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Pasturing Poultry lots of questions

 
Cd Anderson
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We're in the process of buying 26 acres. We intend to have a few cows and bunch of chicken. I'm still in the research phase but we're hoping to have everything set up this winter so we can start in early spring. We feel the management intensive grazing method will work for us with the cows and it makes sense to do the poultry on pasture as well, but I have many questions.


1. Meat birds/Laying birds/Dual purpose.... We are a large family, currently going through about 80 eggs a week and we're estimating 100 meat chickens a year. I do not want to deal with a constant rotation of chicks needing my attention. But my understanding is that meat birds are not good layers or good mothers. I'm also wondering if we do have separate meat and egg birds do we need to keep them separated? How would we best do that and still keep them on a pasture rotation? I'm wanting chickens that will reproduce sufficiently that once we've established the initial flock we will not need to continue to buy and raise chicks, is this a pipe dream?

2.Coop... What size are the mini coops for how many birds? I've read 2sqft per bird in a coop, but that seems to be referring to birds that are mostly cooped/penned. Is it different for pastured chickens? How would you coop 200 birds?

3. What size are your paddocks? I imagine it'll be quite different down here in OK with our regular drought conditions but we're trying to figure out if we can set up permanent paddocks that will work for both the cows and the chickens. We'll have about 10acres we'll be using for pasture, with 3-5 cows, ideally moving the chickens about 3 days behind the cows to give the dung beetles and fly larvae a little grow time before the chickens come in.

4. Watering. How do you water your chickens? We do not have a natural water source and I keep reading that chickens will drowned themselves in cattle troughs. We're thinking quick connect hoses and PVC pipe with nipples that attaches to the side of the coop. This will require running hose for quite some distance but seems like the most doable option. I certainly don' t want to be trucking water out to them 5x's a day (did I mention it easily gets to 100* during the summer months here?)

5. Heat... Like I said 010* is a very realistic number for June, July and Aug. 90 being common for most of May, Sept and Oct. We will be planting fruit trees and berry bushes that will offer some shade, but I'm not sure how much shade will be available in every paddock, and it's going to take a bit to get the trees to maturity before they actually provide any real shade. I'm wondering if the coop is enough or if we should build the coops with an over hang to provide additional shade

6. Disease/illness... Do you have to deal with disease/illness much? I'm imagining not so much with good conditions. But when you do have a sick chicken how do you deal with it? We are not a family that generally uses antibiotics and the like, I tend to focus on keeping us healthy to start with and when sickness does crop up we use herbs and nutrition to get us back on track. I'd like to take the same philosophy with my livestock but am unsure where to find information on common ailments and how to treat them. Or do you just cull a sick chicken right away?

7. LGD... and my final question (for the moment) is if you have any resources you recommend for training a dog to guard the chickens?
 
Adam Klaus
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Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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I'll play. Here's my thoughts on your questions-

1) My experience is that it will be easier/more successful/less work to have two seperate flocks, meat and eggs. 80 eggs a week I would think something like 20 layers with a rooster. Brown leghorns are awesomely productive and still a sound bird. Rhode Island Reds lay well and are sturdy but are a bit nasty IME. Dual purpose birds are much less efficient layers but will work as well. Setup a good mobile layer house for this flock.

Meat birds you will just want to raise one batch per year, something like May to September. These will be young cockerels, so yes, generally keep them seperate from the layers. Their feed requirements are a little different, their social behavior is definietly different, their housing needs are different. Easier if they are totally seperate. I reccomend heritage breeds, they grow slower and produce more nutritious and flavorful meat. Slow growth means they can forage for a higher percentage of their diet. Check out my post here- http://www.permies.com/t/25111/chickens/slow-grow-heritage-meat-chickens

I would get your production systems down with purchased birds before you worry about hatching your own. Yes it is possible, even pretty easy if you are a pro. If you are just starting out, yes, it is a pipe dream. The cost of day old chicks is low enough that your efforts are better focused elsewhere to start.


2) For the layers who need housing year round, I would go 8x16 for your 20 birds. You will prevent a lot of problems with a larger house like this.

For the meat birds, they are only going to be inside when very small (low space requirements) or at night to roost. Focus on lots of roost space, 1 foot per bird. 8x16 works for me for 100 birds, because they just sleep there and have tons of roost space and a free to leave if things get stressful. Dont try this density if they will be cooped up for any length of time. Chickens love to fight.

So two houses, 8x16, would be a simple setup. Easy to build from standard materials. Just design the insides differently for the different functions.


