Kevin MacBearach wrote:Yes, I'm so done with the "free-range" chicken set-up, or more correctly, no set-up. It's really taken a toll on my pasture.
So was there any consensus of whether having a wire mesh bottom was bad for their feet? I was think about laying some light Douglas Fir branches over the mesh so as to catch some poop, protect their feet, and keep down any harmful orders. Is anyone using fir needles for mulching the bottom of their coops?
I think wire mesh being bad for their feet is a total myth. I have been buiding cages and coops for years, using wire mesh and wire cloth ( http://www.bwire.com/index.html )as the bottom the entire time. Have never had any issures with their feet. I agree wire mesh will not hold feces inside the cage - but isnt that a good thing?
John Polk wrote:
The fencing is not to confine the birds, but rather to exclude the birds.
You do not want them in the annual kitchen garden during the growing season. Fence it off.
I guess it ultimately is a question of using fencing to keep them in, or to use it to keep them out. For me, I eventually want to plant off many areas around the house and barn with herbs, vegetables, etc., and I would have to have fencing everywhere it seems. I have some very opportunistic chickens that are always trying to get in the shop, eat the cats food. And since they know where we live, they like to hang out on the front steps and poop everywhere on them and down the walkway. Plus, since I'm selling raw-milk, it helps a bit with the inspections if your chickens don't have direct access to the cows paddock. Forgot to mention that angle of what I'm working with here.
Well, I'll give the "fenced in" for a while and see if they do good with it, if not, I'll try the "fenced out" version.
Another question for paddocks/free range. I noticed that Paul warned of chickens scratching up mulch around trees. Would the only solution be to put a mini fence around the area? Hopefully the chickens could still peck at any bugs or foliage inside the fencing (if there were any) without stepping beyond the mini fence.
One last concern. When they have a while to forage the areas of each paddock, how can you prevent them from taking all the veggies or fruit that is growing?
chicken paddock Rotation Idea
chicken paddock Rotation No Coop
*I forgot to add gates between sections on this concept image.
Cj Verde wrote:You can have permanent paddocks but it probably doesn't make sense just for chickens. I will be trying it this summer in a cow, sheep, chicken rotation. I think I still need a mobile coop.for them to roost & lay eggs in.
Yes! That is exactly what I was thinking. I would love to see it work with a multiple livestock rotation. I think it would be a great method that way. I also agree that a mobile coop is always going to end up as the best option too.
Thank you for your input on this idea.
If I only had grass and weeds, it might not matter. But they love the perennial veggies, and eat them down to nothing, or scratch big holes in the beds. If I divided my small yard (I have a 1/8 acre lot, about 1/2 covered with buildings, paths, wood piles, etc) into 4 paddocks, they would clean one out in a day or two, with nothing left for me to harvest.
What I am doing now is to use a chicken tractor, as summer shelter for roost and nest boxes, with a temporary wire "run" we set up over each bed at my market garden two blocks away from my house, and letting the chickens til my beds there to get the beds ready to plant. Then I will use several tractors so they aren't too crowded, to run up and down the paths so they can mow the grass and weeds coming up there. Later we plan to set up some kind of movable pen in the "meadow" area that will eventually be turned into either a food forest or a savanna/pasture area for poultry and maybe a few miniature sheep (we only have a total of 2 acres there--divided into 1/3 for market beds and 2/3 for whatever else we do. Currently we only have our dirt and gravel driveway, a small 10' x 14' shed, and our firewood storage and prep area.)
Right now the meadow is scattered clumps of crested wheat grass, some wild mustard coming up, a few rabbit bushes starting to regrow, and a few clumps of prickly pear. There is probably also some tumbleweed and cheatgrass and a few other species, but whatever is growing is scattered, with large patches of bare, sandy soil.
After looking at some of the Alan Savory info and videos, my understanding of the Holistic management idea is to use a mob of animals, for a short time, and then not let them back into that area until the plants have a chance to recover, which in my experience, and in my climate, takes much longer than just a few weeks. (As an example, last summer we were required by town ordinance to mow our meadow--we cut the grass in July--and it never regrew at all. This month, with some spring rain, we are finally seeing some new growth.) So we are figuring we should move the pens daily or twice daily, over the whole growing season, so each patch only gets grazed once a year. If the plants show they can regenerate faster than that, we might have a need to change that plan.
