Chickens are one of those things that, from a farming perspective, you either hate or you barely tolerate to the best of your ability. Sure, on their best day they can be fun to have around – chickens pecking around the farmyard is about as close to the pastoral ideal as you can get. But on the day-to-day chickens that are allowed to be outside and walking around are a nuisance. They NEVER stay where they’re supposed to be, and they constantly find new and horrible ways to kill themselves. But despite the hassle of raising them free range there is still considerable demand for their meat and eggs, and raising chickens outside – the way they were meant to live – is an important part of agriculture in America.
One of the things that people don’t always realize is that there are in reality two distinct types of chickens in a multi-animal farm. One type, the meat birds, are usually raised on pasture in chicken tractors (made famous by Joel Salatin) that allow the birds to be moved to fresh grass every day where they can peck around and gain muscle relatively quickly and in decently large numbers. The other type are the layers, pampered hens usually raised either in movable coops or right in the farmyard itself. These birds are looked after constantly, with their every need seen to. The reason is simple, eggs from free-range organically fed chickens are big money. I used to sell pastured chicken eggs at a farmer’s market for $8/dozen and they would be the first thing we’d sell out of. I’ve seen well-dressed Manhattanites fight over the last carton of eggs.