Just look at those girls out there basking in their beds of ruffled leaves. Our chickens are living the good life. Seriously, they have it made.
The girls spent much of their first year completely free-ranging around our property. They could go anywhere they wanted, and did so with great enthusiasm, until...they started digging up my perennials. Once the roots of my beloved plants started flying, the girls were rounded up, and locked away behind the fence.
Behind the fence is a pretty nice place to be. It's a huge electrified yard, and within that yard, is another smaller yard that houses their coop. They have the run of the place.
We regularly supply their coop yard with fresh hay, which they absolutely love. The hay serves multiple purposes. It provides the girls with hours of entertainment as they scratch, and flip the straw over and over and over again until all of the seeds have been consumed. The straw also keeps them off the dirt/mud/muck, and generally helps keep the coop yard feeling clean (well, clean for a coop yard). After a week or two (or three, depending on the season), the straw is raked up, and taken directly to the garden to be used as seed-free-poop-infused garden mulch. We thickly layer this nitrogen rich mulch around plants, and along our garden paths. It fertilizes the plants, regulates the moisture, and helps prevent weed growth. The only poop that goes into the compost for a bit more processing is what we rake from directly under the coop (under their roosts), everything else goes straight to the garden.
It's been a good year in the chicken yard. This spring, however, the grass has been struggling to grow back. Muddy patches leftover from winter were still muddy, and generally the yard was looking over-grazed. We have great plans to double the size of this yard with another permanent fence, but that project isn’t happening this season. In the meantime, to give the girls more space to graze while the yard recovers, (I seeded it with clover) we purchased two moveable poultry fences. These things are great, and like hoop houses in the garden, I can't believe we didn't get them sooner.
Moving the fences isn't exactly easy. It takes the two of us over an hour to get it moved to a new pasture area. Routing it around shrubs and trees, and making it escape proof takes some time. As does hauling over the nesting box, and water. But all that's okay.
The exciting part happens each morning as I open the coop yard gate, and the girls race after me as I run across the yard shaking a tub of grains, leading them to their new grazing yard. Without fail, two or three, or four will get distracted by a fresh patch of clover, and get left behind. But the rest of them spend their days scratching, feasting on grubs, grasshoppers, seeds and whatnot, and lounging in the shade of shrubs. Late afternoon, we do the round-up again, and they chase me, or the Girl (she likes the round-up best), back to the coop yard to be safely locked up for the night. They waste no time getting back to work on that straw.
In the last month that we've been rotating pastures, the girls have cleaned out the upper half of our vegetable garden. We then moved the fence out to the front meadow, next they spent a week in the blackberry patch. This week, the girls have been hanging out down in the lower meadow, which is absolutely stunning, a golden sea of blooming ragwort.
It’s an excellent life, I’d say. And I think they agree.