Egg Mobile, Chicken Tractors & Cows on Pasture at Full of Life Farm
Our latest farm hopping adventure took us out to Portland, OR where we were traveling for a friend's wedding. Oregon is a bastion for grass farmers, so we had lots of options to choose from and we were lucky enough to end up at Full of Life Farm with its owner, Bernard Smith.
Although Bernard and his family live in the SF Bay Area, they raise animals in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley and sell the product in both regions (North CA and OR). The Willamette Valley offers an excellent climate for a grass-based farm and Bernard is lucky enough to have a piece of land that his family has owned/farmed for over a century! The farm produces pastured eggs (egg mobile pictured above), meat chickens and turkeys raised on pasture, grass fed and finished beef, as well as pasture raised pork and goat. A lot going on to say the least! In many ways Full of Life's operations are modeled after Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, which incorporates multiple grazing species and promotes humane and sustainable livestock production.
One of the more interesting aspects of our visit was Bernard's twist on pastured broiler chickens (i.e. chickens for meat, not eggs). When meat chickens are raised on pasture they typically spend their lives in or around some form of "chicken tractor". Broadly speaking, a chicken tractor is floorless shelter that is moved everyday to fresh pasture. The birds get to scratch around in the dirt and enjoy a life out of doors in the sunlight and we get to enjoy healthy, pasture-raised chicken. Bernard clearly appreciates the concepts to be taken from someone like Joel (animals raised outdoors, animals consistently moving to new pasture, humane treatment, etc), but Bernard also gave it his own flare. His "chicken tractors" are not anywhere near the same as what Joel uses at Polyface. Here's a visual comparison:
His birds have ample room to roam, flap around and generally enjoy themselves. Birds in smaller chicken tractors can be a little cramped once they put on some weight. There's no such problem in one of these high-rise shelters. A primary concern with chicken tractors of this size is that they'll blow away. Bernard's design allows wind to flow through the retractable sides and also vent out the front and back. The units are moved in a very similar fashion to 'traditional' chicken tractors: pulling ropes and dragging it to a fresh bed of grass.
In another departure from Salatin-style tractors, Bernard lets his chickens run free outside of the shelter. During the day the chickens can roam around, find a nice dust-bath and help sanitize the pasture by eating fly larvae and other grubs. Overall, I enjoyed seeing Bernard's set-up. It's obviously more expensive and difficult to construct, but it's also a better environment for the chickens. Each farmer falls along a different part of the path when it comes to determinig just how far to go to provide the environment they want for their animals. We know one thing for sure, debating styles of pasture-raised chicken tractors is a good debate to be having! If only more chickens were raised outside and fed a natural diet.
Which chicken tractor do you like? If you've built one, or currently use one, what style did you choose and why?
The rest of our time was spent perusing the egg mobile (more pics below), tossing some grass to the pigs and hanging out with his beautiful horse and the other farm animals. The goats were in a far away pasture and we didn't have the time to make the trek, maybe next time. It was a great day out at Full of Life Farm and we're thankful for Bernard letting us tag along!
More photos from the trip: