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Reverse Pasture Rotation - For Small Homesteads

 
gardener
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Hello Permies!

I'm developing a small HOMEstead; when I say small I mean 1/2 acre of land which includes the space my home takes up.



I've learned I really love chickens and I'd like to develop a food forrest/foraging space that takes up the majority of my property to keep these guys happy:



The problem I'm facing, and foresee getting worse, is over grazing. It seems that the best way to prevent this would be a paddock-shift system; however, on a 1/2 acre, it would mean a lot of fencing and gates for a small space which would make it hard to utilizes the area for other 'leisure' activities or simply moving around.


You can get an idea in this photo of how they like to eat the new grass in the same spots. This lead to the grass thinning and dying back in this area.

I was thinking that instead of instead of moving around where the chickens go I would move around where the chickens "don't go". What do I mean? I was thinking about continuing to let the chickens free-range but have pallets, with the centre planks removed, covered with greenhouse plastic, and move them around the yard to protect areas and allow areas to 'rest'. I could add more or less pallets depending on their grazing pressure.

Less chickens is also an option. I want to garden/farm as intensively as possible, so I would like to give this method a shot first before reducing my flock size.

Any thoughts?
 
gardener
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Hi Ashley,  

Yes, I think that idea would work. Another option, although a bit more spendy, is portable electric poultry netting. Advantages are easier to move and reset than pallets, plus some protection from predators.

Really anything that limits their movement temporarily will do the trick. I get that chopping up a small area with permanent t fencing is not ideal.
 
Posts: 212
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Ashley:

Are you putting the cart before the horse? : )

I read your question as "The chickens are exceeding the carrying capacity of the land.  How can I improve the carrying capacity?" Rotational grazing is a good way to do this - by giving the grass a break, it can operate in a more effective growth zone.  I think a "reserve" model works well for wildlife (e.g. fish reserves. beetle banks), but I don't see it aiding the 80% + of the property the chickens aren't on.  For cows, rotations are something like 1:30 - one day of grazing, 30 days of rest - so roughly 96% is sheltered at any time.  Reversing that, for cows, would mean a patch of grass would be set aside for 30 days creating a tasty little snack while the rest of the pasture was being degraded.

So I don't see reverse rotation as increasing the carrying capacity.

: (

You might also consider your chickens as tools.  Put them to work!  Make them be where you need something to happen (weeding, pest eradication, fertilizer, soil turning, etc).  That approach does require containment.

For a 1/2 acre property, you can do a LOT with a single 160' poultry fence.  Two poultry fences would be even better - one to have them in, one to set up for their next adventure.  One mesh fence gives you 1600 sq ft enclosures - which would be something like 10-12 "zones" on your lot.   I would also suggest that containment is better than exclusion because there will be times when you need to exclude from multiple areas - you'll have resting areas, something you've just planted, and maybe something you've re-seeded with grass.  That's three areas to maintain exclusion on instead of one of containment.
 
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Divide your homestead into 15 parts and move the chickens to a new part every 2 days. It will take the chickens 28days/14 partitions to revisit the same patch of land, giving the grass time to rest and regrow.

You can move the chicken with their mobile coop and electric fencing.
 
pollinator
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How many chickens are we talking about.  If they're overwhelming a half acre lot you might just have too many.  Depending on how many you have you might need to consider manure removal.  The ground can only absorb so much poo.  If you have more than the land can absorb it will actually kill or at least stunt the growth of the grass and other plants.
 
pollinator
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I think your miniature movable green houses are a great idea.  You are reusing waist to make a better system.  They will increase the growth rate, conserve water and protect the area for a little while.  I would think this will extend your growing season too.   These are the kind of things that make small areas much more productive.  Thank you for posting the idea.
 
Christopher Shepherd
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I was thinking also around here if you leave a board on the ground 3 days there are worms that like to live there.  The edges of your green house would make a nice little place for the worms to come up to live. Every time you move them there could be a high protein meal for the birds and they may not eat as many greens. I am going to try this.
 
Ashley Cottonwood
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Thanks everyone!

I have 40 chickens. I also bring in a lot of compost from restaurants (or I did before COVID19...). They seem to like the fresh shoots so, it appears to me, that the eat at the same spots all the time and thats what kills of the pant life. My idea is that this will encourage them to graze other areas and rehabilitate others.

But yes, flock reduction is also an option. I was thinking for experimenting this summer with the "rotating mini greenhouses' and if that doesn't work reducing my flock size.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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40 chickens is a significant amount for a half acre lot.  I have 35 (I think, need to count and see if any are missing) on a half acre, but that's land entirely dedicated to the chickens.  There's no house, driveway, or areas they aren't allowed into in that half acre.  And that's marginal for that many chickens, though getting the blackberries out, and getting better forage planted will help a lot.

I think with really good management you can probably work it with 40 chickens on that land.  But you probably will want to remove a significant amount of manure from the property.  A somewhat doable way of accomplishing that is the put a poop-hammock in the coop.  Chickens poop a LOT at night. The hammock catches that and it's fairly simple to scrape it daily into a bucket and then move it to a compost pile.  Once composted you can sell it to people for garden fertilizer.  Other places where they tend to congregate you might need to muck out periodically as well.   If you keep wood shavings in the coop, the periodic replacement of them should give enough carbon material for the compost.  
 
gardener
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I'm wondering if mesh or screen might be a good addition or substitution for greenhouse plastic on these movable grow frames.
I know my chooks would probably shred the plastic, and it might cause the plants to overheat  in height of summer.

You might want to go vertical and surround a bush, tree or vine with mesh.
My chooks love willow to the point they will fly up and perch to feed on the greens.
A bunch of willow stakes inside a circle of mesh could be good fodder.

 
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