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City-paddock ideas

 
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I have been "coop-and-run" raising chickens for 6 years.  We let them "free range" in the afternoons, until we moved. . . for the past two years, our girls have been pooping EVERYWHERE and eating everything.  

I live in Washington State - coronavirus has shut down our schools for 6 weeks. My plan is to take the next 6 weeks while my Highschooler is with me and my homeschooling younger 3 to build a couple of paddocks.  

Problems:
1) I have a newly-planted Heugel bed.  I am not sure how to keep the chickens from eating it unless I just keep them off it completely.
2) City Ordinances prohibits chicken coops from being visible.  I am limited to back yard.  Where kids also play, because it is fully fenced off and I live on a busy street and youngest is 3.
3) we currently have a free-range rabbit.  (He's a 7 year old rescued pet who enjoys living with our chickens.  He is harder on my plants than they are.)

Data:
 We live in Zone 8ish.  
 We have about 10 chickens.  This changes (some become dinner; more get brought in)
 Back yard area is about 20x60.  
 I feed Scratch and Peck organic, fermented feed because it is AMAZING in quality (and I started working part-time last year for them and now I get a massive discount on products.  Feed cost is almost nothing for my few birds)

Suggestions on how to orient/build paddocks AND a micro-coop that I can move?  I have attached an (outdated) satellite image - there is a Western Red Cedar (looks like a shadow-casting spikey blob) on the south side of the house that was removed due to a rotten core.  

Random Add:  I want to plant about 8-10 micro-dwarf apple trees that do really well in our climate.  I would need to completely cover them due to apple maggots in our neighborhood (poor management all around me.)  Not sure where the best place to do that is - IN paddock?  Out?
HomesteadPlanning.png
Satellite image of my backyard with notes written on it
Satellite image of my backyard with notes written on it
 
gardener
Posts: 2675
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
981
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Briana Great wrote:

for the past two years, our girls have been pooping EVERYWHERE and eating everything.

Interesting you should say that - the daily-ish just had a video from Paul ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mskHqJelfiU ) that is essentially complaining of exactly that issue. Chickens can be wonderful for pest control and providing eggs, but raising them frequently requires compromises!

Your numbered problem list:
1. Any newly planted area will be destroyed by chickens, so I agree your plan should either contain the chickens elsewhere, or exclude them from the hugel.

2. My kid *always* complained if his play area was covered in chicken shit, so again, we need a system where the two needs can work beside each other.
   The visibility bit - do they mean visible from the street? Or from anyone else's backyard?  This definitely suggests we want some chicken-friendly shrubs like mulberry as a visible shield, a coop that either looks like it isn't a coop, or is camouflaged in colour or style.

3. I've got no experience with rabbits other than the wild ones that thankfully the Great Horned Owl keeps sufficiently under control that my garden isn't too damaged by them.

If you've read Paul's big comparison of chicken management options, he's clearly in favor of what is referred to as a "paddock-shift" system. The idea is that you designate 4 to 6 areas that can contain the chickens and either the coop is stationary (in which case you'll need a way to deep mulch it - think composting toilet - done *right* it won't be stinky, done wrong it's totally yucky) or the coop can move to connect to or be enclosed by the fencing around each area, or a combo of the two.

A) Stationary coop with a protected "all season safe deep mulched run" with 4-5 pop doors that lead to fun chicken areas that the birds get to visit on a rotating basis. You could definitely plant a fruit tree in each of those areas, but if you're talking mini-trees, they'd need total protection. The idea is though that the chickens would be fertilizing around the tree beyond the protection. You can also plant shrubs and trees that the chickens benefit from or that people benefit from if you can keep the chickens from destroying them by both making sure they aren't in the area too long at a stretch and making sure there's lots of mulch in a gully so they're inclined to dig there and not places you'd rather they didn't dig. Chickens are strongly insectivorous - a mulch pile with goodies that attract worms and bugs will keep them entertained and happy. The downside is that you are basically chopping up your backyard with fencing.
B) Movable coop with electric fencing. Often this approach is used with quite a small coop that really only has enough space for night-time and egg laying. Frequently, these systems aren't designed light enough to be really easy to move, so they end up being left in one spot with a moonscape around them. Electric mesh fencing is heavier and tangles more easily than you might think, which makes it more time-consuming to actually use unless you've got several experienced people to help.
C) Some sort of hybrid. A mixture of portable and permanent fencing. Things like "chunnels" - chicken tunnels that direct the chickens to the location you are willing to let them play for a week.

What you don't want is to give the chickens free access to the whole yard, all the time as the areas don't get recovery time. Think in terms of packs of animals that travel to both find fresh food and avoid predators. I know for experience that chickens like fresh grass - and pay no attention to poopy grass unless they're desperate.

As for exactly what the coop should look like, I'd spend some time on google images just looking at all the alternatives. Personally, I agree with those who recommend 8 square ft/bird for small flocks when possible because in a small flock in a small coop there's just no where for a bird to hide or have quiet time. With 50 birds, they can "hide" in the masses, but not if only 10 birds. I also agree with keeping it as light as possible, having all infrastructure (nest boxes, perches, feeders etc) easily removable for cleaning, having good ventilation, using hardware cloth rather than chicken wire for predator protection, and having *really* good wheels on it so that moving isn't too hard. Think about how you've got a sick bird in a back corner and you're going to have to fetch it - can you open areas to access?

I think this is a great family project and your kids will hopefully learn a lot - good luck!
 
Briana Great
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I have looked at SO MANY coops >.<    But it comes down to: I have four kids, I homeschool three of them (well, now all four, thanks Coronavirus). . . So my husband and I realized:  What is really disturbing us is the view when we come out back.  It looks straight at the coop and all the damage they've done to the lawn.  So we decided to move it allllll the way to the south - as far as we can but 10 feet from the property line per city code.  

We will do that on the next sunny weekend (because I need husband to do it, I can't.)  

We also moved the trampoline to the north, again just out of view.  And will overseed with clover instead of grass =)  

And Chicken Tunnels!!!  I need like 60 feet of tunnels. . . looking into that =)  I have about 12' built from our old yard.  We want to run them just north of the Hugel Beds to the back fence which is wood and we can run them along that. . . which means transplanting some perennials.  Oops.
 
Jay Angler
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Posts: 2675
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
981
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People I know used thick but flexible wire to make hoops they could just push into the ground and threaded plastic wire over the hoops. They overlapped periodically so a human could pull up a section to rescue a chicken if need be. Easy to move if they needed to mow, although the chickens pretty much took care of that! The kind of wire they use for assembling chain link fencing or a little lighter.

There may be areas you'd eventually want something more permanent than that, but it would get you started!
 
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