken coup he will kill everything and not to eat them.

    July 4, 2011
  • Mom

    I’m just sayin…that is without doubt, thee “shortest” conversation you and Dad have ever had! See what can be accomplished with but a few words? Come on Chickens!

    July 4, 2011
  • Congratulations on free-ranging your chickens! We have learned not to let ours out of their spacious yard too early in the day, or they lay eggs under the house or who knows where else. We let ours out usually midday or midafternoon, and they love it. Two days ago we were surprised by the reappearance of a hen that we had thought had been lost to a predator — with a chick in tow! From the last of the sperm of our last rooster, dispatched a month ago. So, to take advantage of the new mother’s appearance, we rushed to the feedstore and bought 8 more chicks. That night we put them under the mom, and it was instant love. They were cheeping loudly as we carried them in a box to the chicken coop, and the mama hen heard them coming and called out to them, and they bonded instantly.

    The most dangerous time of day is usually late afternoon, so if you want to encourage the birds to come home to the coop a little sooner than they might otherwise, you could start feeding them treats (fruit, veggie scraps, scratch, sunflower seeds, etc.) inside their run in late afternoon every day and soon they’ll come running. We have dogs that aren’t livestock guardians, in fact one ate a chicken early on, but we have trained them to ignore the chickens, and they do patrol the premises for predators, so I think they are in fact helping to keep the chickens safe. Good luck!

    July 4, 2011
    • Molly Chester

      What great advice jeanmarie – thanks! And, I loved your baby chick story. We are hoping to have some by the 15th of this month. I’ll keep you updated, and please do the same for me!

      July 9, 2011
  • I felt sorry for my hens the first year I had them and started letting them free range. It is nice to see them pecking around the yard, but I have lost a lot of flower and veggies and when I don’t leave the door wide open then make a lot of noise until they get their way. So now they get their way most days.

    July 5, 2011
    • Molly Chester

      Ha! Suzy… I hear you. Those birds sure are opinionated.

      July 9, 2011
  • We have six chickens, new to us this year. Because we have coyotes and fox, I free range mine when I am out in the garden or yard with them. Since they instinctively feed closer to twilight, I usually make a date with them in the evening. It is a restful way to end the day.

    I also made a tractor out of an old rectangular sandbox, bending ten foot long conduit in hoops (like a Conestoga wagon) over the top, and covering the whole thing in poultry netting. That way, I put the birds out in the yard near the house during the day.

    Enjoy the birds! I have learned so much this year.

    Diane

    July 7, 2011
    • Molly Chester

      Very inventive Diane! When my husband gets back from S. Africa, we will be building a movable chicken coop. I am looking forward to it! Keep me updated on your chickens! :)

      July 9, 2011
  • Kristen

    I don’t have much to say from experience. You could talk with John DeBruin of Dey Dey’s because he does pasture raised chickens a la Joel Salatin. He is near Buellton. Also, Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA is an AMAZING organic teaching farm. They have chickens but they don’t let them free roam. I’m not sure, but I think they do this because the chickens will peck at too much fruit and veggies. Either that or they’ll bother the neighbors. They have a mobile pen and move them around the fruit orchards, I believe, with flexible netting to keep them in. It’s definitely worth the trip to their farm.
    Best, Kristen

    July 7, 2011
    • Molly Chester

      Thanks Kristen! I will check them out…

      July 9, 2011

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