I'm setting up my rotational grazing system through 8 acres of pasture (eventually will be a silvopasture). It currently consists of sheep and pigs, and will eventually have a cow or two, and hopefully turkeys too! Behind them in the rotation, I'd like to send through a chicken flock to clean up, and to convert bugs, worms, and larvae to eggs and meat. And I want them to add minimal work for me, of course.
They'll be mostly protected from predators by fact of being inside an electric perimeter fence and additional portable polywire fence within their paddock. I'd prefer not to lock them into a closed secure coop, but rather have a simple lightweight 3-walled tarp and cattle-panel structure to get out of harsh weather, much like my sheep. I'd like them to reproduce and brood on their own, and give off eggs (hens) and meat (roos). I'm not so concerned with yield of either eggs or meat, since their primary purpose will be to clean up after the other animals leave the paddock. But in an effort to stack functions, it sure would be nice to get some human food out of them too.
I'd also like for them to require little or no purchased food, since there should be plenty of food in the pasture. (I have ducks out there now, and have never had to feed them).
My only experience with chickens are my golden comets, that give my family breakfast every morning. These have been great for that one purpose, but they don't meet my other requirements that I described above. So does anyone have any breeds they'd recommend for the pasture?
For survivability only go with the old English or modern games, they're the closest breeds to wild jungle fowl and only about 2/3 domesticated. They do have multiple drawbacks though, roosters are very territorial, hens are very cranky and aggressive momma's, they're frustratingly notorious for hiding their nest especially on the neighbors property, they ain't much for eating either. As far as their good points, survivability and they are pretty to look at.
I've had a lot of breeds come and go. Right now I have a sex link and wynadotte who are my best foragers. It changes as the flock changes. The wynadottes seem keen on brooding but I've had austrolorps brood well as well. You'd get more meat from an austrolorp imo. Freedom rangers may be a good choice for you. Really I think you are just going to have to get a bunch of chickens and try them out. This year I've decided to kill all chickens that aren't ranging and all the small ones. I'm working toward my own breed.
So right now you have pigs and sheep rotating through 8 acres of pasture paddocks and want to add cattle, turkeys and then run chickens through this rotation cycle, yes?
There is only one real concern that I have which is how much is already removed by the animals in this rotation? will there be enough for a batch of chickens to feed themselves completely after a paddock has had pigs, sheep, cows, turkeys already grazing through a paddock?
A lot will of course depend on how long each animal group gets to spend on any one paddock but if you haven't already run the numbers, it might be a good idea to do that first.
Of the chicken breeds that will do what you are wanting; Dominique, Bresse, Buckeye, Australorp and Barred Plymouth Rock, Barnevelder and Marans would be great choices, there are others but these are the breeds that are proven foragers.
@Bryant - I have an idea of my maximum stocking density, although I'm still finalizing my permanent fencing plan and I'll tweak my stocking density, paddock size, and paddock duration based on my results. Despite the large variety, I'm not planning on pushing the density all that much at first. For example, when I mention cattle, I'm probably only talking about a single cow. The sheep are my highest priority, everything else is just to maximize the field restoration and utilization rates. Thanks for the recommendations on the good foragers. It seems Bresse, Buckeye, and Austrolarp are the most recommended.
I have to admit I really like the idea of the Bresse, and I already have found a breeder nearby. I'm not sure if that's what I'll go with just yet, but they do sound very good.
@Elle - I do like the idea of my own breed, eventually. I think I'd be getting a little over my head trying that now, but it's something I would definitely like to do someday. If I could build the perfect breed for foraging, breeding, and meat in my bioregion, that would be pretty cool.
@Tracy - It sounded like you were describing my Muscovy ducks for a minute... Except for the "ain't much for eating" part.
If you are researching all these species, I'm sure you've read about the horrors of Blackhead disease and turkeys getting it from chickens. We have a small flock of each running together, not a problem so far. So long as your flocks are isolated and aren't already contaminated, it might not be a problem, but it is something to be aware of.
But if you have turkeys for meat and ducks for eggs and the occasional duck confit, why add complexity? Our ducks are as good or better insect foragers than any of our hens. If you like duck eggs that is.