3) Dont stress on the pasture rotation thing with the chickens. With the cattle, it is critical. With the chickens, I would just move their houses when the surrounding ground starts to look overly impacted. They will follow the cows on their own, and find the bugs no problem. Assuming you use some sort of wire bottomed housing, you will have buildups of manure that is easily collected and composted for use on your gardens and trees. Their poop in the daytime will be distributed around the pasture to fertilize it. Having a concentrated source of poultry manure you can collect is a valuable thing, not a bad thing.

4) Use 1/2 inch black poly lines to run water where you need it. Much cheaper and more durable than hose. Birds will drown in stocktanks. Use gravity fed waterers that will hold several gallons. You dont want to rely on live pressurized waterers. Winter is a bit more fun, I use a rubber tub so you can knock the ice out easily. Try to park the henhouse near a frost free spigot in winter, you'll thank me later, and break a lot less plumbing fittings.

5) Chickens dont mind heat. Shade is great, work to provide it sure, but I wouldnt worry it too much. The coop will likely be hotter inside than outside, so the birds arent going to go inside on a hot afternoon. The will likely hang out underneath it if they can though.

6) Disease is very rare. I would say almost never, and if you do get a sick one, get rid of it. Just easier that way. Value the flock over the individual always.

7) Cant help there except to say that the greatest chicken predator of all time is the neighbors dog (or in my case, my dog). Cats like baby chicks too.

Hope that helps, definitely check out Joel Salatin's book, Pastured Poultry Profits as a good base of info. Any more questions feel free to ask-
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Adam's 8x16 dimension comes to 128 sq. ft. That area will collect 80 gallons of water for each inch of rainfall.
A simple gutter/tank system would save a lot of bucket trips to the pen.

 
wayne stephen
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Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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I cannot recommend enough Salatins "Pasture Poultry Profits". He has worked out the logistics of raising penned chickens on pasture and you may be able to improve on his systems but not without a lot of trial and error. Stick with his advice first and you'll have a freezer full of fowl . geoff lawton has a video of a smaller movable coop / solar electric fence system on youtube. I have had good experiences with Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks for layers. Isa Browns I have this year and they range well , prolific layers , go broody , and make good mothers. You cannot beat the Cornish Rock Crosses for meat production but they are not worth letting them grow to adulthood. 6 weeks is good . 8 weeks is a stretch. Read Paul Wheatons "Chicken 2.0" . I have my own own ideas about that system but I have to try it and get back with you about the results - 5 years or so down the road.
 
Renate Howard
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Location: zone 6b
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You can save a bit of money ordering chicks straight-run and just separating the males from the females once their tail feathers start curving (the males should stop fighting once they're away from all the hens). If you have enough pasture they won't eat as much feed and you can afford to grow them for longer to get more weight on them for bigger carcasses. IMHO range fed birds have much more flavor and make really good soup after you're done eating the meat, we get 3 meals out of each bird - one for the meat and then 2 of soup afterward.

Some hatcheries offer a "rainbow mix" - that is, whatever isn't selling that week. If you get that, you may be able to find the breeds that do the best under your conditions, so in the future you can get more of those. We have "Heinz 57" bantams and they lay well, are very broody when we want more, and are hardy. I'm thinking letting natural selection work may be a good thing, as long as you cull for undesirable traits like poor laying. In other species they say if you let them select their mates they usually find ones that give them better offspring.
 
Jay Green
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Cd Anderson wrote:We're in the process of buying 26 acres. We intend to have a few cows and bunch of chicken. I'm still in the research phase but we're hoping to have everything set up this winter so we can start in early spring. We feel the management intensive grazing method will work for us with the cows and it makes sense to do the poultry on pasture as well, but I have many questions.


1. Meat birds/Laying birds/Dual purpose.... We are a large family, currently going through about 80 eggs a week and we're estimating 100 meat chickens a year. I do not want to deal with a constant rotation of chicks needing my attention. But my understanding is that meat birds are not good layers or good mothers. I'm also wondering if we do have separate meat and egg birds do we need to keep them separated? How would we best do that and still keep them on a pasture rotation? I'm wanting chickens that will reproduce sufficiently that once we've established the initial flock we will not need to continue to buy and raise chicks, is this a pipe dream?

No, it is not. You can do this quite successfully with a good dual purpose breed such as White Rocks~they have all the traits you desire in a bird..hardy to the max, thrifty on feed, forage well, excellent lay, broodiness but not TOO broody, heavy meat bird, quality feathering, lay for years on end. I would try to get them from breeder stock instead of from hatchery, as your success at getting genetics that will still sit and brood their own chicks goes way up when dealing with a breeder that is breeding to SOP for the breed. Here is a website of a fellow who can give you information on reputable breeders in your area for this breed and other good heritage stock. Rob Blosl is one of the more respected breeders in the US and is very helpful. Rob Blosl's website

You might also consider heritage line bred Buckeyes for a dual purpose breed that still lays respectably. From the better breeders, you will find birds that are heavy, lay very well, go broody enough to reproduce and are excellent on forage.

