I've had chickens off and on since 2010. Here is my very first post about our very first babies. I can't believe it has been 8 years since I got my first chickens. I've learned so much since them. In all fairness I still have no idea what I'm doing. I've read a lot and I investigate information I find, but still I wonder if I'm doing anything right.
Here are a few things I have learned. Bad layers and good layers eat the same amount of food and take the same amount of time. So why not just keep the good layers? Keeping something over the winter when you know it isn't laying anymore does not make it start laying in the spring. With that said - sometimes you just fall in love with a hen that has a great personality and you don't have to justify why she gets to live out her life with you when others do not.
One of the big things I have learned is that chickens are happier when they get plenty of fresh grass and sunshine. They don't like being indoors only. They want to live in a fairly natural way. Bugs, grass, sun, rain, fresh water. They need a place to perch and a place to lay. Every bit of wildlife in the world wants to eat them. We've lost ducks and chickens to dogs, foxes, hawks, raccoons, even my wonderful Great Pyrenees killed a few when he was a puppy by running up to them and smacking them with his paw trying to get them to play with him.
Taking all I have learned in to account, I know that the concept of a chicken tractor is the best way to house chickens for 9 months of the year. We live in gardening zone 5. We have hot summers and very cold winters. Central Indiana has lots of different kinds of weather. From late November to early March I feel like most livestock needs to come into some kind of barn structure when they want to. We need heated water buckets and having lights helps for the ease of the care givers. Most animals, like my Babydoll Southdown Sheep, can take the cold just fine. But as the person that had to water in the dead of winter, I need some kind of structure to help me be able to help them.
Last year while we were in a state of moving and renovating our cottage, I was having a homestead withdrawal problem. It was so sad and disconnecting for me to have no farm animals with me. Josh gave in and let me buy some new poultry and hatch some ducks. He quickly and cheaply took supplies from around our new farm and built me a chicken tractor that I have made a video about below. Of all the different ways we have kept chickens over the years I have grown to love this chicken tractor the best. It's light and I can move it myself. It has kept the girls safe from overly loving dogs (Gus was so sorry!) and predators. The eggs are easy to find and utilize. The girls have plenty of shade from heat and good cover from rain. My layers are the happiest my girls have ever been and still been safe.
Disclaimer - I have two adult ducks right now. A lovely breeding pair. I do let them free range. They seem hardy enough to escape from wildlife. We don't have much wildlife pressure now days, but that can change. I am working on ideas on how to keep the ducks safer.