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how much land for real free range?

 
Angie Woodcamp
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I am new to this site and to the concept of a forum. Please do inform me if I'm doing something wrong.

I just moved out of the city to a house with a 110 square meters garden. I want to plant it as full as I can the permaculture way.
My plan is to have 3 chickens for eggs once there is enough plants for them to eat and use for cover. I would prefer to have no run at all, just a coop.

Will it be possible to sustain 3 chickens on this amount of land without them completely tearing the place up. And will I be able to provide them with enough food [maybe only storebought in the winter] from the land if I plant the right things?
 
Eric Hammond
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Location: SW Missouri
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In my experience I have found that free ranging chickens is a good way to not have any chickens. Chickens are tasty. Every thing wants to eat them. They lay an egg everyday for the survival of the species. If you like your chickens and want to keep them they should stay penned up for their own survival. A small electric net fence can give them an area to run but owls and hawks will still pick them off.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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It will be difficult to get your system started with the chickens on free range. They will be attracted to your activities, and quickly ruin any seedbeds, small transplants, neat piles of mulch, compost, etc. in their relentless search and scratching for bugs and worms (their favorite foods). They won't be nearly as interested in plant-based food like fruits, greens, or seeds if they have an inkling that bugs are available. When your system is more mature, with trees and shrubs getting up in size and big stout clumps of perennials, it will tolerate their impact better and you might get by with putting little covers of fencing over new plants and seeded areas. The more mature system will also provide more cover from aerial predators, but might also provide more cover for ground predators. A good fence for these is almost a necessity.....a good guard dog might do also. I have had the best luck with free ranging my birds for only part of the day, usually in the afternoon. That way in the mornings they focus on eating what I want them to eat (kitchen scraps for instance, which would otherwise need composting), and encourage them to lay eggs in designated places where I can find them. Completely free-ranging birds are likely to find a hidden spot to lay in where you won't find the eggs. Having a rooster is a good thing, even with only a few hens. He will keep the hens together more and will often take the hit for the team if a predator attacks.
Ducks, guineas, and even turkeys, as contrasted to chickens, are easier on the gardens because they don't scratch as much. Ducks are popular in many places because of their love for slugs and snails, and they dabble their bills through mulch without upending the whole area.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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With that amount of land your best method will be a chicken tractor that is moveable. That way you can protect your birds and allow them to have fresh pickings daily, along with allowing your freshly planted beds to get going well before the scratchers get at the plants.

My chickens are free range but they travel over a 15 acre area and more every day. When we are not home, they are in the coop run which is around 1/8 acre of ground with a fence and hawk cover. When they are out ranging, the door to their coop run is open and if a hawk flies over, they all head for this cover if they are close enough. We also have bushy areas that they use for hawk cover. We don't have an owl problem simply because they are locked in the coop at dusk and not let out until morning.

Since you want to have both, chickens and garden in the same area, the tractor method will be best for all concerned.
 
Anna Holmes
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Hi Angie, I had free range chickens in the size you mention, and it was a real challenge. I think the comments on a chicken tractor being the best way to go is right, and i am building one at the moment, for the 3 birds i am about to buy (to replace the last ones that were got by the fox). They really tear up the garden, and also their droppings aren't great in that size space if you have visitors or small children! I also lost the eggs, as I was never sure where they were laying them, and would eventually find them weeks later. At the moment, I'm trying to make a chicken tractor out of the ribs of an old tent covered in chicken wire, that i will be able to move easily in the garden. No idea if this will work, if it does i will post pictures! I want something i can move easily on my own, and give them fresh dirt to scratch in every few days, while keeping my plants safe.
Good luck!
 
John Weiland
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Just my $0.02 USD. Living rural in northern Minnesota in the middle of farm-land. After getting chickens, it became clear we needed to fence the garden to keep them out. They are murder on lots of plants. After getting a few and just letting them do their thing, they've literally exploded to between 100 and 200. With mixed breeds, some get really crafty and learn where to nest where you can't find them. For a while we lost chickens at an exponential rate to foxes and hawks. We now have livestock guard dogs and the number of chickens is climbing again. Although the lighting in one of the large outbuildings would constitute artificial light, this is not for the benefit of the chickens but for feeding other animals. The upshot is that there is no end to brooding season, even though there is a precipitous drop-off outside of spring and summer. There are always eggs to be found somewhere, and we get as many or more than the dogs, so everyone is happy.

None of these birds are penned and they come and go into various outbuildings as they please. In warmer seasons, some venture beyond the fenceline and meet an obvious fate since the guard dogs are not permitted past the fence. So we may be reaching some sort of stasis between hatchlings that survive and those that we and other opportunists kill for food. So like another here mentioned, if you are not going to control predators in the area, you will likely lose chickens if they are not somehow protected. And if they are in a garden, I suspect you will not like what they do to a lot of the crops. You may have to end up discovering where that happy medium is for your venture. All that said, the eggs are unparalleled (especially in comparison to our goose eggs) and the occasional chicken taken for meat lasts several meals for the two of us.

Note: Someone elsewhere mentioned chickens liking mice.....which may explain quite a decline of those in the outbuildings which we cannot attribute to cats.
 
Angie Woodcamp
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Thank you so much for your replies! I guess I will have to think about a tractor. And maybe when my garden is more mature I can experiment with letting them roam.
 
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