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My creekside forested chicken setup (electric fence /mobile coop) - Feedback welcome!!!

 
Tyler Kumakura
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Full disclosure - I am new to raising chickens and living on acreage, but have done my best to read up on previous posts to get an idea of how I might best dive into raising chickens while avoiding unnecessary mistakes. Was hoping some of you with experience might be willing to indulge me some feedback / advice / reproof based on my plan below:

Background: My family and I recently moved to 10 acres from the suburbs. The terrain is diverse - 4-ish acres of pasture, 3 acres of wooded hillside, and a creek lined with cottonwoods. As far as chickens go, we would like the health benefits of free-range chicken but are dealing with heavy predation (i.e. raccoons, coyotes, hawks etc). After much research, my plan at this point is to rotate the chickens on 5 different paddocks alongside the creek using electric fencing as a perimeter with a mobile coop for shelter/shade in each paddock. This area is closer to the house than the pastures, so I believe it will get more attention from us due to proximity, and my thought was that the treed overstory might provide some aerial protection from hawks. Here are more details/rationale...

1) My family goes through approximately 3 doz eggs / week. If I go by the "1 egg/chicken/day" rule of thumb, this would indicate I need roughly 5 layers (5 chickens x 7 days in a week = 35 eggs). I will bump this up 2 layers to account for potential predator losses and/or lower laying rates and include a rooster for protection which puts me at 8 chickens total.
2) I have heard that another rule of thumb is to allow 87sf per chicken per week (based on 500 birds/acre calculation of old). I am inclined to want to allow more than this. I would prefer to minimize the amount of supplemental feed I need to provide and not have to move the paddock as often, so I will shoot to provide the maximum sf/chicken possible.
3) I have heard shorter lengths of electronet are easier to work with, so I will purchase (2) 100 foot lengths and create a mobile paddock that is 50' x 50' square. This would provide 2,500 sf of grazing area within the paddock. With 8 chickens, this comes out to 312 sf/chicken. I will plan to monitor the vegetation to see how long I can leave the chickens before moving the paddock. I'm hoping I can move it every 2 weeks without the vegetation being damaged...
4) I will purchase/build a mobile coop with a floorless bottom (to allow the manure to pass through to the ground), and move the coop periodically within the paddock. Perhaps I will put in roosts with chicken wire underneath (retaining the "open bottom" as far as falling manure is concerned) so that the chickens can be inside when I move the coop. I also was considering a hoop coop. In case my fence shorts out due to vegetative growth, or a raccoon jumps in from an adjacent tree, I was thinking it would be ideal to be able to button up the mobile coop pretty tightly. It would be nice not to have to do this every night and rely on the perimeter fence, but I would try to make an effort to secure the coop at night. Any advice in this arena would be much appreciated.
5) I can fit (5) 50x50 paddocks in the proposed site area along the creek where the trees are thicker and provide some aerial protection. I would not build 5 paddocks, but just move the electonet each time I moved the chickens. This is of course, more work, but keeps my fencing costs down and allows me to mow down the grass along the perimeter of the new paddock in advance. I was also thinking about putting in permanent t-posts at each of the 4 corners for each 50' square paddock area so when moving the net, I can easily wrap the electronet fencing around them to form a consistently perfect square. If I am able to move the paddock once every 2 weeks, the five paddock setup would allow for 2 1/2 months before I circled back around to "re-use" a paddock.
6) Since the (5) paddocks are all in a row along a creek, I was thinking (if this is possible) that I might center a solar energizer along the 2500 foot length on the opposite side of the paddocks from the creek. This way, I could drive a nice deep ground in one location and run an extension line from the energizer to each paddock location. This area is very wet (reed canary grass grows thick here outside where the trees are) and I think this would make for a good grounding site. This would in theory eliminate the need for me to move the energizer each time I move the paddock up and down the creek. It would require a pretty long extension to reach the paddocks on each end of the run - not sure if the extra run would degrade the voltage. If I'm thinking about this incorrectly, I could move the grounding stake and energizer periodically.

