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Rotating Paddock system for 2000 chickens possible?

 
Neil Winchell
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Hello Everyone!

First time poster here, though I've been lurking for a long time gleaning wisdom from all of you I guess a quick backstory is in order. I grew up on a commercial broiler chicken farm and spent my youth cleaning out the barns and burning out my sense of smell until I graduated and as quick as I could, I ditched the boring farm life for the glitz and glamour of the big city. Only, I soon learned that the farm life that I complained about as a kid was paradise to what life was like off the farm in the city. I moved back to my home town, opened a movie theatre, and ran that for the past 14 years as I thought of ways I could get back to the country. During those years in town, I was able to get the town council to allow urban chickens (4 max, no roos) but 4 chickens was not enough.

Long story short, I recently sold my theatre and have used some of the money to buy 20 acres of agricultural land which I hope to raise poultry using the paddock system. Here in Alberta, farmers can have up to 2000 meat birds before needing to buy quota and so that is the long term goal in terms of numbers, but I realize that will probably take me a few years to get to that However, since the land is clear except for an perimeter fence, I want to plan for the 2000 birds now so that any building I do has the end goal in mind. Most of the discussions on raising chickens here in the forum seem to be focused on a lot fewer birds than 2000, but I'm hoping that any advice is scale-able.



I was thinking of fencing off approximately 6.2 acres (though that number is flexible to an extent), divide it up into 9 roughly equal parcels and move batches of up to 300 birds through them (moving them to a new paddock each week). I'd build a small barn with a large run for a base flock of layers from which to get the meat birds from, so using a large cabinet incubator I should have roughly 300 new chicks every 21 days (minus mortality). Once the next batch is hatched, they go into the brooder, the first batch would be taken out to the first paddock where a mobile coop awaits, and the cycle begins again. I know Cornish Cross X are ready to process at 8 weeks, but I'm looking at getting Sulmtalers as I've heard they are a very tasty bird and while I can't find information on when they are ready to process, I've been going with 12 weeks (so if I'm wrong...someone please tell me!

With this system of rotating paddocks, a maximum number of 300 chickens would be in an area of about 0.7 acres for a week before moving on to the next. That paddock would then have 2 weeks of rest before the next group went through. After six batches of chickens, no more would be hatched and the land could rest until next spring. Incubating would start the beginning of April and end beginning of July, and the foraging would start early May and the last batch would leave to be processed beginning of October.

That's the plan, but I have no familiarity with raising chickens in this manner before. My experience growing up was the commercial system where we had 50,000 raised in a barn for 7 weeks and then shipped off in the middle of the night in tractor trailers. My 4 backyard chickens count for very little too as town bylaws prohibit me from building a run larger then 100 square ft so obviously there isn't anything left in there for them to forage.

Is my plan doable? Would 300 birds (and that is the absolute upper limit, hatching mortality would bring the number down quite a bit I imagine) turn 0.7 acres of grassy field into dirt in a week? Is 2 weeks of rest for each paddock enough rest? I should also add that my current job is shift work away from the land and so if I'm gone for a few days I'd like there not to be too much work for my wife to have to take over, which is why I'm more interested in the paddock system vs. the Joel Saladin chicken tractor method which has to be moved once or twice daily.

Thoughts from you all? Doable? Foolish? If I need to move in another direction for raising my chickens, it's good for me to hear now when I've only got a handful instead of the full amount

Thanks in advance for any advice you have!

Neil Winchell
 
duane hennon
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hi Neil,

welcome to permies

you might want to check out this system

http://www.permies.com/t/48693/artisans/Reginaldo-Haslett-Marroquin-Regenerative-Agriculture
 
Kelly Smith
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i think your system is doable, though there are so many variables, i think doing it would be the only way to know where the limits are.


chickens will require some sort of extra feed, and i assume that feeders would need to be topped off at least once a day.
waterers? do you have a plan for automatic waterers? watering that many birds without some sort of auto waterer is gonna get old.



are you stuck on chickens?
i have heard turkeys are utilize grass a bit better than chickens - they may be an option.

sorry i dont have much experience with hatching that many chicks.


fwiw - we have some "freedom ranger" meat birds that we are raising now. they do pick at the grasses, but their main feed is the grain ration,
i feed/water 1 to 2 times a day and move the coop every 2 days and the electric netting every week or so.
hope that helps.
 
Rob Browne
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Location: Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
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It would be doable as you are basically cell grazing your birds. Water and extra feed need to be catered for. I would use the electro-netting for your inner fences till you work out just how big your yards have to be, or probably for ever as it increases flexibility and helps with predators. You will need extra yards so some can regenerate by going to seed and regrowing. Extras are alway needed for dry or cold times where the pasture does not regenerate as fast.

