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Range poultry housing
Robert Plamondon
Historically, free range in poultry meant that the chickens were either totally unfenced or were kept in a field so large that the fences had little effect on their movement. This was in contrast to yarding, which uses fences to confine the chickens to a smaller area than they would normally use, or confinement, which denies them any access to the outdoors. More recently, the term "free range" has been stretched and overused so much that its meaning is almost lost. The new term pastured poultry was introduced by Joel Salatin to distinguish birds in pens moved daily to forage on growing plants, as opposed to being kept in confinement or on "mud-yard free-range."


Until sometime in the 1950s, most chickens in the U.S. were raised on a grass range in the spring and summer, usually in portable range shelters that were moved with a tractor from time to time. The cockerels (young male chickens) were sold as broilers, and the pullets (young females) were kept for egg production. In parts of the country with a mild climate, such as the Pacific Coast, the pullets might be kept on range all winter. In harsher climates they were moved into permanent laying houses in the late fall.


Range provided the growing chickens with plenty of room. Sunshine and green plants gave them high levels of vitamins. The dispersed nature of free-range flocks minimized disease, parasites, and crowding-related behavioral problems, none of which could be treated effectively at the time. The chicken manure was applied directly to the pasture, orchard, or cropland on which the chickens were housed. The chickens provided some of their own feed by foraging.


Portable houses are subject to blowing over in high winds, sometimes with disastrous results to both chickens and houses. It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of a wind-proof housing design. I know a farmer with more than a thousand free-range hens who gave up the business after his houses all blew away in a sudden windstorm.


Some housing designs are much more windproof than others, for no readily apparent reason, though lower, heavier houses will generally be more windproof than taller, lighter houses. If possible, always choose a design that someone else has tested for at least a year in exposed locations.


Staking down the houses works quite well, but this is tedious in houses that are moved frequently. Staking down just one corner of the house has worked well for me.


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Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

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