And once the snow comes and stays, there is no way to move fences or pens, so they have to have some kind of permanent shelter for winter. This past winter we had two feet of snow from about mid December until Mid March. There are no plants that survive all winter here to provide winter grazing. Even the kale was all dead by the end of November. We did have a few sunflower stalks sticking above the snow, but the wild birds had cleaned out all the seeds in the autumn. So we brought the hens home to our small greenhouse and run for the winter, then back to the market garden for the summer to help build the soil there.
I did it with grid beam but mostly just drilled the ends. Lock nuts were a must but not until the design was ironed out!
Here's the frame (the cart is temporary support):
and the cherry nesting box (left over from flooring):
Now I just have to wait for the grass to grow!
I'm going to make a 2nd one on old skis instead of wheels. Vermont - 8 month of winter & 4 months of poor sledding.
Before I went to this, I used two chicken tractors and moved them every day. I did this for a year until one night, weasels killed both flocks. Then I built this coop, in another location, and had a large/long permanent fence around it. Of course the chickens killed every piece of vegetation in it.
Then I read Paul's treaty on the paddock system. So, I drug the coop to a better suited location, the orchard area (slowly turning into a food forest). I bought a 164' electric poultry net and a solar powered charger. I also put the coop up on stilts, and installed a trap door in the bottom of the coop. This gives the chickens a covered area for dusting and a place to hide from when the eagles fly overhead. The coop will keep everything but a bear out. It was based on a 1900 open air design, so the entire front is just hardware cloth for windows. The windows on the other side are old salvaged glass plate windows mostly for looks.
I move the electric fence around once a week or so and it takes all of 20 minutes. In the picture above you can see the chickens on my kitchen compost pile. It is on a slope and the chickens love it when the paddock moves over the compost pile. They do all the turning for me, and I just harvest it when it is finished at the bottom of the hill.
Here are a few more pics of the system:
Clifford Reinke wrote:I've been using a chicken paddock system with a fixed coop for about two years now. As you can see I do not have a problem with the grass and other vegetation keeping up.
I wonder if that system will work in an area with a shorter growing season?
I have 2 coops, 1 is strong enough to keep out a bear. A bear & cub tried to get in but failed. Don't keep your chicken food in a coop that can't keep out a bear!
Half of my chickens opted to brave the Vermont winter without a coop:
I built the mobile coop to contain those free range chickens and to follow the cows & sheep in a paddock shift setup.
I have never seen my Bared Rocks fly up into a tree, even though they have the opportunity. That was a great picture.
This could explain the odd mysterious chicken deaths - a few losses each season. It definitely explains the wild rabbit deaths (my dogs don't go for them).
If I'm a good girl and lock the chickens in their coop at night I don't think the ermine can get through the wire mesh.
My son has built some nice chicken tractors, but they are a bit difficult to drag around on our very sandy soil. I guess we need bigger wheels, but the prices!
Old skis are cheap/free so you could try that first. Probably more practical at least where I live, which is why I'll try it for the 2nd coop. Ripping 2x4s into 1.5x1.5 really cut down on the weight so it's much lighter than a turkey tractor we made years ago out of 2x4s.
I like the idea of using skis--I will have to look around for some old ones.
I know a guy in the 'North Woods' who fells all of next year's fire wood in the fall, but just lets it lay there until there's a good snow covering. Then he hauls it home on ski mounted gear. Claims it is much easier to move, and burns less fuel than trying to deal with it on hard ground (goes as the crow flies, not the road).
As far as buying wheels goes, Harbor Freight seems to have some good prices. I have never bought any there. Some of their stuff is good, and some of it is garbage. I would be reluctant of buying much there by mail order (I'm an old-fashioned "touch-and-feel" type of guy), but they actually have a store a mile or two away from me. While their wheels might not be something you would want to tow a heavy load at highway speeds, I might consider them for a few hundred feet around the homestead. Let the buyer beware. I'm neither endorsing them, nor condemning them - some things "fit-the-bill", but don't cost a fortune.
I put up 150' of 2' poultry fencing and I'm a little more than halfway done. I can't try electric ATM because the sheep are in there with lambs and they've occasionally gotten tangled up in the fencing.
After a few hours today I only had one escape out of seven. I'm due for a hard cull so maybe I'll only keep the ones that stay put.
I move it the length of the coop every morning so another area gets fertilized.
I'm getting eggs in the nesting box though some wind up in the coop.
This is a very new paddock (formerly woods) but even the established paddocks don't have much grass yet. My husband suggested I rake up the leaves and wood chips but I told him "no, that's the chickens' job." He asked if I was trying to be as lazy as Paul Wheaton and I told him, yes! He has finally listened to a few podcasts so we're a bit more on the same page.