Cheers
Rob.
 
Neil Winchell
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Thanks for the replies!

I watched the video you suggested Duane, and it's nice to hear that someone is successfully raising 1000+ chickens on .5 an acre....though I'm betting it doesn't hurt to be located in a more temperate climate

I am kinda stuck on chickens, Kelly, though I am open to turkeys down the road I have a friend nearby who has raised a handful of turkeys and even with an 8 ft. fence and netting on top, he's had a couple get out. I can't imagine would would be required to raise turkeys out in the pasture. Clipping wings? As for feed and water, I've got some more planning to do. Because my dad has retired from raising chickens, I have access to thousands of feet of pvc tubing with nipple waters along it that I imagine I'd be able to incorporate into whatever movable coop I made. Perhaps even have it attached to a 55 gallon drum where any rain water could drain into from off the roof? Feed is another matter entirely. I'd love to plant various trees in each paddock to provide shelter as well as berries/fruit to the chickens when they drop off. I've looked into Black Soldier Fly larva but from what I've read it would be very difficult to get a good production of them up here in Alberta, Canada Has anyone here used the old 'meat in a bucket' method hung up out in the paddock so that fly maggots drop out for the chickens? Don't know if that would work for a batch of 300 chickens unless I had a lot of rotting meat hanging about Point being, I'd love to slowly develop a system where the chickens are as self sufficient as possible so that if I have to be gone for 4 days they won't miss me. You said you move the coop every two days, but how many chickens do you have and what size is the run you're giving them with the electric netting? Your numbers might help me extrapolate to something closer to what I have in mind

Rob, I'd love to eventually have some permanent fencing making up the paddocks, but I think you're right that electric netting is the way to go at first to find out the right size of each paddock. I'm hoping by dividing up the whole area into 9 paddocks, and with a maximum of 3 flocks out in the paddocks at one time, there will always be 6 paddocks that are resting and recovering....or do you mean have a few more on top of that? I might be able to do that, but if I took up more space then if possible I'd like to incorporate a small herd of sheep or a couple cows being added to the rotation. They'd be able to eat some of the plants the chickens won't as well as attract flies (protein!) with their manure.

Regardless, I'll be starting out slow with just a dozen or so layers this year which I'll beginning growing my layer flock until next spring where I'll get a few new Roo's for the ladies and begin. Depending on how things go I might stop after a few batches and see how things go with just under a 1000 birds

Throwing out another question to you all. The existing fence is a standard 4 ft. high. I can add some sort of netting to replace the barbed wire, but chickens would have no problem flying out at that height. Is it possible to extend the height a bit with something you attach to the top or is the best bet to replace all the posts with something that is at least 6 ft high?

Neil Winchell
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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We used to keep an electronic bug zapper over the chicken run during the summer. It was a dual purpose device: it minimized the number of corn-borers and it fed the chickens.
 
Ann Torrence
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Neil Winchell wrote:

Regardless, I'll be starting out slow with just a dozen or so layers this year which I'll beginning growing my layer flock until next spring where I'll get a few new Roo's for the ladies and begin. Depending on how things go I might stop after a few batches and see how things go with just under a 1000 birds


Throwing out another question to you all. The existing fence is a standard 4 ft. high. I can add some sort of netting to replace the barbed wire, but chickens would have no problem flying out at that height. Is it possible to extend the height a bit with something you attach to the top or is the best bet to replace all the posts with something that is at least 6 ft high?


I'd get at least 25 birds to start, including some of these Austrian birds if you can get them, and any other variety might work. Find out which ones fly, forage, fall over dead for no reason. We have already ticked several varieties off our list of homestead birds because of performance. We could not keep the Andalusians, for example, in with a 5' fence until they reached maturity and were too heavy to fly. Rather than increase your fences, find a variety that is not too lazy to forage but doesn't fly. We had good luck getting the Jersey Giant broilers to forage, but the line we got didn't put on weight as fast as the descriptions suggested. Could have been the altitude here. If I were going to get into it at the scale you are talking about, I'd test every dual purpose breed with a small comb that I could. Or start breeding my own, like Adam Klaus is doing with his Eldorado.
 
