We’ve gone back & forth about keeping a rooster here at Seven Trees. After all, hens don’t need one around to lay eggs, they can be aggressive with both hens and people, they’re another mouth to feed….then there’s that whole crowing thing. But if you want to be self-suffcient in chickens, you need a rooster. And a good rooster watches out for the ladies, warns them about predators, points out tasty food bits, and performs entertaining courtship dances. Enter Chewbacca, a 7 month old Black Copper Maran rooster…
We opened up a new grazing paddock, full of grass and clover and all kinds of chicken treats (bugs). Chewie managed to keep an eye on everyone while gulping down fresh greens as fast as he could.
Most foodies and animal-aware people are familiar with terms like ‘free range’, ‘grass fed’, ‘cage free’, and ‘pastured’. The US doesn’t define or regulate any of those descriptions, so you could be paying a lot of money for eggs that are laid by hens kept like this: We’re still learning and improving on flock management method for our gals. We want to find a balance between ease of care, financial investment, carrying capacity of our land, personal enjoyment, and quality of life for the hens. If you google “pastured poultry”, you’ll find a lot of links and pictures of hens in small portable coops that are frequently moved across open areas, and usually fenced with electronetting. Instead of being a free-ranging paradise, the reality is often much like this blogger describes. I mean yeah, technically they’re on ground, eating what they can forage, but it doesn’t seem very nice.
Instead of following the chicken tractor or day range methods, we’ve discovered what works best for us, and our hens, is what’s called ‘semi-intensive’ management. We have a fixed coop which is easier to heat in winter and keep safe from predators. The hens are shut in a night, and let out into a central yard with food, shelter and water, and this yard opens into grazing paddocks that are rotated depending on time of year and number of hens. This season, the paddocks will be made of step-in posts and deer netting, but next year we will start building permanent ones, since we have a better feel for how many hens we can comfortably support. Having a solid coop for roosting and laying helps keep predators like possums, coyotes and raccoons at bay. Hard perimeter fencing and good guard dogs do the rest. Many pastured poultry operations use finicky electronet for predator deterrent and flimsy day-range shelters for housing. This enables them to stock hens at a high rate, but not safely, and not very comfortably based on our observation of local operations.
Since putting Chewie to work, the hens (even the old biddies) have started to lay at a higher rate. They are more active in grazing, scratching for bugs, and seem to enjoy being guarded by him. We’ve had a few roosters over the years that were just plain mean, but this guy is a sweetie, even letting us pick him up to pet.
Another bonus is that the Black Copper Maran breed, when crossed with the right strain of Ameraucana, produces a hen that lays dark olive eggs speckled with brown. We hope to try raising a few of these next year.