Benefits of Providing Pasture to Poultry

The benefits of providing chickens opportunity to graze on grass or other vegetation are many, both practical and philosophical.

Starting with the latter category, it follows the natural created order. It fosters what Joel Salatin refers to as “the chickenness of the chicken.” Eschewing the corporate view of chickens as merely egg-producing machines, we who keep backyard flocks desire, to varying degrees, to have relationship with our chickens. We want them to be not only healthy but happy. And what makes a hen happier than nibbling grass, scratching in the dirt, and gobbling fat, juicy bugs?

And that scratching will keep them not only happy, but healthier. Both the nutrients the chickens receive from grazing and the act of foraging itself foster health in the flock. Many diseases that can cause serious problems in confinement operations are virtually non-existent among pastured poultry.

Grazing also promotes the health of the plants being grazed, as long as good management is practiced. The yard or field is being fertilized as it is being mowed. Moving the chicken tractor to a new location daily prevents overgrazing and overfertilizing.

Pastured poultry will still need feed, but good grazing may cut down on the amount they will eat. Comparing the grazed swath with the ungrazed in the picture above is amazing. This is winter wheat, which is providing grazing now with no negative impact on its yield. That’s quite a bit of plant matter that got harvested and turned into eggs.

And what eggs! There’s nothing that compares to a fresh egg from a pastured hen. Not only the taste but the nutrition is better than commercially available eggs. Here is an article from the National Institutes of Health that goes pretty deep on the health benefits of pastured eggs. Here’s one quote: “Providing pasture to hens yields egg yolks with a lower omega-6:omega-3 (n-6:n-3) ratio and significantly greater vitamin A, vitamin E, and carotenoid content compared to egg yolks from caged hens.”

For happy, healthy chickens and eggs that can’t be beat, pastured poultry is the way to go. Add the joy we receive from seeing the girls living it up as God intended, and it’s a win-win-win.