Kelly Smith
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Neil Winchell wrote: You said you move the coop every two days, but how many chickens do you have and what size is the run you're giving them with the electric netting? Your numbers might help me extrapolate to something closer to what I have in mind


we currently have 50 chickens enclosed with a 100ft electronet.
their moveable coop is ~8x8 with 2 cattle panels and tarps. i lock them in at night, but they are free to roam the yard during the day. (locked in from 9ish pm to 6ish am)
i built a few 4ft feeders out of 6 in piping as well as use a 20lb hanging feeder. i may need to expand this as they get larger.
i use a 5g and a 2g water fount - but have been meaning to get my bell waterer installed.


we also plan to stop buying day old freedom rangers in the future. we want to hatch our own chicks and move towards a more dual purpose bird. we have had ~ 12 different birds here and are really liking the "Buckeye". They have been the furthest forages we have, they have a peacomb so they are winter hardy and they seem to be about as heavy as a buff orpington - i am hoping i can get ~200 eggs plus a 4lb bird in ~1 year or less.
may not fit your operation as they are a bit slower growing, but i think the idea of trying a bunch of breeds to see what works for your farm is a great suggestion.

you can always do 250 standard broilers and 50 of a variety. the 250 should cover the costs of the ones that dont pull their weight in the batch of 50.

 
duane hennon
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here's another view (somewhat confusing) from down under

http://permaculturenews.org/2015/08/05/stationary-chook-tractor/
 
Neil Winchell
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Ann - I've ordered a couple dozen fertilized eggs of the Sulmtaler breed to incubate here, but since the eggs are coming through the mail I imagine I'll be looking at somewhere in the 40% hatch rate I think you are correct in suggesting that I try our a handful of different breeds to see which works out best. In the past I was looking at the White Chantecler, but gave up after numerous failed attempts at getting anyone to sell me some. If anyone here on the forum knows a breeder of White Chantecler chickens in Alberta who's willing to sell...let me know! I like the idea of developing my own breed, but really lack the knowledge to make an informed go at it. I'd probably just take all the chickens I could get, throw them in together, and see what I have after a few years of interbreeding I'm interested in the Jersey Giants, but will have to track down a breeder as well. There are a couple big hatcheries up here in Alberta that usually provide the main breeds to people, but they had a bad salmonella outbreak this year which caused many people (myself included) to have to kill off their flocks So if anyone is an independent breeder around here, I think they're going to get very busy in the coming years since no one trusts the big hatcheries right now.

Kelly - So you have 50 chickens in a run enclosed in 100 electric netting (I'm assuming that means a square with 25' of fence on each side, or 625 sq. ft?) with the coop inside? I like your idea of getting a number of standard broiler chickens and then a smaller number of different heritage breeds to see what works. Until my fencing is set up I'm not sure I can go with anything larger then what I have ordered now There is the standard three strand wire fence that's 4 feet high going around the property, but I imagine before I start letting the chickens free range it, I need to replace some of that with something that can keep the chickens in and the predators out. I'm thinking six foot high posts with 4' of farm fence along the bottom and two high tension wires around the top which could even be electrified if need be. I will look into the 'Buckeye' you mentioned though

Duane - The video was both confusing and interesting. Those stationary tractors is similar to something I had in mind forgetting some land ready for garlic. If I could build some narrow chicken tractors (3' wide by 50' long) I could put a number of chickens in there to get it ready for planting. Different then what the video was about, but close enough in my mind I know how good chicken manure is for fertilizer, but do many people here on the forums actually use the chickens themselves to till the earth a bit and get it ready for crops or gardens? If it's doable, I'd be able to add a few more 'paddock' areas to my rotation. The 9 permanent paddocks that I originally had planned where I don't want the chickens to destroy the grass and other vegetation, and 2 or 3 temporary paddocks where the chickens would be able to turn everything to dirt. Thoughts on that anyone?

Thanks again for the replies people. I'm learning so much here from all of you

Neil Winchell
 
Kelly Smith
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Neil Winchell wrote:
Kelly - So you have 50 chickens in a run enclosed in 100 electric netting (I'm assuming that means a square with 25' of fence on each side, or 625 sq. ft?) with the coop inside? I like your idea of getting a number of standard broiler chickens and then a smaller number of different heritage breeds to see what works. Until my fencing is set up I'm not sure I can go with anything larger then what I have ordered now There is the standard three strand wire fence that's 4 feet high going around the property, but I imagine before I start letting the chickens free range it, I need to replace some of that with something that can keep the chickens in and the predators out. I'm thinking six foot high posts with 4' of farm fence along the bottom and two high tension wires around the top which could even be electrified if need be. I will look into the 'Buckeye' you mentioned though

Neil Winchell


yes, the coop sits inside the electronet. the chickens have free range of the whole electronet area during the day, but are locked in at night (most nights)
the only tricky part comes when you need to move the electronet - i have to position the coop door so that it opens into the next netted area. just takes a bit of planning towards the last moves in the area.
i lock all the chickens in, move the fence, then let them back out. food is good for "herding" chickens, i have found

what are you planning on for feed? commercial ration? custom ration? other?
we use a whole grain, non soy grower feed.
we bought 500lbs to do 50 birds. between that and the bugs/seeds they get on pasture, that seems to be enough. (this is our 3rd year growing chicken meat)
 
john mcginnis
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Browse around for Joel Salatin. He is most known for the chicken pens approach. But he also does pastured chickens in rotation with pastured beef using mobile chicken tractors. If I remember right his scale was 600 chickens to a tractor and multiple tractors to cover the property. Seems to work quite well for him.

