I was asked about free run eggs again yesterday. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met who are confused as to what the term means. Some people think it means living in a situation like Old McDonald used to have….a few hens, scratching in the yard in the daytime, and trooping obediently into a quaint coop (up a ramp, no less!) for the evening. The farm-wife gathers the dozen eggs or so into her apron before she does the laundry and cooks the meal (Old McDonald wasn’t big on equality).
Unfortunately (or, in many ways, fortunately), this is not reality. Remember, you city folks want to be able to grab eggs at your convenience, in whatever store you are closest to. It takes a lot of aprons full of eggs to make that happen.
I was in a free run barn a couple of days ago. I took some pictures to show y’all what it looks like inside a professional free-run barn. This is a fairly new barn, run by owners who are VERY diligent and innovative. The barn has a solar powered heat pump gizmo that reduces the amount of propane needed to keep the barn warm, and makes the barn more eco-friendly. The ventilation is designed to minimize electricity usage, and the design and materials are state of the art….as good as anywhere in the world…..at the risk of being labelled a “chicken geek”, this barn is seriously cool.
The barn holds more than 15,000 birds. This is about average for a free-run barn, and is near the minimum size that makes things like the heat exchanger, computerized ventilation and modern equipment feasible. The birds have a fair bit of room, plenty of perch space, nest boxes and automatic feeders and waterers. As you can see in the pictures, however, they choose to “flock together” to what seems an extreme amount. I see it in most of the barns I’m in….there will be a significant amount of empty barn surrounding a clump of chickens….if we housed them at the density they hang out at, we would be in violation of our code of practice, but since they do it by choice, who is to second guess them?
There is a conveyor belt under the row of nest boxes, and the eggs are carried to the front by this means, so the farmer doesn’t have to get on his hands and knees to reach in each one to grab the eggs…..it also allows him to keep his apron clean, so it will hold more eggs.
Mike the Chicken Vet