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Joel Salatin's laying hens


A few weeks ago, I regaled you with a summary of Joel Salatin's broiler chicken operation.  This post continues the story by looking in on his Eggmobiles, which house laying hens on pasture.

Although most of us won't be able to recreate Salatin's success, it's worth understanding how he's able to raise laying hens while spending only 33% as much on feed as the average egg-producer does.  Here are the key factors in Salatin's layer operation:

  • Non-hybrid breeds --- Salatin raises Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Black Australorps.  Even though they only average about five eggs apiece per week, he believes that these heavier birds experience less strain per egg since they lose a smaller percentage of their body weight with each egg.
  • Young hens --- After the chickens have been laying for two years, Salatin kills his layers and sells them as stewing fowl.  This keeps egg production high and the operation economical.
  • Free choice chicken feedFree choice food --- Hens in the Eggmobile enjoy a buffet of whole corn, oats, meat and bone meal, and oyster shells in separate compartments.  Since they get plenty of protein from pasture, most of the chickens' storebought feed consists of cheap grains.  The feed analysis I listed earlier in the post is a bit misleading --- if you weighed the amount of feed you give each laying hen and the amount Salatin gives each of his hens, he wouldn't be feeding only 33% as much.  However, since Salatin's birds focus more on ingredients like corn, his feed cost is only a third as high.
  • Plenty of bug-filled pasture --- This is the real reason most of us can't replicate Salatin's results.  He keeps about 100 birds in each Eggmobile, letting them free range as far as they want (about 600 feet), then moving the coop every three or four days.  Since Salatin rests each pasture area for four weeks before letting chickens back on it, one Eggmobile ends up covering about 50 acres each year, or half an acre per bird.  Also keep in mind that Salatin's pasture is home to cows, so the chickens get plenty of fly maggots in the manure.

Although it's not relevant to the discussion of lowering feed costs, I thought you might also like to know that Salatin solves the winter chicken pasture problem by simply moving his hens to hoop houses full of deep bedding.

I like to look at systems like this as an incentive to make our homestead-scale pastures even better.  No, we don't have cows and 50 acres of pasture, but surely we can use some of Salatin's techniques and a bit of ingenuity to lower our feed costs at least a little.  Stay tuned as I continue to experiment with the backyard-scale chicken pasture.

Our chicken waterer makes any pasture operation easier by providing lots of clean water.

This post is part of our Pastured Poultry Profits series.  Read all of the entries:

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Where can one obtain meat-and-bone meal for poultry? Every feed store I've queried has told me that due to the mad cow scare, that cannot be obtained for feed anymore.
Comment by Karen mid-morning Saturday, June 16th, 2012
Karen --- Hmmm, I haven't gone looking for it, so I can't really help you. But you might try getting plain bone meal (which I believe is relatively easy to find) and then adding a different source of meat scraps. Maybe go to your local slaughterhouse and see if you can get some sort of offal?
Comment by anna Monday evening, June 18th, 2012
I think this system would come in handy especially with those with space to also do the cows or other animals may the pigs.
Comment by Patrick early Monday morning, August 8th, 2016

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