We have found thick regrowth cedar to create virtual deserts beneath themselves where virtually nothing but cedar sedge will grow, and which tend to be quite eroded on slopes, so in the interest of diversity we're removing some of them, and turning their branches into erosion control windrows which are trapping leaf litter and creating a place with a little more moisture where eventually, I hope, more plants will grow.
I just stumbled across your project thread, and have really enjoyed seeing what you have been able to do with your place. It looks beautiful.
You asked for ideas on improving your set-up, and I wonder if you have considered Paul's idea to set up temporary fencing to let your hens forage in different parts of your acre for a week or two and then move them? Alternately, perhaps the chicken house could be placed adjoining your kitchen garden, so you walk through the garden and pull a few weeds or greens to throw the chickens, collect the eggs, and walk back through the garden to pick a few veggies for the day? Then, their run could be set-up in 2 or more sections so they could forage out onto the swale and berm areas to pick up some of the greens, grit, and grub one writer said we need to supply chickens. Maybe you could sow some kind of cover crop/poultry forage in the swale on one side, for them to forage, then move to another spot? So even if you still have to provide the grain, at least they can meet some of their own needs. At the same time, it could reduce your time and energy in walking out to take care of the chickens, so you can get on with your other projects! I understand, though, with dry conditions it is hard to get anything to grow, which is why I suggest planting in a swale or slightly depressed area that might hold water longer. If you can plant something like mulberries or Siberian pea shrub in or overhanging the chicken run, eventually they might be able to supply some of your feed.
I'm still trying to figure out how to do some of these same things at my place, so I appreciate you sharing the challenges and methods you are using to turn problems into solutions. It gives a lot of food for thought.
Thank you for the kind and encouraging words, dj, and for the suggestions about the chickens. I'm contemplating the possibility of moving their house a few yards to the south, so they can be incorporated in future food forest activities. This would still keep them in the main animal area where the sheep are, and near the barn where the feed is. This would be a major change, but I think it would make sense because of the reasons you mention, allowing the chickens to benefit from the gardens more.
Sorry to hear about your apple tree, hopefully it grows back . There always seems to be something that makes our projects more effort than planned. I lose baby trees from time to time, and buildings to bigger trees falling .
NJ, good information! Explains why some of my property is drier than others (around cedar trees). They are tough trees for sure. My wife has a bad case of cedar fever. Can see the male trees full of the pollen. Yuck.