When I look at the previous spots where the paddock was, signs of recovery seem slow. I know that in the Geoff videos, he likens the chickens impact on the land more akin to the foundation of creating a food forest. So I'm wondering if I should adjust the paddocks cause of this. My goal is to create a more lush pasture, not an environment for woody plants.
Maybe I just need to make the area bigger.
The only way to make moving paddocks profitable to pasture is to do as those who practice intensive rotational grazing.....stock heavy on a small area and move it daily and before the grass is damaged so much that it cannot recover before weeds do. This also makes an environment of food competition, so grazing animals are more likely to eat the bad with the good and not just eat the good, leaving the bad stuff behind.
With chickens, who are not typical grazers, this doesn't actually happen...they are looking for green forage and also for protein/insect life~they need and metabolize the bugs more than the cellulose. Using chickens in an intensive grazing program to improve pasture isn't exactly like using ruminants, so it's an iffy prospect at best. I've seen a great improvement to pasture by free ranging over a large area by judiciously stocking 30-50 birds per acre...and that's on good forage. In skimpy pasture, I'd take that number down by half.
I've seen Salatins pastured poultry tractors and those birds are trampling the grass more than consuming it and any bugs foolish enough to stick around are snapped up in the first few minutes. Any further scratching of the pasture, in concentrated amounts, would merely disturb and destroy the grass crowns rather than improve them. Chicken tear out grass crowns if left on the same area for too long, not graze over them. If that area is 10x10 and it contains 50 birds, there isn't even room to scratch, merely to trample and compress~but no appreciable nutrition is derived from the pasture in that setting. Just manure download from the proffered feeds in the feeder.
In any regard, I think that Paul Wheaton's conclusions need a second look. There are a few more cons apparently to having chickens in a larger pen, for a longer time. At least if pasture improvement is the goal. I',m planning on getting 1 or 2 cows again in the next couple weeks so that might help the rotation with cows eating first and chickens scratching manure second.
But also, I think I might try to do the paddock system with chickens under my fruit trees instead of on the grass. I think having them rotate around areas with thick leaves on the ground, that can create more habitat for bugs and worms.
I clicker trained a chicken a few years ago, during a week long training workshop with Robert Bailey. It was just an ordinary white Leghorn. First I trained her to peck scratch grain from a little dish, presented rapidly and briefly, after hearing the click. Then I trained her to peck a triangle versus a circle, square or rectangle. Then I trained her to peck a yellow shape versus three other colors.
For our final exam, we had to change the criteria and take the chicken through the extinction burst and into a new behavior. It was fun. Clicker training chickens really helps with your timing, because they are FAST.
I have had laying hens for over a dozen years, but I've never clicker trained any of them.
I put the turkey in 1 day before her eggs hatched! She was not happy to be cooped up at all but 3 eggs hatched plus 1 a week later I had incubated. This was necessary because a raven had killed half the chicks last year and the other half wandered away through the fencing and disappeared. Plus, I'm off grid so it's much more efficient to let the turkey be the heat lamp.
Here you can see 2 of the poults.
The coop slides along pretty good on the skis. I have to be careful not to run over the poults but they let me know if I've screwed up! The biggest drag is that as I push the coop forward it's hard to avoid stepping in poop!
This is my first year raising chickens. I have a fenced area 50’ x 130’ with nine 2-3-year-old apple and pear trees. I’ve divided this area into 4 paddocks which I will be planting with various fruit and seed producing plants. I have 8 chickens this year and plan to have more next year.
When the cicadas started emerging I would let the chickens out of their paddock into the larger fenced area for about half an hour every day to find cicadas. Then they would go back in their paddock.
Now that the cicadas are gone I can see that the trees in their paddock have no cicada damage while the trees outside the paddock have quite a lot of damage. This makes me wonder, if I had let the chickens roam at will wouldn’t all the trees be damage-free and wouldn’t the chickens be full of high-quality protein?
It seems that growing a variety of vegetable and seed food for chickens is easy but providing protein is harder. Isn’t it better to plan a system so that the chickens have maximum opportunity to find protein? I don’t know when or where wild bugs will emerge but the chickens will figure it out. Isn’t it to my benefit as well as the chickens to let them roam at will?
I know there is concern that the chickens will over-graze areas but I haven’t seen that. I have had my 8 chickens in a 25’ x 40’ area for over a month and the vegetation is still thick.
As I said, I am a beginner at this and would appreciate any feedback.
