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Coop and rotational paddock idea

 
chad duncan
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I would like to build a chicken coop to house some hens and a rooster to keep my layer flock stocked up. It strikes me as silly that we are buying layer chicks when I have laying hens here already. I guess it may be cheaper/easier in some way to buy the 'ready-made' layers but for some reason it still doesn't seem right. Maybe keeping a number of hens and a rooster for this purpose will cost me more in feed than the pullets do. So now in order to justify this breeding program I will need to bring down the cost of feeding them. This calls for good foraging and there is no way my dog is going to allow some chicken to forage anywhere within his kingdom. My foraging needs to be more contained. I considered a 'tractor', but sheesh what a bunch of work moving that thing all the time. Then I thought of the OctaCoop tm .

this will give me around 70 square feet of coop and 8 70 square foot paddocks. I can let the birds into a paddock for two or three days before moving them to the next paddock and then the first paddock would get two or three weeks recovery. Or I can move them every day and the paddock would still get seven days of recovery. I will plants berry bushes of some kind on the outer walls and some chicken appropriate vegetation inside the paddocks. Laying boxes would be on another octagon shaped structure in the very middle of the coop. The paddocks will be caged in a strong wire to ward off raccoons and of course the beastly dog I live with.

Conventional wisdom tells me that I have room for seven birds per paddock (10SqFt per bird) but I don't know if that bird density applies to foraging or if it just refers to leg room.
Obviously geography (pacific northwest-ish, vancouver island specifically) and a million other variables that I couldn't list now are really needed to ask this next question but: How many birds could I have living feed free (or close to that) in something like this?
How would I know if they were getting enough to eat?
Is this an ill thought, foolish idea right from the outset?
 
Renate Howard
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I think 10 square feet per bird is way too small for them to forage. In that setup you could have 1 hen and 1 rooster and some hope for the grass to recover in time.

I have a portable pen that I put my tiny banty chicks in. I move it every day. It takes at least a week in the good weather for the grass to recover. During the cold fall and early spring it takes over a month. I've not used it in the hot summer yet, but I imagine unless I watered it, there would be no growth to speak of in a few weeks. On the good side, their manure is enriching my poor soil areas so when the grass does grow again it comes back greener and thicker. You might want that middle area to be a sacrificial paddock to keep them in when the rest of them are still recovering. Over time as the soil gets richer they may recover faster.

There are some real benefits to raising your own chicks from free range birds - better nutrition in the parents yields better quality offspring, for one. I've had plenty of chicks from a hatchery that seemed to have internal problems like malformed reproductive organs (hens that crow, etc) from the chemically-treated foods, I'm guessing.

On the other hand, unless you can get a lot of the materials for free, you're not likely to save much money on this - unless you plan to hatch all the eggs and sell off the offspring to others in your community. In that case, keeping them penned so you control which hen and which rooster means you can guarantee they're pure whatever, and you can sell the chicks for more. If you're going to use an incubator, don't skimp on it. I got a cheap ($35) one and after 3 broods the thermostat went haywire and started overheating it to the point it killed all my eggs. During the time I had it I hatched 20 chicks that could sell for $10 each now that they're fully feathered. For the $200 I could have gotten a much nicer incubator that I could still be using. If you take the eggs and hatch them she'll keep laying, if you get a broody hen you lose all the eggs she would have laid when she's brooding and raising the chicks. And the chicks are much more afraid of people than incubated ones.

One other option, depending on your dog, is to get birds that are strong flyers and let them range with the dog. My dog, a herding type, harasses the chickens but doesn't usually harm them (a few he's caught and played with went into shock from stress and needed a night inside under the brooder lamp to recover, tho). We have some game birds and some banties that will fly away into a treetop when he tries to bother them. Ironically, the Rhode Island Reds get along best with the dog. They've decided he's a big rooster and I guess think he's just mating with them. They'll stoop for him at which point he decides they're no fun and he leaves them alone. Game chickens are very alert and strong flyers. They do well in hot and cold climates and are alert and intelligent so they are one of the best for free range. Their eggs are small, tho.
 
chad duncan
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Renate Haeckler wrote: You might want that middle area to be a sacrificial paddock to keep them in when the rest of them are still recovering.


