My partner and I will be assisting a seasoned chicken caregiver in her work this seasons. I am happy to assist but I have big hopes to experiment from the conventional practices. Her expertise is in raising sedentary animals that require tons of feed. We want to help but we also want to create alternative models we can improve upon.
1: are there breeds that can subsist without (purchased) feed if they are given plenty of ground to forage? (mainly former terraced vegetable beds). what are good crops to grow that will free us from off-site inputs?
2: if patch clearing is the goal, not eggs, can we design a roosting coop with no boxes? how many birds would be needed to tear down vegetation of a 40'x40' space? i know this is a loaded question, i'm looking for estimates based on tenacious breeds, as i have no idea//
3: if predation is an issue will powerful electrified netting be enough to protect a flock?
4: sepp holzer writes about rose thickets suited for fowl habitat and i rather like the idea building but later growing housing for our birds.
5: can we bring in birds like quail or turkey into the paddock system? birds seem to get nasty with one another in my experience but i'd love to be surprised!
There is a lot of info on some of the other threads. I am still learning, too, but in my experience, a few chickens can wipe out a lot of garden in a short time. I haven't tried raising them without any added feed. If you do make changes in what the chickens are eating, it needs to be fairly gradual, not a sudden change. Just start by adding some fresh grass clippings or chopped weeds, etc. If they are used to all premixed feed, they may not know what to do with fresh greens or whole grains, etc.
I give my 16 hens about 8 cups total of grain per day, (which is about 1/2 cup per bird) but I sprout it so it actually fills a 2 gallon bucket over half full. I don't buy commercial chicken feed at all. I also feed them a small ice cream bucket of kitchen scraps (apple cores, banana skins, leftover bits and pieces of other fruits and veggies, etc) They also get a certain amount of whatever greens/weeds etc we have, in season, and whatever they can scratch up in the various garden beds the temporary pen is sitting on. Anything green doesn't last very long.
I put my girls on a 6' by 50 foot garden bed, and they had it cleaned out and tilled up in about 1 day, so a 40 x 40 area wouldn't last very long, in my opinion.
I prefer to have them in a controlled area, then move them to a new area once the first one is cleared, rather than let them have the run of the place. A chicken tractor the width of the garden bed, by about 8 feet long, with wheels on one end, is fairly easy to move, and will hold about 8 hens or 16 broilers, if you move them often so they have new stuff to scratch and feed on. Then you could plant forage crops for them, like kale, chard, mustard greens, etc. If you put a low cage of fencing wire over plants you want them to forage on, they can eat the leaves without destroying the plants.
If you have young birds, as in not laying yet or raising broilers for meat, you don't need roosts or nest boxes. If you have laying hens, they do like roosts, and need a nest box, although mine have taken to making a nest in the mulch of the garden bed they are currently on. I do find I need to have a lid so the birds don't fly out, and I usually have a covered top, such as a tarp, and at least some kind of cover around the sides., to protect them from rain and strong winds.
I haven't done mixed flocks, but Andy Lee (Chicken Tractor author?) talked about having turkeys, guineas and chickens together.
posted 7 years ago
i've been reading through several forums but can't buy any books. there is so much information but i've had trouble getting some bits of information. the lady who owns the farm is not going to be present this season and has been raising her flock feed-dependent. we want to experiment with alternatives. what we are thinking now is to raise the majority with the landowner (former garage with surrounding run) and we can select about 16 to move to a coop on the terraced beds (3 acres). i'm intrigued by the idea of incorporating turkeys but rabbits or quail have been on my radar lately as well (unlikely for this summer).
the 40' by 40' paddock will be movable, so we can send them down terraces on rotation. the coop will remain static.
i'll make sure to incorporate the flora on the terraces into the brooding feed. generally i take the approach of diving into projects to learn as i go but i've mostly worked with plants and fungi, i feel far more responsibility for animals in my care.
1. Good breeds for this are style are hamburgs http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/silver_spangled_hamburgs.htm because they dont take much food and will roost to get away from most predators. The breeds suited for this are normally very unfriendly, cant handle confinment, and are poor meat caracasses. You will needs lots of insects and crops to do this. Consider adding compost piles near them and/or maggot/black soldier fly compostors.Chickens are very destructive, which can be a great help, but if they run out of food (and probably before) they will destroy any nearby plants you have. Good crops included millet, alfalfa, heirloom corn varieties, etc and http://www.greenharvest.com.au/PoultrySupplies/PoultryForageSeed.html. Fruittrees are excellent and the fruit itself and the spoiled fruit (insects) will feed your chickens. Mulberries are great and produce chicken food for 3 months.
2. If your going to let them free range they will find places to lay eggs out in your garden, however this can end up in stepping on some really old eggs, makes your hens in the field more vulnerable to predators, and means you are less likely to have chicks being raised successfully, plus I'm sure you can find uses for the eggs, or your neighbors would be happy to have extras. So no, but I would definetly build the boxes.
3. Not from hawks and stuff, obviously. I have seen coyotes buy me jump pretty high fences so I would get the extra tall netting if taking this route. However, hamburgs and most of the "flighty", light breeds ideal for subsisting without feed will have no problem clearing anything less than 5 feet I'd say and could probably get higher. I raised large cochins and much lighter hamburgs. The cochins would stay in their enclosure, not going more than a few feet off the ground, the hamburgs would be on the 6 foot chain link, on the barn, up in trees, whatever. A tall (6-7 foot) electric netting fence is very effective for most breeds though and most predators.
4. Roses, bamboo, any dense cover really, is good for the bird, but without locking them in at night and/or livestock guardian dogs this wouldn't even be a consideration where I live because of large numbers of coyotes. Plus chickens like to roam, especially hamburgs.
5. Turkey I've heard yes before, never raised them myself. Quail I hear some breeds are very aggressive and others docile. On a large enough plot you should be fine.
If your goal is patch clearing, if its stuff like new grass, tender greens, etc I would go with geese or ducks and avoid the destructiveness of chickens that needs to always be focused. It sounds like you want free range (from question one) but chickens wil clear what they want, when they want, if not fenced in. If fenced in having no purchased feed would be very tough and they would need to be rotated ALOT to get enough insects/protein. If you dont care about production though nutrition isn't quite as important. Really, the main questions I would ask is how much land do you have that you could allow the chickens to tear up, and really consider if you want to produce eggs/meat. These and some other factors will narrow down what breeds and housing make sense in your situation. Hope this helps.
posted 7 years ago
If your just looking to clear some land during part of the year I think I would just build myself a chicken tractor and fill it with male meat chicks during seasons where there was lots of forage you need cleared and for them to eat You could probably use http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/red_ranger_broiler.html but I prefer to stick with my New Hampshires, the commercial meat breed used in early america on farms (I would never use Cornish X, especially not for foraging/clearing.). This way you dont need nesting boxes, you can build it predator proof easily (dont use chicken wire! predators go in through it so easily), you can clear you land, and at the end you get a freezer full of poultry.
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