Something to consider. You need to stack functions to get dual use out of the land. One suggestion might be sheep in rotation with chickens, the chickens following the sheep in rotation.
 
eric koperek
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TO: Neil Winchell
FROM: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT: Pasturing Chickens
DATE: PM 7:04 Thursday 19 May 2016
TEXT:

1. You don't have enough land to PASTURE RAISE 2,000 chickens.

2. Each chicken needs a minimum of 100 square feet of FRESH pasture daily = 400 chickens per acre per day. 200 square feet per chicken is highly recommended = 200 chickens per acre per day.

3. 30 day minimum rotation cycle is necessary to control chicken parasites, diseases, and to keep pastures at maximum productivity.

4. 20 acres divided by 30 days = 0.66 acre of pasture per day x 200 chickens per acre = 133 chickens (ideal stocking rate). 0.66 acre of pasture per day x 400 chickens per acre = 266 chickens (maximum stocking rate).

5. To PASTURE RAISE 2,000 chickens you will need 200 square feet per chicken per day x 2,000 chickens = 400,000 square feet of pasture daily divided by 43,560 square feet per acre = 9.18 ~ 10 acres of chicken pasture daily x 30 days = 300 acres MINIMUM land requirement for 100% pasture raised chickens.

6. At ideal stocking date of 400 square feet of pasture per chicken daily, 2000 chickens require 600 acres of pasture to support a 30-day minimum rotation cycle.

7. The very large land requirements necessary to grow 100% pasture raised chickens is why the birds and eggs are so costly at market.

8. My Family have been pasturing chickens for 8 centuries. The best way to do this is to run fowl through orchards. This feeds chickens, fertilizes trees, and controls orchard pests all at once.

9. Chickens normally range 100 to 200 feet from their coop daily. Lock up chickens every night then move their coop (on wheels) 200 feet down the orchard row. Unlock chickens each morning.

10. Chickens will eat all of the best leaves, seeds, bugs, and worms in 1 day or less. This is why chicken pasture must be rotated daily = so chickens can feed themselves.

11. Chickens on good pasture normally do not require any grain. If you want to grow chickens faster, feed 1 to 2 Tablespoons = 15 to 30 milliliters = approximately 1/2 to 1 ounce of rolled grain per chicken daily. This is sufficient to grow big 8-pound roasting chickens.

12. To prevent disease, provide chickens with FRESH, CLEAN WATER daily = set up continuous drips so birds never have to drink contaminated water.

13. Check out your local standards for "free range" and "pasture raised" chickens. Standards vary from country to country. Pasture standards are much higher in Europe than they are in the United States. The European Community Standard for "pasture raised" chickens is 400 birds per acre. In the United States, standards vary from approximately 10 to 30 square feet per bird per day. 2,000 chickens x 30 square feet of pasture per day = 60,000 square feet of pasture needed daily divided by 43,560 square feet per acre = approximately 1.38 acres per day x 30 day rotation cycle = 41.4 ~ 42 acres needed to pasture 2,000 chickens. Note: You will have to provide up to 4 ounces of supplemental chicken feed per chicken per day on such limited pasture.

14. Alberta is not an ideal climate for pasturing chickens. In winter you will have to provide FRESH VEGETABLES. In summer, you will probably have to IRRIGATE pastures to keep them productive. Consider this carefully BEFORE trying to range a 2,000 bird flock.

15. Check with your provincial Agriculture department about sanitary regulations for processing chickens. Many jurisdictions only allow farmers to process a maximum of 1,000 chickens ON FARM each year. 2,000 chickens could get you into trouble with government inspectors.

16. Chickens ready for harvest need to be ISOLATED and fed a diet of VEGETABLES or fresh foliage for 1 week before slaughter. This is necessary to clean out chickens' intestines and prevent strong flavored meat (caused by eating bugs & worms). Figure on about 1/4 pound = 4 ounces of fresh produce per chicken daily for 7 days before processing. Do not neglect this as "finishing" is essential to produce high quality meat = top market prices.

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

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