I'm not sure you understand what I am proposing here. The birds would be in a single paddock for one day (or two) then that paddock gets one week (or two) to recover. Every day in the paddock will be followed by a like number of weeks to recover. At night they simply go into the coop in the middle. when it comes time to move to a new paddock, I just close one door and open another. Why would I give up the coop for a scrificial paddock when I have eight others? this would leave me with no coop and really no point to the entire excercise.
I don't expect to leave them in any paddock long enough to 'scorch the earth'. One to three days max depending on how the paddock is fairing.

I do hear and understand everything else you have said and will take it all under consideration.

I just spent $500 on layers and I suspect I can build this (excluding heavy duty wire) for the same and this way I will have a constant small supply rather than the 'all or nothing; approach I am using now.
How many square feet per bird do you think I need for forage land?
 
Josef Theisen
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The overall concept is good. In fact Bill Mollison has very similar drawings in his books, though on a larger scale. I don't think 10 square feet per bird is nearly enough room to cut your feed bill. My main concern, however, is access. You have drawn 16 doors on this plan. Are they people doors, chicken doors, or both? If you plan to do both that makes 32 doors and 32 door frames. Each door will need at least 2 hinges and a latch. Along with the addtional framing material and the added labor of building I'm guessing this is going to be more trouble and expense than it's worth, at least at the scale you are working in. Also it requires you going through 2 doors every time you want to check on the birds, gather eggs, ect...

I am not trying to discourage you, just thinking through the details. At the end of the day, there will always be compromises in your poultry housing.
 
Renate Howard
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For full-size birds we had 12 in a half-acre. Probably could have had closer to 30 with them still able to eat all they wanted and not degrade the environment too much. But even those 12 created areas of just dirt and dug up swaths of lawn when there were grubs under the sod.

I thought the center was an area that had a coop in it (not just coop but coop and small yard with doors to the paddocks). The point is, with any rotational grazing system there may be times (like winter) when the paddocks stop recovering in time and you have nowhere to put the animals where they won't be overgrazing an area. So you need one area to be a sacrificial paddock for those times to keep the other areas strong and productive. In that area you could do a deep bedding system or something if it turns out you'll be using it a lot (like over winter). Some way to harvest the fertility of the manure and use it to increase the outputs of some other area (like spreading the bedding under your fruit trees as mulch in the spring).

One more thought on your plan as it is, you'd have to figure out a way to get to the coop in the middle every day or two to close/open the doors. In some plans for similar designs, there's a path to the coop in the center besides the 8 paddocks - makes it easier to take care of them. That could also be your sacrificial area, maybe.
 
chad duncan
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I made a bunch of calculations today based on your your example
Renate Haeckler wrote:For full-size birds we had 12 in a half-acre. Probably could have had closer to 30 with them still able to eat all they wanted and not degrade the environment too much.


And then left the results at work. sigh.
I do recall the imortant bits I think.
30 birds in a half acre, equals,
60 birds in an acre, equals,
60 birds in 40,000 square feet. I want (for easy math) 10 birds. so,
10 birds in 6,666 square feet. divided by seven paddocks equals-
953 square feet per paddock.

This is when the math started getting tedious and I don't want to do it again so I will just include the details I remember. I tried many different paddock lengths and finally hit a number that might work for me (mathematically). It's actually a little small at only a little over 700 square feet per paddock, but at the same time it is ridiculous in it's size. Paddock length would have to be 40 feet (instead of 10). This would make the entire OctoCoop 90 feet wide. 90 feet squared (8100 square feet) for 10 birds.

I believe you may both be correct. This project is a non starter. Thank you for the help.

