Last year's chicken farming was a bit of an experiment, to see how we liked it, and how well it fit into the community's food needs/desires. Turns out it was a perfect fit on all fronts: We're sold on the farming thing, we're sold on being part of a local, co-operatively-run abattoir (I'm the new chairwoman!), we're sold on feeding our community locally and ethically produced whole food, and local peeps seem happy with Autumn Farm chicken being a regular part of their diet. Pearl was even interviewed as one of the 'Heroes of 2013' by the local ABC radio! Seriously, we were so proud of this, not least of all because of the other awesome people they picked out.
So yeah, we're going to grow a little. Not heaps - we don't want to overwhelm ourselves, and we don't want to over-burden our land: the aim of the game's regeneration, not overgrazing yo! We're just going to cautiously and slowly seek the balance between demand and what we can happily achieve.
Step one in this journey was constructing a new brooder house. The old brooder house looked alright, but it was way too small and not that easy to work with. It had no insulation, and we found that the chicks had grown out of it by about 2 weeks. As we head into winter, they're going to need to be in the brooder for around 3 weeks, so we knew we had to make something bigger and better to keep those chickies safe and warm.
Being as we are super-keen on the strawbale, we decided to have a go at a rawbale (as in, unrendered) brooder house. The top of the bales are protected from rain by the roof, and the sides perform a bit like thatch, shedding any rain that hits the sides without allowing it to penetrate the bale. We're anticipating the house will last us a couple of years. When it starts to deteriorate, we'll dismantle it and use it as garden mulch. It's 2 courses of bales high (laid on edge), with a panelled recycled tin and laserlite roof, which we can take apart and tilt up as needed for ventilation and temperature control. There's a gas-powered brooder lamp inside to keep the chickies warm. The bales are pinned at the corners with star pickets hammered through the bales and into the ground, and the whole thing is wrapped in chicken wire. So far, it's been great!
|A typical morning inside the brooder house. Yep. They're cute.
The chicks seem very happy in their new, spacious home, though they're still happy for some outside adventuring, which is a relief. It's important that they get a taste for grass/weeds/bugs/dirt as soon as possible, so they don't baulk at the prospect of eating heaps of greenery when they're moved out to pasture full time.
|Autumn Farm chicks, 4 days old, venturing from their rawbale brooder house for the first time
It's a labour-intensive way to farm chickens, there's no doubt about it. And there were times (like after spending an hour and a half carrying the chickens to bed one night when they couldn't find the door to their newly-moved house) when I could definitely see the benefits to raising chickens conventional-style, in a shed. But the rest of the time, as we watched them on the grass, hanging out, doing chicken stuff, foraging, flapping etc, and then when we tasted them, we knew that labour-intensive pasture-raising is THE ONLY WAY TO GO.
Which is why we're doing it some more.