My birds forage all over 3 acres and into the woods adjacent to the meadow, spreading their manure into all areas, while depleting none. We've seen the overall pasture improve over a couple year's time, as well as our fruit trees on this land producing for the first time in 15 years on this property. And that's with a small flock...imagine the potential of a larger flock on this space. I free ranged 54 CX the first year and was simply amazed at the ground they covered and the amount of hunting and foraging they did...they barely made it back to the coop before dark.
Alison Kouzmanoff wrote:I don’t know when or where wild bugs will emerge but the chickens will figure it out. Isn’t it to my benefit as well as the chickens to let them roam at will?
You can set up "bug traps" for the chickens. Boards or logs work. Turn them over when the chickens are around for a bug snack.
I used to free range but I'm done with that. The chickens keep hiding eggs and hatching them out and now I have way too many roosters. I have chanteclers which are good foragers but light weight and hard to contain. Clipping their wings doesn't keep them in their fenced in area. I'm switching to regular Cornish chickens. Hard to plant a garden if the chickens keep flying in. Hard to plant a food forest too.
I started with a chicken house (10'x12') and run(18'x18'), but usually let them out of the run for the day. I liked the option of keeping them in if I needed to, for example when seedlings I wanted to keep were too tiny to survive the pecking and scratching, when the tomatoes are ripe, or the melons, or the peppers, lettuce, spinach all that. Or when I was going to be away for a few days, and wanted the job to be as easy as possible for who ever was watching the place for me. But basically, the chickens were intended to be my first "grazers", and I still like it better when they spend most of their time foraging.
Temperature regulation: I know it is most often said it is absence of adequate light that keeps the hens from laying in the winter, but I think warmth is as important a factor, if not more so. When it is really really cold for a week (-17 F overnight), the egg production goes way down, comes back up when the winter moderates enough that the water inside does not freeze overnight. To achieve the warmth, I insulated the chicken house. The south side has insulated glass windows as well, which I remove for warm weather. In the day time (cold weather) I only open the very small ground level door, in the summer I also open a larger shoulder level to ceiling door, to let heat out and get air circulation. Summer heat isn't any better for the birds than winter cold.
Green chop: This year, the chickens have had to spend the summer in jail. The garden has progressed to the extent that there are too many irrigation furrows and ditches for me to re-open every time I water, and the chickens destroy them any time they are out. Why wouldn't they? All that nice dirt and mulch right next to the water! I am not really that happy about them losing their chance to forage. I don't like buying the feed, (cost and quality) and I think the birds are better off eating greens, the more the better, soooooo, I use a gas powered mulching lawn mower with the bag on. I mow a bag full of mixed greens, up to three times a day. Alfalfa, clover, red clover are favorites. They like Kochia too, before it goes to flower.
It is added work to feed them the healthier feed, but when I offset the time it would take me to re open ditches every day, then mowing is easier. Also, I get the added benefit of accelerated soil development similarly to having grazers in the pastures. And when I am cutting the kochia down, I am decreasing the seed crop.
But, about the poop? It's all over everything at their house and yard, and the only reason the house is habitable is that everything is dry, and I keep adding straw, leaves, sawdust, to soak up the moisture.
I think the chicken project is a dynamic process. Things are always changing, and what we do in response is always a trade off. I'm looking for the system with the all 10s rating, that will fit my place, but I think until the the water furrows are lined with rooted plants, (plantain is making a good show) then the chickens will spend more time in jail than in the big field.
Reason I ask: I want two breeds. One small group for dedicated brooding and mothering. Then a main flock for egg production. Within the main flock I will want to separate my desired breeding stock... So; I was thinking of paddocks with 8~12 chickens in each...
Other livestock, such as goats, would be on a paddock shift...
What say ye?
I am full of opinions and theories. I have chickens, and have a favorite rooster, favorite hens, favorite egg colors, and some ideas about the future of my flock in mind. I only have one chicken house and one alternate shelter, both generous in size. Sometimes I let the chickens out to free range, but this year they have spent the summer in jail.
If you want to have sub flocks that never mix, and can accommodate them, that's great. I don't have the sub paddocks, don't have the multiple warm places for them on winter nights.
Allowing time for the stored sperm in the hens to dissipate, get used up, die, what ever happens to it, to do my selective breeding, I only need to separate my birds into sub populations during the times of year that I want to get eggs for hatching. What I do is cull any roosters I don't want as flock sires, so that any fertilized egg is fertilized by a rooster acceptable to me. Then, if I want to hatch eggs from a certain hen, I separate her for as many eggs as I want. I don't know how long a hen stores viable sperm, and wanting to be sure I get fertilized eggs, I put the rooster in with her for a few hours every other day or so. Sometimes I put a select group of hens in the pen to breed to that rooster. It is much kinder to a hen not to coop her up by herself with a rooster. When and if I want the other rooster with the hens I think would cross better with him, I do it all again with a different subgroup.