Other questions:
- The proposed site is pretty heavily treed with deciduous cottonwood. Will raccoons scale a tree outside the electric fence and jump inside? If so, does blow up my plan?
- In the winter, I was thinking it would be better to move the coop/fencing up closer to the house to be able to better monitor keeping water from freezing etc. I would probably not use the rotating paddock approach while temperatures were freezing but rather keep them closer to the house and feed them kitchen scraps / supplemental feed through the winter months.
- Deer cross the creek quite frequently. If they come across the creek where I have the electric fence set up, are they likely to just blaze through the fence and tear it apart not knowing it was there? They would of course get shocked, but at that point the damage would be done. Some have told me they tend to cross in the same spots, and I thought I would just keep a few feet of buffer area in between the fencing and the creek for safety. Also, I could hang some of those solar powered flashing red lights that mimic predator eyes from a distance on the coop or the t-posts...

Thank you so much for your insights / help. I am new to this and don't want to any more chickens to die in my care than have to...
 
Lion Gladden
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Lots of good questions here. I don't presently have chickens (at the moment, I'm living in a condo in FL but we're working on changing that situation, hopefully in the next 3-6 months) so I'm once again in my own research phase. I can't say that I know a lot about mobile coops. (I'm still learning there, as that's what we plan in the future.) In the past all my chickens were free range, but here are some of my thoughts and hopefully other folks have more knowledge on this aspect.

My first concern would be the fact that your proposed coop is bottomless. Unless your ground is perfectly flat, that's like sending an invitation to predators anywhere there's a dip or hollow. or root. You'd be amazed how small a space weasels can slip through, and those vicious little buggers will kill chickens not just for food, but for fun (possibly taking out several chickens in one visit).

And even with flat ground, many of the things that like to eat chickens can dig.

I'm not sure I understand your electric paddock, but my feeling would be that it would be wiser to have a chicken run with both roof and floor sealed. (I'd use the 1/4" square chicken wire - the hex stuff is pretty useless for keeping out predators.) If you still want to electrify it, you'd need to insulate the floor from the rest of the paddock. Poop can still fall through and the chickens can still get at the grass.

Yes, raccoons can and will jump out of trees. And while a forested area will create some cover from hawks, remember that hawks roost in trees, and have no problem if you provide them with a nice caged meal. Owls too if you don't make sure the coop is closed at night.

I'd definitely set the coop-proper with a door timer set to open at sunrise and close just after sunset, if you don't want to go out every day/night to open/close it.

Regarding deer, yes, they will jump into/run into things. One thing you might do is tie ribbons onto the outside of the wire, which will blow in the wind and make it more visible to the deer. (I'm not sure what spectrum of color they see in, but you may want to research that.) Another idea would be to put in a bamboo deer scare (shishi odoshi) near the area of the creek by your chickens. (They'll probably tend to drink upstream/downstream a bit and be less likely to cause trouble for you.

On your number of chickens, I'd probably add a couple more to account for hens that aren't laying at the moment -- not every hen lays an egg every single day -- or have gone broody. (And if you want sustainable chickens, you do want a couple batches of chicks every year.)

Bonus tip This comes from a professional chicken farmer I knew. DO NOT refrigerate your eggs. They'll actually last longer if they never see the inside of a fridge. He'd bring me 2 flats every few weeks. I kept them on the counter and made sure I used the oldest first. Never once had a problem with them going bad. The moment you put them in the fridge you will about halve their shelf life.

 
Lion Gladden
Posts: 13
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Here's another thread that immediately reminded me of another concern with a roofless paddock:

http://www.permies.com/t/32549/chickens/raising-broilers-meat-birds-food

Chickens are birds. Most birds fly. <G>

My aunt used to solve this problem by clipping the wings of problem birds. (LOL on the few occasions she decided to try keeping them in pens.) No, there is no reason to clip their actual wing tips as I've seen suggested in some places - I find that horribly cruel and barbaric. Just clip about 1/2 to 1/3 of the feather ends on one wing (feathers only, which can't feel pain). That will keep them from flying till their next moult, at which point repeat when they regrow their feathers.

BTW birds in moult won't produce eggs. They need the time off to power the growth of new feathers. They also lay less in winter months, though you can help this by using grow lights in the coop to supplement their daylight hours during the winter.
 
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