You’ve seen it all: grass-fed, cage-free, free-range, grass-finished, grain-finished, pastured, organic… do these all have different meanings? Which one is the best? We raise pastured chicken and we want you to understand what that means so you know just how good the meat on your plate is!
Pastured meat is when the animal was raised on a grassy piece of land – a pasture. In some cases, this means the animals are confined by a fence. In others, like ours, it means they are in moveable, bottom-less shelters on pasture. These shelters are moved every day to fresh pasture.
Grass-fed means the animal must have continuous access to grass during the growing season, and it must be their sole source of food after weaning. This term is typically used to describe beef since chickens (except for some heritage breeds) and pigs need to eat a fair amount of grain to get enough calories to survive.
Cage-free means that the animal (typically chicken) was not raised in a cage. This often means the chicken still lived in crowded, dirty, stuffy chicken barns – just packed in with other chickens, not in a cage.
Free-range means that the animal must have access to the outdoors. That is the USDA regulation for the term. Often, this means that a “free-range chicken” is raised in a huge chicken barn with thousands of other chickens – but they do have a little run outside where they are allowed to venture out. This does not mean they ever go outside, however.
Grass-finished is a term that applies to beef. Some beef is grass-fed up until the last 90 days of its life, when it is switched to grain-fed to fatten it up quickly (this is still classified as “grass-fed,” however). Grass-finished beef, however, is on pasture its whole life and is not finished on grain.
Grain-finished is the opposite of grass-finished. It means that the beef is fed grain during the final period of time before processing, whether or not it was on pasture previously.
Organic is a term that is highly regulated by the USDA. Organic food is raised without the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, feed additives, or GMOs. While this sounds like a good thing, much of the organic produce and meats for sale today were raised in similar fashion to conventional food – for example, an organic chicken confinement house can look exactly the same as a conventional one. Those chickens simply get organic feed and are not fed artificial antibiotics. Our chicken is not certified organic. We call it “beyond organic” because we go above and beyond the regulations and truly care about how our animals are raised.
After using a Salatin-style chicken shelter last year and having problems with low ventilation, we decided to use a different model and utilize cattle panels and tarps for the roof.
We built three shelters – two 8 ft. x 10 ft. and one 12 ft. x 10 ft, and both about 5 ft. 6 in. at the peak. Here’s how we did it!
First Judah built the bottom frames. The smaller shelters (pictured here), were 8 ft. x 10 ft. and the larger one was 12 ft. x 10 ft. Judah used cross braces in the corners, notching them to make them very strong.
The top and sides of the shelter are formed by two 16 ft. x 50 in. cattle panels (we used three for the larger shelter). Using a Sawzall, Judah cut the cattle panel so it would fit over the frame and brace, like so.
He tacked it in place with a few staples and then bent the panel into a hoop, held together by the frame. We did the same with the second panel and secured them with more staples.
We used wire to attach the two panels together along the middle seam. Then Judah built the door frames. Here is what the top and bottom of the door frames look like.
Next came the back of the shelter! We used part of a cattle panel for this, even though it didn’t come all the way to the top. We used wire to keep it in place and then Judah cut the panel to the shape of the shelter. Then Judah made a brace up the middle for extra support.
I attached 1/2 in. hardware cloth all around the outside, going 2 ft. up the sides. I used zip ties, but wire would work too! The hardware cloth stops predators from reaching inside and grabbing chickens, which they can do through regular chicken wire.
Next I put chicken wire on the remaining parts of the front and back walls using zip ties, overlapping a few inches of the hardware cloth.
Meanwhile, Judah made doors. The wire running diagonally across the door is to keep it square as time goes on.
I ended up putting hardware cloth on the entire door (instead of hardware cloth on the bottom and chicken wire on the top) because it was just the right width to run vertically up the doors.
We put a variety of different latches on the doors, experimenting and using what we had, but I didn’t take any pictures of them.
I was hoping to find 8 ft. x 14 ft. tarps, but we ended up using 12 ft. x 16 ft. tarps for both size shelters. As logic would have you think, the larger shelter that has less tarp coverage is favored by the birds in warmer weather because it has more ventilation. The smaller shelters with more tarp coverage are better for cold nights.