*If I use all 8 paddocks for the birds it is still over 800 square feet per.
 
Chris Kott
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It depends on how much room you're working with, but if its a materials concern and not one of space, have you considered a wedge shaped paddock with the coop built into the wide end wall, the point a fence post that can be moved to different post holes. With any number of simple machines, from a bicycle at really low gearing, to well placed wheels and long handles, you could easily rotate the wedge around the point as often as necessary if you can move it around, or if it needs to remain stationary, it would allow you to paddock the same amount of space with an eighth of the fencing.

If there really are space issues, what about bantams?

-CK
 
John Polk
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The numbers I have always heard for sustainable year round stocking range between 40-50 hens per acre.
To make the math simple for myself, I picked 43.6 hens/acre, which comes to 1,000 square feet per bird.

It is not just about how fast they will consume the fodder.
You also need to factor in the amount of chicken shit they will leave. Too much = nothing will grow there.
And a 3rd factor is that too many, for too long will greatly diminish the insects (a part of your soil food web chain).

They should be rotated OFF the pasture before they have consumed 30% if you want it to regrow healthy.
And, the best rotations keep them off for at least a complete moon cycle.
Most parasites (internal/external) cannot reproduce without a host for this long.

 
Clifford Reinke
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OK I did the math on my four paddock system with the coop in the middle and it works out to 140 Sq ft per bird in the paddock and 5 sq ft per bird in the coop. I rotate them about once a week and have no degradation in the paddocks. In the winter I extend the time in the padlocks to about two weeks to allow for the slower growth rate of the grass. I've been doing this system for over two years and the paddocks just seem to get more and more productive. Granted I only have a dozen birds including the rooster, but it should give you a start in figuring out how much room you need.

 
Renate Howard
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I'd go with what Clifford says! You need to hear from people who have done it!

With my pigs (first summer so I don't know how well it will work yet) I figured they'll have some needs that can stay in one place - food, water, shelter, and mudbath area (trying to use a kiddy pool but they know they can dump it to get mud instead). With the chickens they'll want a place they can dust bathe, and if you don't give them a permanent area for it they'll make a dust bathing place in each of your paddocks. If you have the coop take up less than the complete center area then they can have the dust bath there. They'll also WANT somewhere to run to hide when hawks fly over. (Use "hawk" liberally to include helicopters, airplanes, kites, frisbees)
 
chad duncan
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Clifford Reinke wrote:OK I did the math on my four paddock system with the coop in the middle and it works out to 140 Sq ft per bird in the paddock and 5 sq ft per bird in the coop.

is this 140 Sq ft per paddock or the total for all four paddocks? Seems obvious but I want to be clear.
How much feed do you need to supplement?
Do you plant anything particular in the paddocks to feed the birds?


A couple answers from questions before:
I am wanting to keep 6-8 hens plus a rooster. I think. I guess. (plus growing youths)
the outer doors would be made of wire and the coop doors will be upper/lower double doors with a sliding panel in the bottom. so approximately 600 hinges and latches.
the paddocks would have a full wire roof to keep out the raccoons and barn cats.
the paddocks would be watered via sprinklers hanging from the ceiling.
every point of the octagram would have a berry bush planted outside and against the paddock.
Other assorted chicken recommended plants will also be planted in and out of the paddock.
the seemingly unnecesary 8th paddock would be the typical human entrance and if I can wrap my head and heart around it, the processing station.
 
Chris Kott
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Sorry, chad, I just don't see the sense in that much infrastructure if you can make one an eighth the enclosure size and move it. Even if you made two, comprising a quarter of the area you described, with an inner dividing wall and doors in each, you would be spending significantly less on hardware and materials. I would make an inner dividing wall that stayed stationary while the rest of the structure moved around it, allowing you to move the chickens to the new half first, and then slide the outer paddock over them, enlarging the area they would have just entered. So when it was time to move, you could just drop the divider down the centre of the paddock, gather the chooks in the half on the same side as you're moving, move the outer paddock (at this point, the new half is all fresh, the chooks race voluntarily to the fresh greens, and you can simply move the paddock the rest of the way onto fresh ground). The divider could be no more than a mobile dog fence, as it would be used only within the paddock to keep the chickens away from the moving paddock wall.

