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PNW Chicken Jungle

 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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I have been planning a chicken jungle in the little hemlock forest I have which I think will work really really well. Its little - like 80 x 80 feet or something...

The ground is old old rotted wood - probably mostly hemlock felled in the 1920s. The canopy is mostly aged hemlock of 90 years old or so. They are starting to make me really nervous as they have dead patches half way up and one of them already came down 10 feet from the house in a tragectory which would have creamed the house had it been one of the other 4 hemlocks. This is the area that contains the Pacific yew, which I am sure is enjoying the shade provided by the hemlocks. There is also an awesome Doug Fir and a 30 year young big leaf maple as well as a little 25 year old ceder (seen in the 'do nothing chicken roost' post) as well as numerous Choke Cherries which form the edge. Their is an understory of young hemlock coming up which are 20 or so feet tall as well as a good deal of ocean spray, elderberry, evergreen huck, red huck, and salal, there are also a few holly trees and laurels which are about 25 feet in height. The ground as noted is pretty much pure duff and 100 year old well rotted wood. Full of bugs it is. I have been thinning out the understory of sword ferns and replacing them with nettles which are thriving. When I first started working on it the entire thing was in impenetrable thicket of invasive blackberries, ivy, and super thorny vine y rose or something. There was also lots of dead fall limbs which made it impenetrable. I have but this slash in the 'valleys' between the old fallen hemlock trunks and have been covering it with rotted wood and soil.

My plan is to use this as a chicken jungle particularly as an attempt to free myself from winter feed. Once I get my hands on a couple grand I plan on taking out the rest of the elderly hemlocks about 20 feet up or so leaving the bases as habitat snags as my family has with all of the trees we have felled over the last few decades. I plan on using the hemlock trunks, bucked up to make a sort of suntrap fence along the property line with the neighbors. As these rot over the next decade they will turn into further chicken food, which can be busted open at the rate of one or two rounds (they are very large rounds) a week during the winter as prepackaged high protein chicken food. I have experimented with this concept over then last year and found the rotted logs to yield bugs and larva even in the coldest of weather. I will also leave select ones along the fence line to serve as nurse logs to continue to fence. I have proof of concept in what nature has done over the decades.

I think this will work swimmingly. I plan on letting them free range over the rest of the property as well. I'd love to get some pictures or video up, with any luck I will. But bugs and berries sound like a good start to me.
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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What breed/s of chickens ?

Any predators around?
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Racoons are the primary predator around, there are some coyotes but they rarely venture this far into suburbia. I haven't seen a fox in years and years. The eagles for reasons of their own seem to be respectful towards my livestock. The hawks have occasionally come by but are always chased off by the crows.

I've had good experiences with Rhode Island Reds as foragers and a fairly hearty breed. A friend of mine on The Olympic Peninsula has been breeding birds for a few years and I will likely get a few birds off of him. I think I'm shooting for a steady population of 6 or 7 chickens, perhaps as low as 4.

I'm planning on attempting a Crescent shape coop which will be anchored into the side of one of the Hemlock snags around 4 feet up with a ramp winding down to the forest floor and a good gate.
 
Don Eggleston
Posts: 39
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Really cool idea--not so much an idea as just an observational discovery. With just a few chickens and more trees to fell, logs to split, it sounds totally sustainable. I have planted over my chicken pens a hachiya persimmon and a fruiting mulberry. They drop tons of fruit at different times of the year and reduce feed costs.
 
dan long
Posts: 269
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Its funny that i came across tis, as i was getting onto the boards to discuss the same thing. I don't have a hemlock forest already grown and ready to rock like you do, but i dream of making something like that. Maybe we can exchange a few ideas.

Alder grows fast and easily. You live in the PNW so you know what i'm talking about. They also fix nitrogen and are very useful for many building/ crafting applications. The catkins are edible for humans but might also make great chicken feed when they ripen and fall off. I imagine, since they have to stay viable throughout winter in order to germinate in spring, the catkins wont rot over winter so they can contribute lots of protein and calories over the winter. I will use these, at the very least, as permanent fence stakes to keep the chickens in and predators out.

Elderberries grow fast and take over if they are in advantageous growing conditions. They bear fruit very briefly but seem to tolerate shade and poor drainage. Now if only i can find some blue ones. All i ever see growing around here are the red ones.

What about keeping a milk or meat goat around in order to keep the brambles at bay? Chickens are great for leafy weeds but they aren't going to bother with blackberries or salmonberries.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Dan, don't even get me started on blackberries...

Salmonberries however is something I have been playing with quite a bit. Actually. I'd rather not feed them to a goat - The berries are pretty good for us people and the birds (chickens included) and I am actually hoping (and experimenting) with using the canes chopped and dried as my primary cooking fuel source in an Inverted Down Draft stove. The primocanes very often shoot up above ten feet tall in a season and are thicker than my thumb. They often form dense thickets. Ideally I will have a rotation where I slash them down after they bare fruit - let me dry throughout the summer and then use them as cooking fuel through the winter and into the spring. But really I am not drawn to goats too much in any case, my particular area is fairly small and though incredibly diverse of soil, more than 1/2 is a clay base and I have problems already with some frequent foot paths being bare slicks. But on to chickens and the chicken jungle.

