One of the aspects of raising chickens that we have spent a ton of time thinking about is coop design. We want to make sure the birds are comfortable and happy, but we have a noticeable number of predators around here, and we’re also not young and spry (so we need something efficient/that won’t make us bust a gut).
Anna went into this enterprise wanting to use mobile coops. Some advantages to a mobile coop are that (1) it allows the birds to have access to fresh grass (or whatever you put it on–the bottom of the coop is just open) (2) it provides protection from hawks and aerial predators (3) you don’t have to round up the birds at the end of the day (4) you can have mesh in the summer and plastic in the winter to help maintain temperatures for the birds (5) everything happens in that one spot, so egg collection is easy. We built a tall coop so that we can walk right in, and the birds enjoy roosting on the collar ties since they enjoy sleeping as high as possible.
These factors are great, and we have really appreciated them, but there are downsides as well: (1) chickens are blinkin’ efficient, so they quickly eat or chase away the bugs and munch down all the yummy greenery they can eat, so (2) they have to be moved frequently and (3) [whispering] it’s kind of a pain to move our big coops.
While Anna has been mulling over ways to improve our systems, she got to attend Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) in Wisconsin, and ran across the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (Link: https://www.regenagalliance.org/). She was so inspired by the ideas presented that she took a trip to Minnesota to get more information.
Now these people are a big deal. They are doing amazing things. Their big goal is to build regenerative, equitable, and socially just agriculture. Here’s what they say on their website: “We are focused on scaling up a systems-level regenerative poultry solution that restores ecological balance, produces nourishing food, and puts money back into the hands of farmers and food chain workers. To do so requires a completely new supply chain that integrates grassroots organizing of farmers with physical infrastructure and other regeneratively stacked enterprises.” Their website is full of information–especially the blog, and it’s an inspiring read for sure. If you like the idea of improving the fairness and sustainability of the larger industry of poultry, check it out and even consider making a donation to their work: https://www.regenagalliance.org/donate.
We are still figuring out whether and how we might be able to fit with what they are doing, but in the meantime, we are exploring changing some of our practices. We are interested in working toward their idea of raising chickens under a canopy of trees and woody perennials.
As a first step (with many more steps before we are close to their model), we are experimenting with having temporary, mesh fencing around our coops to let the birds have a larger space with more flexibility. If this goes well and we can keep the hawks out of them, we hope to move toward a permanent (or at least less temporary) fencing option that would be large enough to give the birds plenty of cover and forage.
In the meantime, it’s just a delight to watch chickens out being chickens.