-CK
 
Clifford Reinke
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Chad, That is per bird per paddock. Also as you can see, My coop is on stilts, so the birds have a permanent dusting/hiding place under the coop. They get into the coop through a trap door in the bottom, that I close up every night. My paddock is just a 164ft long electric poultry netting, that I move every week to make a new paddock. The fence is powered by a solar charger.
 
chad duncan
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Chris Kott wrote:Sorry, chad, I just don't see the sense in that much infrastructure if you can make one an eighth the enclosure size and move it.-CK


Back when it was only thirty feet across and in my dreams it seemed quite sensible. Now it is ninety feet across, more based in reality and is quite senseless for my purposes.
I still think that in the lo-oo-ong run it would pay for itself, but it would never come close to covering the losses of losing a quarter acre of hay field.
I could also save myself a fortune on fencing and a ton of bother if I just shot my dog.
Seems to me that none of these things are going to pass. I will have to think of something else to do with my yard space before the lawn takes over again.
Thanks again for the tips and ideas.
 
Clifford Reinke
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Well, maybe you just need another method. Chickens can still be valuable without using a paddock system. Mother Earth News had a chicken run that wrapped around the vegetable garden, with openings onto the raised beds grounded to the chicken run. The chickens were allowed onto the beds just before planting, They scratched up the soil, ate all the bugs, and fertilized all for free. Garden waste was tossed to the chickens.

People with small yards in Seattle successfully raise chickens without a paddock system. Lots of different ways to raise chickens, you just need to find what works for you. Even if you have to feed them exclusively layer pellets, you still will produce superior eggs at about the same cost you can buy regular eggs at the grocery store.
 
chad duncan
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Clifford Reinke wrote:Lots of different ways to raise chickens, you just need to find what works for you. Even if you have to feed them exclusively layer pellets, you still will produce superior eggs at about the same cost you can buy regular eggs at the grocery store.

Don't I know it.
I have a large coop elsewhere on the property that has around 70 layers in it. I had just spent a large sum on chicks and was trying to find a low-maintenance way of avoiding this expense again. My 'day job' is about an hour commute away from my 'evening and weekend job' here at the farm so I don't want to get into moving a tractor every day. I am certainly not going to cut a quarter acre out of the hay field and 30'X30' isn't going to give me what I want. I suppose I could consider breeding some sort of bantam and selling those chicks to buy layers but I am not sure I have the time or interest in spending my precious few spare moments chasing country fair poultry shows.


As a final thought,
how many hens would I need to maintain my 75(ish) layer flock at full strength? Perhaps 6-8 hens is a bit large of a flock for this purpose? I had not intended to incubate them myself, just to kidnap the little girls and send them to the egg mines and to eat their little boys. And of course I don't want to feed anybody in the OctaCoop either. I see now how unrealistic I was in my expectations but that was what the plan was originally.
 
Renate Howard
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If you have a flock of 70 then either you really really like eggs or you're selling them too? I think the problem is that people who do it *right* can't really compete price-wise with the CAFO's who pinch every penny they can, take advantage of government subsidies, and on top of that ruin the farmers (Yeah, contract growers for Tyson are always complaining that the sales guy said if they do X Y and Z they'd be rolling in the money but it turns out they're not meeting their expenses or able to pay back the loans they took out).

Enough hens to feed a family can pretty much feed themselves in the yard of the family. Enough hens to sell eggs from need a very sizable "yard". And what I'm seeing is that then there are dynamics that come into play - they claim territories, break into groups, each group picks different roosting spots, etc.

