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clearing land with chickens

 
John Brownlee
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Hey everyone,

I'm sure this has already been covered somewhere on this site, but since everything depends... Does anyone have some first hand experience with using chickens to clear plots of land for gardens? If so, how many chickens, how many square feet, and how many days? Also location, season, native grasses and weeds in the area, type and age of chickens and was any supplemental feed provided?

I have no experience with this so i would really appreciate as many different inputs as possible. The goal is to get a 3/4 acre plot ready to plant asap. I live in Pine Mountain Ga, and still have grass, chickweed, henbit, plantain and a few other perennial weeds actively growing.

By the way, it doesn't all have to be ready to plant at the same time.
 
Alder Burns
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I would guess that other factors, such as your budget for feed, housing, and fencing, will limit the number of chickens you can have before they become overcrowded on that much land. I ran up to 75 layers in a 1/3 acre orchard in South Georgia pretty much continuously and it took them months to get it basically bare ground, beginning from the door of their shelter and working out. Even after some years, not all the bermuda grass was eradicated. Movable pens or "tractors" or multiple yards and gates will spread out the effect, and concentrate it into a shorter time frame. If I were serious now about getting the maximum benefit from land preparation with chickens, I'd make a sizeable chicken tractor, stock it heavily (with a significant amount of imported feed) and simply shift it's location when the ground under it looks adequately prepared.
 
Jay Green
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VERY slow way of clearing the grass and you would have to stock it so heavy to do that that it would be detrimental to the soils and the animals to accomplish it. The soil balance would be way off, the birds would be living for quite awhile on soils that would be compacted and barren, devoid of bug and worm life and toxic with too much nitrogen. Along the way they would be more likely to recycle their own parasites to the degree that they would have to be dewormed on a regular basis just to survive.

MUCH quicker to get a couple of pigs who will root up that ground in short order and very quickly, can be moved just as quickly to a new section to do it all again. Because they can accomplish so much more and in such a short time, the detrimental aspects of this kind of soil disturbance is much less harsh to the soils and to the animal's existence. Pigs won't compact the soils...they will loosen them. They usually don't just poop anywhere like a chicken will...they usually reserve one corner of the pen for their business and this corner can then be amended more easily when you take them off the land.

Pigs are very easily contained in temporary paddocks with the use of 3 strands of electric wire, whereas you'd have to use poultry electronetting or something similarly easy to move to keep poultry in temporary paddocks.
 
John Brownlee
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Jay,

Unfortunately pigs at this point are not an option. But here's my plan. I want to clear about 500 sq ft per week, and then plant and mulch heavily, so it doesn't have to be cleared 100%, just enough for the mulch to be effective.
 
S Bengi
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An acre of land can sustainable feed 43 chickens. So 1000sqft can feed a chicken for a full year, if properly rotated.
I however have no idea as to how much you chicken you would need to "clear" 500sqft.

You could set the chickens in it to clean the seed heads.
Then you could MOW the grass and let the chickens go after insect.
Then you could MOW again in 5 days after the grass starts to grow again, thus wiping out there reserve energy and stunting them.
You would then mulch and plant your seedlings at a very High Density.
This high density will act as a living mulch and suppress some of the "weed".
You will then have to thin out the excess plants maybe selling them as microgreen/sprouts.

Seeing as how 1 chicken can survive on 1000sqft for 52 weeks.
Then 52 chickens on just 1000sqft for 1 week should get the job done.
But you are only doing 500sqft so 26 chickens might do it.
However this is all just me guessing and spewing out random numbers

According to this link http://www.permies.com/t/13669/chickens/Chicken-Tractor-pasture-chicken-consume
Someone used 25 chickens in a 100sqft plot with supplemental feed and moved them to a new area daily and they got the job done.
 
Jay Green
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Why not just use black plastic strips and solarize the ground....wet the land, apply the plastic and let the sun do the rest. Cheap, effective, less overall effort.

