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chickens in the forest?

 
drew grim
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Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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I have about a quarter of an acre of closed canopy forest that i am trying to graze my chickens on. I have more that i can move them to if i need to. Currently i am supplementing their feed with some grain. I want to stop feeding them grain but im afraid of loosing them to bad nutrition. I plan to clear out the area eventually so that i can plant trees that will feed the animals but right now i just need to work with what i have. Any thoughts or ideas? can chickens survive in the woods?
 
Jordan Lowery
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What are these woods like? Types Of trees? Mulch layer? Understory plants?
 
drew grim
Posts: 49
Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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Its old oaks and pines. The mulch layer is just years of leaves. There are some small plants but not much. Ill try and get a picture tomorrow.
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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That is native habitat for chickens. They should be very happy, they should be able to find enough bugs to keep em very amused.

May want to give em some scratch for calcium and rocks.
 
Alder Burns
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The other big factor is how many chickens? With just 1/4 acre of forest, I would not think that would provide a subsistence for more than three or four. If you are hard up for chicken feed, remember they can go through all manner of kitchen and garden scraps (and make wonderful compost of what they don't eat). Check out some dumpsters....I kept a small laying flock (6- and a few turkeys in Georgia on the big bags of popcorn from the movie theater dumpster in town!! And last, check out black soldier flies, on this site and elsewhere. Those things are amazing.....they will bring a feed yield off of the vilest stuff.....humanure, dog manure, dead animals, poisonous mushrooms....
 
Renate Howard
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Mine had about 1/2 acre of half lawn and half woods. They ate a lot of fungus "threads" in the leaf mould in the woods, as well as all types of worms and centipedes they found there. And mulberries when they dropped, and seedlings as they sprouted. And lots of grass and weeds from the lawn. I could tell when they were feeding themselves enough because they'd ignore the food I put out and most of it would sit for the wild birds and squirrels. I switched to wild bird seed - stays good when wet and more natural. Lots of animal foods have "flavor enhancers" like MSG added to get them to eat the nasty stuff, and you don't want anything telling their brains they want to gorge on feed. The mother hens would raise their chicks in the woods and never need to come to the feeding area, and those chicks could forage for 100% of their food but they were wild and tended to hide their nests. During drought and also winter they'll still need to be fed.

If you don't mind your chickens running from you, I'd say try getting some to raise their own replacements and see if they can live off of just forage.
 
drew grim
Posts: 49
Location: pleasant garden, nc (zone 7A)
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thanks everyone, for all the input. it does seem only natural for chickens to forage in the woods. it seems with the chickens we have now a days they just dont have the natural instincts to forage like they should. I am just going to cull hard and try to raise a breed that forages better.
 
Alder Burns
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Breed makes a huge difference! Don't get "broiler breeds" meant for meat production whatever you do. Those birds are creepy! They won't even scratch the mulch in a yard, they just sit by the feeder and wait to be fed. I'd have to go in there with a pitchfork and scratch up the mulch myself as it would cake down into a vile mat with their manure..... There are breeds that are excellent foragers......usually they are small and active and probably decent layers, but not much meat on them. Dull color or speckled to camouflage from predators....
 
Jay Green
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The CX broilers were the best foraging birds I've ever owned, foraging in a larger area and for more hours of the day than any breed of dual purpose bird I've ever owned. What one gets from their broiler chickens is what one expects and plans for. If you provide feed on a continuous basis, they will wait for and eat the easiest source of feed. If you make them forage for their feed and then feed them regular food at the end of the day, they will range over 2-3 acres on a constant search for food.

The only way you are going to be able to determine if your chickens will be able to thrive on what you have is to try it. Monitor their body for loss of conditioning, their production levels and their general health...bright eyes, good feathering, lack of parasites, etc. Make adjustments as you go along...if there are those who thrive well on your forage and maintain good health and conditioning, keep those. If there are a few who do not thrive when the others do, cull those. Breed the best, cull the rest.

Developing a flock/breed to become a landrace breed takes time and dedication, but it can be accomplished.

 
Renate Howard
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You'll want them predator proof too. Some breeds seem to be unaware of hawks until they get that last ride in the sky while others seem ever-vigilant. The ameracuanas we had did the best with free range. We almost never lost them to predators, unless a fox got into the henhouse at night before we shut them in. We had a welsummer who did well, cochins lasted the longest for us - we had some make it to 7 years old, but they stopped laying after 2 years. Rhode Island Reds also did quite well, tho they tended to be mean to our chicks more than other breeds and we had to cull a few for attacking baby chicks (of other hens).

The rare breeds that you'd think would do well like Sumatra that come from places where they have to fend for themselves did poorly and I think it's because there are so few that they bred ones they should have culled.

If you get an old hen that's been free-ranged like you want yours to be, she'll warn the flock of predators and send them under cover, then make the "all clear" when it's ok to go out again. Even if she's no longer laying, it's worth keeping one or two old ones around for that reason.

If you have owls, then cull for roosting in trees too much (we used to fly frisbees over them to scare them down when we were training them to go to the henhouse at night). Some birds insist on roosting in trees despite your best efforts. The owls will pick them off in a few nights if you let them roost in trees. Our banties were wild when we got them and they all roosted in a tree at night. Owls picked off all the white ones then the rest got smart and moved to roost in the barn.

My personal theory now is to let there be as many roosters as hatch while the weather is good for them foraging. If a predator turns up it's a 50% chance it will eat a rooster instead of a hen; plus they like to pair off together and that's pretty cute, some of the roosters even watch the hen while she's brooding and guard the chicks with her. Then in fall when you'll have to be feeding them, harvest all but the best of the roosters and keep the best ones to breed the following spring. I'd keep more than one because you do have some losses to predators in the winter too.

Also don't cull all your older hens because they'll make bigger eggs and the bigger chicks get a head start in life. Even our old hens would squeeze out a spring clutch of eggs before they stopped laying. So if you want to make them into soup you can wait until after they lay that spring clutch (usually in February).
 
John Polk
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Also don't cull all your older hens because they'll make bigger eggs and the bigger chicks get a head start in life. Even our old hens would squeeze out a spring clutch of eggs before they stopped laying.


That's good advice.

The egg farm I worked on had their own breeding operation. They raised their own 'replacements'.
Their rule of thumb was that no hen would 'graduate' into the brood yard until 18 months of age.
Younger birds raised smaller chicks, and had a much higher percentage of roosters.

Their breeding program was improving their flock, year by year.
They firmly believed that breeding hens under 18 months old would have spiraled them out of business within a decade.



 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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