Stocking density gets a lot of air time, and lobbyist groups do their best to ensure that the images of chooks roaming in grassy paddocks, set the standard for ‘true free range’. But, in reality the issue of stocking density is far more complex than most realise. For example, at 1500 birds per hectare, is that with 50% of the birds inside the shed and 50% outside, or 60% in 40% out, or 60% out and 40% in?
This also doesn’t take into account issues such as range use. We at GreenEggs, invest a lot of resources into ensuring that our yards are effectively utilised by the birds, after all they could have all the space in the world but if they don’t go outside to use it, what’s the point? The reality is that like us, not all the hens like to go outside and they are never all outside at the one time. We try to ensure our hens that do like to go out have shelter in the form of trees and shrubs, so that they always feel secure, and in this way more of them actually venture out in the first place. Similarly it is worth noting that although our ranges have grass in them most of the year, chickens cannot actually digest grass very well, so the worms and bugs they find when foraging are of much more value to them than access to grassy paddocks. Chickens cannot survive on a diet of pasture alone. We also have Maremma's (Italian Guard dogs) that live with them at all times to help keep foxes away, and give the girls a sense that someone is looking out for them.
Another issue is of course the weather, all of these factors influence our hens and how much they want to be outside. So, although stocking density is a complex issue, we believe that our rate of less than 1500 hens per hectare, combined with our range set up, results in our hens being truly happy, and importantly always able to engage in their natural behaviours.
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