How to solarize to clear land for gardening
 
Walter Jeffries
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It is called mob grazing. It works well but I would combine with pigs. We have poor, thin, shallow mountain soil. We have vastly improved it over the years this way. See:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2006/05/15/of-tiller-pigs-weeder-chickens/
 
John Brownlee
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Walter,
Hopefully next year we will be able to get pigs. I think what I am going to do is just stop trying to figure it out on paper and do it.
I'm going to fence in 500 square feet, and stick a dozen chickens with a small portable coop in there. I'll just keep additional feed ready in case they need it just keep an eye on the whole situation.
I think I'll take a lot of pictures and keep records as the whole thing progresses
 
Jay Green
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Of course they will need supplemental feeding if they are confined to that small of an area. In short order all the proteins will be gleaned from that land. As the grasses they will actually eat are consumed and the rest is trampled and scratched out by the roots, all the fiber and carbs will be denuded from the land....but this all doesn't happen in a matter of days.

If you don't supplement their food on that small patch of land, you will have half starved chickens that are horribly malnourished. Contrary to what you might have heard, chickens cannot glean all their nutrition from the land unless it's really, really good forage and has a chance to renew~in other words, a large area that can be foraged and then left to replenish, then foraged once again. This cannot happen in a confined situation...chickens have to move constantly to find the nutrients they need.

Even people who implement mob grazing of sheep and cattle move their livestock every day.
 
S Bengi
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I would do 100sqft or less and move them everyday, vs doing 500sqft and move them once a week.
 
John Brownlee
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I just don't feel like a 100 square foot chicken tractor is fair to the chickens. I'm not really an "animal person" but I know that if I were a chicken I wouldn't like to be in that cage.
 
Irene Kightley
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Hopefully next year we will be able to get pigs. I think what I am going to do is just stop trying to figure it out on paper and do it.
I'm going to fence in 500 square feet, and stick a dozen chickens with a small portable coop in there. I'll just keep additional feed ready in case they need it just keep an eye on the whole situation.
I think I'll take a lot of pictures and keep records as the whole thing progresses


Just do this, go on - experiment !

Keep people in formed of what happens. You'll learn a lot and so will everyone else.
 
Andrew Parker
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My 6 hens cleared my 1/4 acre backyard of weeds in about two years, though they had help from a couple of turkeys the first year. They have free range of the yard and they receive supplemental feed. There are weeds they will not eat which I have to dig out myself. My climate is semi-arid and I don't water outside the vegetable garden, so you will certainly need more birds in Georgia. You might want to consider mixing in some turkeys and geese.
 
frank larue
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John Brownlee wrote:Walter,
Hopefully next year we will be able to get pigs. I think what I am going to do is just stop trying to figure it out on paper and do it. ...

I think I'll take a lot of pictures and keep records as the whole thing progresses



i'm working through the same questions and would love to hear your progress. do you have pictures? how many chickens did you work with? could you get away with minimal purchased feed?

 
John Brownlee
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Frank,

Just to let you know, I have just recently put the chickens in the coop. They are only about 3 months old And I am collecting materials to build a chicken tractor with. really haven't yet experimented with using the girls to clear garden plots.
 
Chris Kott
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I believe Paul's suggestion for the method was to move the tractor when 40% of the green stuff had disappeared, as anything left after this point was sub-optimal or poisonous. If you watch their feed consumption you will find that they will hit the feed when the good stuff is gone from the ground. Keep in mind that they aren't machines, and that they don't naturally clear land. What has been done this way with chicken tractors isn't usually healthy for them, and some of the case studies that show it being done well were done on experimental plots where all the greenery was edible, and one of two types of feed grass, and so are not representative of chicken reality.

I would suggest you think about quick-sprouting forage seed mixes that would also improve the soil for you. If you could mow twice within five days, grazing the chickens over it as was earlier mentioned, then seeding with your forage mix, by the time the chickens graze it again, the greenery available to them will be mostly chicken candy, and they'll clear a much larger percentage and leave more fertilizer.