For your basic meat needs, you might do one large batch of CX per year and treat them much like your layers....free range in a paddock, feed layer or flock ration once a day(in their own feeders)..but provide them a lightweight range shelter separate from the coop as they will sleep on the ground. Some make these from cattle panels and tarp...in your area these will need to be anchored to the ground to keep them from blowing over. If not fed continuous feeds and given good forage, these birds will forage far better than standard chickens out of sheer hunger and high metabolism. Fermented feeds would be something to study up on for all flocks, but particularly for the meat birds...it will keep their feed costs down, keep them very healthy and less dehydrated, and improve the flavor of the meat by allowing them to be raised to a greater age...this deepens the flavor of the meat considerably.


2.Coop... What size are the mini coops for how many birds? I've read 2sqft per bird in a coop, but that seems to be referring to birds that are mostly cooped/penned. Is it different for pastured chickens? How would you coop 200 birds?

Large tunnel style coops are best for that number of birds and these can be made from PVC, cattle panels, green house construction, etc. They are cheap, easy to construct and open air enough to provide good ventilation for your type of weather. Even with free ranged birds, there may be times when they have to stay in the coop for one reason or another, so always build for more space than they actually require for healthy living environments.

3. What size are your paddocks? I imagine it'll be quite different down here in OK with our regular drought conditions but we're trying to figure out if we can set up permanent paddocks that will work for both the cows and the chickens. We'll have about 10acres we'll be using for pasture, with 3-5 cows, ideally moving the chickens about 3 days behind the cows to give the dung beetles and fly larvae a little grow time before the chickens come in.

For rotational grazing situations of large flocks of birds, one usually uses coops that are built onto hay wagon bases and can be moved with a tractor or truck, combined with electric poultry netting for the best effect. Salatin uses such a setup with his pastured layers and places a LGD right in the fence to keep hawks at bay.

4. Watering. How do you water your chickens? We do not have a natural water source and I keep reading that chickens will drowned themselves in cattle troughs. We're thinking quick connect hoses and PVC pipe with nipples that attaches to the side of the coop. This will require running hose for quite some distance but seems like the most doable option. I certainly don' t want to be trucking water out to them 5x's a day (did I mention it easily gets to 100* during the summer months here?)

If using the range coop on the trailer, you can have a water tank slung under the wagon that can be filled from a tank on a truck, with the PVC and nipple delivery system. If using a static coop situation, rain collection and water reservoirs to the same kind of system of delivery would be best for large flocks.

5. Heat... Like I said 010* is a very realistic number for June, July and Aug. 90 being common for most of May, Sept and Oct. We will be planting fruit trees and berry bushes that will offer some shade, but I'm not sure how much shade will be available in every paddock, and it's going to take a bit to get the trees to maturity before they actually provide any real shade. I'm wondering if the coop is enough or if we should build the coops with an over hang to provide additional shade

If using the range coop, the wagon provides the shade and it would be fairly simple to arrange tarps as side flaps that could be extended from the base of the wagon for additional shade.

6. Disease/illness... Do you have to deal with disease/illness much? I'm imagining not so much with good conditions. But when you do have a sick chicken how do you deal with it? We are not a family that generally uses antibiotics and the like, I tend to focus on keeping us healthy to start with and when sickness does crop up we use herbs and nutrition to get us back on track. I'd like to take the same philosophy with my livestock but am unsure where to find information on common ailments and how to treat them. Or do you just cull a sick chicken right away?

Clean soils, fresh feed, sunlight...and judicious culling each year of any unthrifty or nonproductive birds will usually also eliminate those who would form illness or might carry heavy parasite loads. Starting with quality stock is also a good idea, so getting from a breeder will help with this. Start chicks off right with developing a good immune system...no medication in their feeds...give them a shovel full of the native soil in their brooder so they can form immunities to the cocci levels existing in the soils.

7. LGD... and my final question (for the moment) is if you have any resources you recommend for training a dog to guard the chickens?

Obedience training to establish pack order is key, then additional training to show the dog what is desirable behavior around the birds...no overt excitement, no barking or lunging, immediate redirection from attention on the flock if the dog shows excitement in their presence. Exposing him to all the things that chickens do(running, squawking, flapping, flying, dusting, fighting), while in a controlled setting and correcting behaviors that arise in reaction to the bird's actions, will help your dog get off on the right foot with the flocks.

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