Pastured Poultry Equipment and Stuff
"How the heck do you do that?"
We are often asked where we learned to raise poultry in the fashion that we do. Our primary inspiration came from what many consider to almost be the Bible of the Pastured Poultry movement, Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin. Joel explains in detail his operation and his frankness about the ups and down of the entire process is refreshing. Another almost inexhaustible supply of knowledge on Pastured Poultry can be found online at the Pastured Poultry Newsgroup <Link to Newsgroup>. We owe the majority of our success to these two sources. The rest we had to learn slowly, and sometimes painfully, but it has been a journey well worth making.
And now the "Stuff":
Both the Broilers and Layers are raised in a brooder built from 2x4s and OSB sheets. The brooder is only about 4' tall, which helps to retain the heat, and is 8' square. Why 8 feet? Because the 2x4's were 8' long of course! Actually it worked out well since our 4'x4' Hover fits neatly inside. The whole thing is mounted on skids cut from landscape timbers so that it can be moved around. On warm summer days, there is a hinged panel on one side that can be opened for ventilation. Since the door is almost an entire half of the roof and quite heavy, it has been counter-weighted with a rope, two pulleys and a cinder block so that it will stay at open at any point you leave it. This makes it light enough to lift that our 12 year old daughter has no problem opening it, while being heavy enough to prevent anything as small as a chicken from bumping it open. A bungee cord secures it at night, just in case the dogs get curious. We use 4-6 inches of pine shavings on the floor and set the feeders and waterers on paving stones set down in the litter so that they are a bit more stable. And in the off-season it doubles as a warming pen for orphaned lambs!
The Hover was built from plans supplied by the Ohio Agriculture Station circa 1942. The Hover is 4'x4'x18" and fits perfectly into our Brooder. Which worked out well since the Hoover was built a couple seasons before the Brooder. The legs provide about six inches of clearance above the litter and as the chicks grow we raise it about 2" once a week by slipping paving stones under the legs. The Hover has two sockets in it and depending on the weather we can use infrared heating bulbs, regular heat lamps, or once the weather warms, regular light bulbs. It all depends on the weather and the number of chicks. We have used a large dial thermometer to keep track of the temperature the last few years, and it has worked well, but this year we are going to try a remote thermometer. It is designed to sit inside and tell you what the weather is outside, but the range is enough that we can monitor the brooder temperature from our kitchen. If it works as planned, no more running outside in the middle of the night just to check the temperature one last time. The plans for the Hover are great, but we have made one modification. We braced across the middle with a 2x4 to add stability and then cut the top into two and hinged it off the 2x4. With a couple handles, you can now open the top of the Hover and check the chicks hiding underneath as well as change out light bulbs. With the space in our brooder being a little tight with the Hover and 100+ chicks inside, this modification has made a huge difference in accessibility. <link to Hover Plans>
There are numerous types out there now ranging from wood with metal roofs to PVC to snap together kits for those with seriously deep pockets. Joel Salatin's pens are roughly 8'x10'x18", but we found we needed a bit more ventilation in our South Texas summers. As such, we borrowed a design from the Pasture Poultry Newsgroup.
We start with two 52"x16' welded wire cattle panels flat on the ground. We fasten two of the long ends together to give us a panel approximately 9'x16' in size. We attach a 10' 2x4 to each of the 9' ends with fencing staples, and then lift the middle up so that it bows in the shape above. We take two more 10' 2x4's that have been notched about 6" in from each end and drop them across the front and the back, slipping the notches over the 2x4's we just attached to the wire, locking it all in place. This gives us a pen about 9' square and 6' high in the middle. A door is framed in, the back re-enforced with bracing, and a single piece of 1/2" angle iron, or another 10' 2X4 runs from front to back to stiffen the roof. Depending on my time and or patience for the task, I either spot weld or wire the angle iron to the cattle panels. Around the lower 3 feet of the pen, 1/2 inch poultry wire is J-clipped to the cattle panels and stapled to the wooden pieces. The top of the front and back are finished with Poultry wire. The cattle panels are covered with a tarp that ends about 12 inches from the ground on the sides, so that it overlaps the poultry wire by about 2 feet, and it is secured to the cattle panels.