For me, the problematic variable is the broody hen needed when I have the eggs I want. Broody hens answer to their own sensibilities. Sometimes one sits on the nest for months it seems, then when I give her eggs, she abandons them in 5 days. I don't use an incubator because it is so much easier if the hens raise the chicks.
Some times of year, spring and summer, there are more hens feeling broody, so I try to focus on having the eggs during those times.
I mentioned I have favorite egg colors, so, I also select hatching eggs just based on color and shape and size. Since I know the roosters, I figure I have half the genetics I want already, and much of what I want from the hen is egg size. I do keep in mind that younger hens lay smaller eggs, so it is not all about egg size. There is also how strong a shell it has (not for the genetics of it, just for the hatchability of the egg).
Another thing I do is mark the designated hatching eggs. The hens tend to want to stay in the nests they've chosen. Other hens want to lay in the same nest. Other hens get broody and just want to get in the nest, sometimes push the original hen off. Without marking the hatching eggs, I can't tell which eggs are new and which are incubating. I had some worries about that. The shell is porous, and I think that at some point it may be important that there is gas exchange with the outside world. I put a ring of paint around the egg where I imagine the equator to be. I use acrylic house paint. Pencil, ball point, sharpie don't work. They only last a week or so. The paint has not bothered the chicks or the hens. I sometimes have to start eggs on more than one day. Sometimes, a hen will abandon her eggs mid incubation, since they are marked, if they are still warm, I can give them to another hen, instead of putting them in an egg box for a customer. I use a different color paint for every set of eggs that go under a hen on the same day. That way, I can be sure that when hatching day is nearing, I can gather all the eggs together under one hen, or, if several hens are driving me nuts fighting over who gets to sit on the eggs, breaking eggs and generally stirring things up, I share the ready to hatch eggs around, giving each hen two or three, in hopes they will get off the broody thing and go raise their chicks and get on with life!
The flock I am moving towards is gentle towards me. I don't like them pecking me, pinching pulling twisting and breaking my skin when I reach under them to get eggs. They don't eat eggs. They are calm. When they moult, they are quick to regrow their feathers. When they are out grazing, they are not stupid, they know how to take shelter when birds of prey fly over. They come home to roost. When I need to herd them, the cooperate, not breaking free and running off. They are pretty, silver- blue and brilliant red, iridescent black, but individually they have different color patters, so that I can tell individual chickens apart. They are good producers of multicolored eggs, from pastel green and blues to the dark red-browns of Welsummers. They mature quickly. The roosters are solicitous towards the hens, and not aggressive towards humans.
It's a nice dream, and I have to decide which ones to kill and which eggs to hatch anyway, so why not go with my ideals?
I don't know if any of this will help, but it is fun to hear of someone wanting to take an active role in their flock. Tell me what your goals are, and good luck on your project.
Once I have property of my own; the current plan is do aquire a small flock of cochin batams for brooding and mothering duties. My main flock would be breeder stock Americana; which means probably starting with just a trio (one rooster and two hens). The first several seasons would involve expansion of the Americana line; using the original three and any hens from them. Once flock size was up to where I would like (or close), then I would begin selectively picking a new sire and the best of the hens for further expansion.
The idea is to aquire the Americanas in early Spring, the following year after aquiring the cochin bantams.
Sounds like you've given it a lot of thought. I wonder why you want to start with such a small number of foundation birds.
Through the years I have bought most of my birds from Murray McMurray hatcheries. They have a minimum order of 24 chicks, or they used to last time I checked. I've tried other hatcheries, and never been as satisfied. Murray McMurray send healthy chicks, and are easy to work with. They vaccinate for Marek's. I don't even know what that is, but I go ahead with it because the chicks are coming out of such big operation. I'm just thinking that if I wanted a flock of Americanas, I'd get a box of straight run chicks (cheaper) then the first year I could already choose which rooster(s) to keep as flock sires, and if there were any hens I did not like I could get rid of them too. You get a lot larger population to start with, a lot more variability than with only three individuals.
Just curious what the advantages are to the 3 bird start up. I might be about to learn something from you!
Of the hens that have the best breed conformation, I will examine their eggs: quality egg shell strength, size and color; of those, the ones with the largest and richest yolks will be kept for hatching. Large yolk size and quality having a slight higher importance than overall egg size...
The cochin bantams will probably be hatchery stock (of some sort).