We didn’t quite perfect our technique for tying the tarps onto the shelters, but here is what we did. The tarps were too big to provide enough ventilation for the small shelters so we folded one edge under a few times to shorten the tarp. Then, since the grommets on the edge of the tarp were hidden, we used cap nails to attach that side to the frame. And a final note on tarps – these are light-duty tarps but they ended up with holes where wires and zip ties poked through, so next time we’d use medium to heavy-duty tarps.
Then we drilled two large holes in the front and two in the back of the frame and tied a rope handle on. This is to lift the shelter in the back when you’re sliding a dolly under it (the dolly provides temporary wheels to make it easier to move) and in the front where you’ll be pulling it forward. It’s good to slide a piece of hose on top of the rope to protect your hands. We used pieces of semi-flexible pipe because we didn’t have an hose on hand.
Then we rigged up a watering spot. We have gravity-flow waterers that are fed from a 5-gallon bucket so we had to suspend the bucket above the waterers. This is what Judah rigged up, and it’s working well so far! One nice thing about this setup is that we can refill the 5-gallon bucket in the shelter from outside the shelter by pouring through the chicken wire.
So there you go! That’s how we made our sturdy and relatively inexpensive shelters.
Dry. 90-95ºF. Not drafty. Well-ventilated. Easily accessible for humans. Totally predator-proof.
These are words that get tossed around a lot when talking about chick brooders, and there’s a reason! Chicks are fragile and if even one of these areas is lacking, you will know because some of your chicks will be quiet, lethargic, and, possibly, dead. But the good news is that there are good brooder models out there. Judah used this model as his inspiration, changing a few things like adding a plywood floor and a metal roof that opens in two sections.
We needed space for 200 chicks, so about 100 square feet. We made it 8’x12′ and originally planned on putting it on concrete blocks or a trailer so it would be off the ground and harder for predators to get to. However, we ended up keeping it right where we built it and it turned out sturdy enough to keep predators out even though it’s just sitting on the ground.
Although we could have put the plywood sides on the outside of the studs to make it look nicer, we opted to put them inside to make for easier cleaning. And yes, we were working on the brooder late into the night. We were some very tired people…
It’s interesting to watch Judah build this brooder and also watch him build our house (on the left in this picture). Our mindset about the house is that we should build it as well as we possibly can, using quality materials and expecting it to last. Our mindset about building farm structures like this brooder (and later, chicken shelters) is that it doesn’t have to be pretty or expensive – it just has to be good enough to serve the purpose. So Judah didn’t spend an excessive amount of time trying to get the brooder perfectly square – it’s not square, in fact. But the chicks don’t mind because they’re still dry, whether the brooder is square or not and whether we used some fancy roofing or just screwed on roofing metal scraps. 🙂
The supports used to prop up the roof just lay on the ground when they’re not being used – they’re not attached. And note the handles on each side of the roof – those are super handy because the roof is heavy. We don’t have to tie the roof down or anything (to keep coons out or the wind from blowing it open) because of the heavy roof!
One thing I might change if we made a second brooder is to make it a little taller. I have to work with the bedding and occasionally step inside to do something, and it’s not too comfortable to crouch that low. Also, once when I had the roof open I found a chick perched up on the edge, which would be remedied by taller walls.
In all, I love this design so far! The chicks have been living in the brooder for almost two weeks and they’re happy.
P.S. If you’re on Instagram, check our page out! I post pictures of farm happenings almost daily on there. 🙂
They have arrived! 204 tiny fluffballs came in the mail on April 13th. These are cornish cross chicks, which is a meat breed. I counted them and dipped each little beak in sugar water (this gets them started on the right foot by helping to hydrate and energize them until they find the food and water on their own) then spent some time watching them as they got used to their new home.I actually hung out in the brooder for a bit… It’s a good practice to spend time watching your animals regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly, but the only time I’d recommend actually hanging out in the brooder is within the first hour….. while the bedding is still clean. 😉 The chicks are super curious and aren’t very afraid of people for the first day or two, as you can see here! This little guy wanted to take a selfie, so I obliged. This is the brooder! Judah built it in a few nights and the chicks are happy, warm, dry, and safe. Next up will be a post all about the brooder – stay tuned!