Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

Share on Pinterest


So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website:
Dakota’s “Big Mac”:
Pastured Poultry information:
Chicken photo courtesy of:
Gumbo photo courtesy of:


Benefits of a Chicken Tractor

Share on Pinterest

Backyard chickens have become incredibly popular in the past few years. Self-sufficiency has a lot of appeal to many,s does a regular supply of fresh, organic, cage-free eggs. If you’re considering raising chickens, you should start by checking your city’s farm animal regulations and restrictions. Once you’re in the clear, it’s time to research chicken coop designs! You can easily and inexpensively build your own coop at home with designs from sites such as  A chicken tractor is one popular type of chicken coop that may be perfect for your yard.

What is a Chicken Tractor, Anyway?

When one thinks of farming and tractors, a plowing machine often comes to mind. A chicken tractor, however, is something quite different. A chicken tractor is a type of floorless chicken coop that can be easily moved from one part of your yard to another. Often A-frame in shape, chicken tractors are very light weight and simple to relocate, especially if wheels are added. In the United Kingdom, this type of chicken coop is known as an Ark. Chickens raised in a chicken tractor benefit greatly from sunshine, fresh air, exercise, and the chance to forage.

Why Use a Chicken Tractor?

There are many benefits to using a chicken tractor. Free-range chickens are ideal, but predators can quickly dim your best plans. Chicken tractors have no floor, so chickens are basically free range and able to forage in the grass for bugs and weeds while also being protected from predators and inclement weather. Any eggs they lay will be protected, not hidden in the foliage waiting to be found.  You won’t have to clean your coop floor, as you’ll simply move the chicken tractor to a new location each day or every several days. Not only is this a fantastic way to fertilize your yard or garden, but moving the coop also gives the ground time to recover between usage.

What’s With the Funny Name?

While certainly not a tractor in any traditional means, the chickens within this floorless chicken coop perform some of the same jobs as a tractor. Chickens dig and forage, plowing the ground and preparing the soil for planting. Even better than a tractor, chickens defecate, fertilizing the ground.  Backyard chicken enthusiasts also enjoy the lawn-trimming benefits chickens provide!

Another perk of a chicken tractor over completely free-range chicken raising is that it is much more controlled. The chickens will not have uninhibited access to your vegetable and flower gardens, which they could destroy easily. The movability of the chicken tractor saves any one spot on your property from being completely destroyed, as chickens will eat or peck away any greenery within their living space. In a traditional, stationary coop or enclosure, chickens will clear the foliage to the ground, leaving nothing but dirt.

Easy to Use, Easy to Maintain

Chicken tractors are easy to build, simple to maintain, and make keeping backyard chickens a breeze. There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a ready-made chicken coop when a chicken tractor can be crafted extremely economically and with minimal tools. Whether you’ve had chickens for years and are looking for something new or whether you are a chicken enthusiast just looking to start out, a chicken tractor is a fine backyard tool that you should seriously consider.

Photo by: Rochelle Eisenberger