If I was doing this with pigs, I'd sow daikon radishes and/or mangelwurtzels (I think that's how you spell it) to get them to till the ground when they go for the tubers. I think the radishes might still work with just chickens. At very least, the taproots will break up any compaction you have going on.

-CK
 
John Brownlee
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Chris,
I do realize that the whole concept of using the chicken tractor as a coop is not a good idea for the birds, and i don't like the idea either. However, i have no problem with putting the birds to work for a day. Utilizing only 4 birds per day out of my flock of 12 to clear a plot of 40 sq ft and i could only do this on Fri Sat and Sundays because of work, so each of my girls would only work one day a week. Not a bad life. Right now they are just a bunch of gangly teenagers so they're not out on pasture yet, but when they are, we will be using Paul's idea of a paddock shift system but with a permanent coop.
 
Chris Kott
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All I'm saying is that you can find a way to stimulate the bird's natural activities to do something they wouldn't otherwise do, like scratch seed on the soil and end up scratching up radishes, exposing bugs they wouldn't otherwise necessarily get, and as a by-product working the soil over in a way that is both more thorough for your purposes and healthier for them. So if you do the double mow thing to deplete the resources of what's there, and effectively replace it with your forage seed mix, the stuff on your land will be all chicken forage, so it will be neither unhealthy nor unreasonable for the chickens to clear out the buffet you set for them.

Let us know how it goes.

-CK
 
jimmy gallop
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This movable coop or tractor would not be any worst for them than a stationary one
Keep feed and water available at all times and move when its time .
do it all the time they learn to walk with the move and not get run over.
I prefer a hoop type with tarp roof and chicken wire and walk in door.
also have some tunnels that work good.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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forest garden hugelkultur
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I'm clearing up old pasture using chickens and pigs.

Some things I've learned are as follows:

The more space you give the chickens to clear, the longer it will take to clear.
The more imported feed you use, the longer it will take to clear.
Scattering feed instead of just putting it in a feeder, will help clear the land quicker
Using chick crumbles instead of pellets will make chickens have to tear up the ground more to get at the feed.
Feeding in the evening before they go in for the night, will make them work more during the day. this clears land quicker.
Anything that stresses them too much, will piss them off and they will peck each other to death. In other words it's a balance between expensive, fat, happy, lazy chickens and frugal, working, healthy, happy chickens. Swinging too much on any one of the above "rules" and things don't go so well.

Too few chickens on too much land and you'll never clear it. But you won't spend any money on feed and your chickens will be happy. Too many chickens on too small of a piece of land and you'll clear it quick with miserable stressed chickens. You wanna be right in the middle.

Good luck
 
jimmy gallop
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been thinking about this and I got an ideal
to build a 12'/12' hoop house for the chickens that is moveable
when they have the grass and weeds gone put leaf and straw grass clippings and other stuff in there before you move it and let them scratch and mix
move it to another location.
while your working on that spot they will be working a new one
In my zone you can garden year around so it would be continues .

 
jay william
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Location: Stokes County, NC
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We have 28 chickens, 12 of which are bantams and about half the size of normal chickens. They have a moveable coop that we enclose with cattle panels and bird netting.

It's about 500 sq ft. And they will take it down in 2 weeks. Not completely bare, but mostly cleared. They do this with supplemental feed, and we throw mulch/straw/leaves in for them to scratch around and protect the soil.

We try to follow the chickens with either clovers, chicory and other good forage crops. Or with grains winter peas and cover crops.
 
Landon Sunrich
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My favorite farm interns had a chicken tractor with about 20 chickens in an 8x4 tractor. She moved it every day. The chickens would clear the area of chick and pig weed in that time no problem. I've also seen 40 0r 50 chickens in an area about 150x150 which we'd move every 3 or 4 weeks - This worked well for slightly weedier more persistent areas. Given enough time and a high enough stocking density they'll go through anything. I've seen runs of about 150 x 100 square feet totally down to dirt from thick lawn turf with just 10 or 12 chickens but it was their full time living quarters.
 
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