I think an alder forest could make for an magnificent chicken woodland if not the true 'Jungle' I have both envisioned and 3/4s executed. One reason I am quite partial to hemlock is that it too rots quickly, makes for great nurse logs and is an absolute glut magnet for all sorts of bugs. More so even than alder. An alder lot though I can see having some great advantages as well. The leaf litter would make for good scratch and rotting alder does indeed rot quickly even as it fixes nitrogen and builds soils with its growth. Choke cherry is another deciduous tree which I have growing in abundance which is worth mentioning. This is by far the quickest rotting tree I have come across When in full contact with the ground it can be reduced to dark brown friable bug poop in very short order. I have often wondered if a domestic cherry could be grafted to its root stalk. It seems to copice readily and reach maturity at 40 to 50 years at which point it dies standing.

Anyhow those are my thoughts of the moment. I will continue to think on this and look forward to continued conversation on the subject.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Landon - do you have a plan to rotate the areas your chickens are using? You will probably get better bug yields if you do something like one month on, one month off each area. I love the idea of using rotten rounds as chicken fodder too.

Regarding blackberries - the soil conditions in our woods sounds very similar to yours. Light fluffy duff from centuries of forest detritus. I had to clear an area of blackberries in it last year to use for a gathering of people who wanted to be able to sit without being prickled. The roots were so loosely attached to the duff that I was able to pull whole plants and root systems with ease. Most of the plants were spreading from where the tip of the canes were touching the ground.

That patch is still pretty clear a year later with no more attention.

Wear very sturdy gloves!
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Michael,

The blackberries I had to deal with which I was primarily bemoaning and avoiding mention of were a mass growing over the drainage field which had swallowed the house and several ceder trees. The ceder roots and especially the chinsy shallow buried pvc pipe made getting at the MASSIVE roots impossible. So I have spent years cutting them back every two weeks or so. and chasing them all over the side yard. Of course there are more elsewhere - but those pale to the nightmare thicket. The ones in the woods where daunting but took no more than a week off good work to more or less eradicate

As far as bugs go. My chickens free range. During most parts of the year I wouldn't be in there to bust the logs up for them. The rotting logs are large and the chickens can't access the bugs without the aid of a maul or sledgehammer. I am also, once I get a few of the hemlocks down to 20 foot stumps, going to stack the bucked up rounds on top of one another something like this >>>>>>>>

-oooooo
00000000

With the cut side in the ground and the flat top supporting the next round up. This will make basically a wall along the property line (a neighbors mowed lawn, a new addition 15 years or so back). A number of conks and smokey gilled woodloving mushrooms seem to like this configuration (I know my rotting wood rounds round these parts). These rounds get totally spongy and riddled with things like termites and pillbugs while keeping their structural integrity for years - even a decade or more. Buy a good steel toed kick or a whomp with a good maul splits them open like pinatas. I should only need to resort to this in winter - so I imagine I will only go through a round or two of wood a week, and no more than 20 or so rounds a winter. That's the idea anyway.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1556
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Landon Sunrich wrote:Michael,

The blackberries I had to deal with which I was primarily bemoaning and avoiding mention of were a mass growing over the drainage field which had swallowed the house and several ceder trees. The ceder roots and especially the chinsy shallow buried pvc pipe made getting at the MASSIVE roots impossible. So I have spent years cutting them back every two weeks or so. and chasing them all over the side yard. Of course there are more elsewhere - but those pale to the nightmare thicket. The ones in the woods where daunting but took no more than a week off good work to more or less eradicate


Urk... that sounds unpleasant. Atleast your experience of those actually in the woods tally well with mine.

Do you get fruit from your blackberries? I watched a neat video a few years back about pruning blackberries - trimming the primocanes back to around 2ft once they reach around 4ft length. They then stand nicely upright and fruit at a reasonable height without becoming an unmanageable tangle. One wild area on our boundary has a huge rampant thicket - hacking back the primocanes has turned this from a problem area to a blackberry jam area. The soil there is nice and fertile being a graveyard
 
Brian Hamalainen
Posts: 100
Location: Chimacum, WA Sunset Zone 5, USDA Zone 8B
5
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Hey man, been enjoying lurking on your posts. Can your chickens eat those little yellow and black "tent caterpillars" that are coming into season? If so, you could probably go around to fruit, (shorter) alder, and willow trees, clip off the nest clusters, shake the 'pillers out into buckets, and then bag-and-freeze them. That should give you at least several pounds of rich chicken protein for the winter months. Some people might actually pay you to clip/dispose of the nests!

PS: burn the nests once you've gotten enough caterpillars out to minimize the spread of these dreadful invaders.
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CATERPILLARS!
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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I have thus far had a really hard time convincing my chickens that caterpillars are a tasty snake. They seem not to go for them. I wonder if they have some sort of natural foul taste repellent or something. Burning them is a good Idea, I've done that in the past, but this year they are so numerous and so high up I'm having trouble getting to them. I've seen a few dozen old apple trees around here totally stripped. The plums and the cherries don't seem to be too bothered by them. I'd totally go around attempting to eradicate this pest for profit if I had a a crew to hold the ladder and pass up tools. This last week of high 70s low 80s August type weather has really let those little brutes go wild.
 
Dan Tutor
Posts: 103
Location: Zone 5, Maine Coast
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I'm really intrigued by the chicken jungle idea.
Right now my chickens free range through about two acres of mixed hard and softwood forest, but the understory is really lacking due to heavy deer browsing. My chickens love to scratch in the leaf and needle duff, but they are clearing a widening area around their coop into barren ground.
I'm trying to establish chicken food and habitat in 3' fenced circles in this area, using mostly perrenial berries and understory trees (mulberry, blackberry, raspberry, native currant, native dogwood, chokecherry) and somewhat invasive shade tolerant things like japanese knotweed and bamboo and comfrey, as well as a peas, vetch, oats groundcover/soil builder.
Thank you for the inspiration!
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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