There's one more way you could still raise your own pullets, maybe. What about if you made a cattle panel "safe zone" where they could retreat from your dog? The holes are just the right size for a hen to run through to get away from the dog quickly, but if your dog is average size it probably couldn't get in. You may have to deter digging under, tho, maybe by burying it some. Leave it up to them to keep themselves safe from the dog. You may lose some stupid ones (I had one fly over the fence into the yard of a killer dog before) but if you choose the smarter breeds you may wind up with enough that aren't stupid enough to feed themselves to your dog. I've found americuanas to be pretty good at self-preservation. Their eggs are smaller (not banty size more like medium sized) but a lot of people get a thrill from those colored eggs.

Chicken-killing dogs can be trained out of it if they haven't done it a whole lot. The praise/reward way is to encourage the dog to only sniff, then look away and act like it's ignoring the birds. For some reason in dog psychology, looking away from a wanted object signifies more than just looking away - it shows that you're the boss and it's yours and off limits to them. I actually taught my dog the command "Mine" for things he's not allowed to play with. But he's a pretty smart dog.
 
alex Keenan
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I have been raising chickens for over a decade. I have coops where the chickens run free and are locked up at night. We also use chicken tractors.
Here is an twist I am currently working on with the chicken tractors. Most of our tractors are used for young birds. They are around 8 to 10 feet long and around four to 8 feet wide.
The young birds will wipe out all surface vegetation in about a week if left in one place. There are some hand seed planters used for planting tree seeds.
These can also be used for beans and other seeds. So the plan this summer is to plant cover crops using a hand seed planter after the chicken tractor is moved.
Otherwise the area become weedy.

The second part of this is to plant feed plants like peas into the ground that the tractor will be move on to.
In the fall I can plant Kale and other cold hardy plants for the birds to feed on. By this method I can increase available feed and improve my heavy clay soil.
 
Cj Sloane
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chad duncan wrote: I am certainly not going to cut a quarter acre out of the hay field and 30'X30' isn't going to give me what I want.


How are you fertilizing your hay field? You'll wind up with more/better hay if you do paddock shift.
 
Jennifer Smith
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Twist on dog training. I never did like the training e-collers till we moved to the plantation with chicken killing dogs. Hubby made short work of making believers out of them dogs.
 
chad duncan
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Renate Haeckler wrote:If you have a flock of 70 then either you really really like eggs or you're selling them too?

We sell them to a couple small stores around here and at the end of my driveway. Not so much a money maker as it is a way to maintain my farm status with the tax man. The horses eat the hay so there isn't any 'profitable farming' there to appease the gov't.

Cj Verde wrote:How are you fertilizing your hay field? You'll wind up with more/better hay if you do paddock shift.

I suppose they could go in a hayfield in the non growing season but I would have to be out there moving them constantly because I can't have them tearing up patches. Nor can I have them eating any tender new shoots of grass.

Renate Haeckler wrote: Chicken-killing dogs can be trained out of it if they haven't done it a whole lot.

He is a sheep killing, cow chasing intelligent dog with twelve hours of alone time each day to dream up all manner of terrors. A sensible chicken would simply stay on the correct side of the wire but this means that no chicken will ever be able to pass the wire. The dog will never give up the fenceline. I would just let the chickens loose and not bother myself with all this coop building but with the time I have available to me I will never be able to teach my dog to stop chasing chickens. Or more correctly would be to say that I would never trust the dog enough to leave him alone with the chickens. Not even with a stun gun attached to his collar and a proximity sensor on each bird.
 
Teretta Owen
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Chris can you give more info on your post? I would love to see some photos of this idea. In the post you said " I would make an inner dividing wall that stayed stationary while the rest of the structure moved around it, allowing you to move the chickens to the new half first, and then slide the outer paddock over them, enlarging the area they would have just entered. So when it was time to move, you could just drop the divider down the centre of the paddock, gather the chooks in the half on the same side as you're moving, move the outer paddock"
 
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