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Giving up on the paddock, going to tractor

Posts: 73
Location: Northern California
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Well, I've lost enough control that I need to give up on my version of the paddock plan.

only had 4 (now 3) laying hens,
was using standard 3ft chicken wire fencing
setting up in woods and brush, not green fields
not willing to close every little gap under the fence, as for a while, if they had their lay pellets and water, they'd generally stay in the fencing.

They started a habit of a morning exploration that was getting wider and wider, and when they found the tomato plants up on the patio (rather than the fenced off ones in the garden) I'd had enough. I could just imagine this if I'd had berries or grapes on the vine.

yes, I could have spent the big money and gotten fencing that draped better and perhaps closed off the spots where they could slip under, and trimmed their wings so they couldn't climb a stump and fly out, but I was doing this style to save energy and time, and I wasn't.

Also, a big motivator for me was the idea that they would eat more wild and less store-bought food. Well, of course they still need access to lay pellets, and I found that as I moved the paddocks, they had kicked up so many pellets out of the feeder (hanging above ground) that I was leaving a pound or two on the ground as I moved the paddock - defeating the purpose of saving money on food! I still have this pellet-knock-out problem, but now I think they focus more on the pellets as they aren't roving around so much. so at least more are getting eaten rather than being left on the forest floor.

I never could train my one rebel hen not to sleep outside the hen house, so she was up in her favorite tree when a bobcat got her. Another reason not to do the paddock style.

Posts: 2719
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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Some things I've learned from raising chickens in a paddock shift system.

1. Once they know how to get out, they WILL. Over, under or through. Makes no difference. They want to explore and whatever is outside the paddock is more interesting than what's inside it. Always.

2. Wild food like bugs are always preferable to store feed to a chicken IF there is enough of it and they aren't starving. They kick feed all over the place looking for the especially tasty bits and they leave the filler. Once they know that the good bugs are outside the fence... out they will go. Could you blame them? It's like spreading corn flakes all over your kitchen and then going outside to fire up the grill for steaks. Where would you rather be? Corn flakes or steaks?

3. Once the conditions in the paddock reach the point where the grass is greener on the other side, the birds will start attempting to get out. (See #1). The only way they stay in is if they want to. (electricity helps to motivate)

I keep about 100 chickens in a rotational grazing system following the two pigs which are in a separate paddock leading the march across the field. I manage it such that the pigs eat on a section for about a week before the chickens come in and clean it up. By the end of the second week, there's not much green stuff left but the ground still needs a little scratching so I usually scatter chicken crumbles (chick feed) around so that they have to work for it. If I just put it in a pile, the chickens would just stand around waiting instead of continuously looking for little bits of food. I toss it around like I'm scattering cover crop seed. Actually makes for good seed broadcasting practice. In any case don't just leave feed in there free for the taking. I feed little treats like kitchen and garden waste from time to time throughout the day but if I have a large amount I'll feed that at the end of the day just before they go in for the night. This is really nice in winter as it allows them to go to bed with a full stomach to keep them warm overnight.

I would suggest scattering small amounts of food in the paddock randomly through the day, so they get the idea that the paddock is the place to be. Make it tough for them to get out or make the paddock bigger so they have more room to explore. If they are wasting feed, you're giving them too much. I've gone through a lot of hassle with this myself and I'm finding that a good electric fence with a solid ZAP will quickly deter a bird from going over or under and they can't fit through so...

It might not be worth the investment to you for your 3 chickens but electric fence certainly saves a lot of headaches. No worries about birds out or predators in when there's 6000 volts separating them. I've heard a few coyotes yelp at night after touching the fence but have never lost a chicken or seen a sign of a predator in the fence.

I hope you find a solution that works for you. Best luck
Posts: 121
Location: zone 6a, NY
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The forest is the ideal environment for chickens. I free-range mine all summer, and provide about 20-30 % of their diet during that time with layer pellets. You would be amazed at the quantity of food they find when they see they can't rely on a feeder. Exploration is just natural to ranging chickens, and necessary as I will mention. Fence your patio, trap that bobcat, use him for dog food, and free the chickens. It'll be more effective in the long run.

The tractor is basically the same as penning them. Within ten minutes the bugs are eaten, grass is picked at, scratched, matted, and 'fertilized'. After that they rely on the feeder.
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