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Free ranging chickens and planting on new swales

 
Tim Flood
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I wasn't sure exactly which forum to post this on: Critters, Growies, Permaculture, or something else. It's a crossover to me.

Anyway, here's the question:

I just finished installing my swales in my backyard. I live on 1/2 acre. (Well, that's 1/2 acre, total, so the backyard is some fraction thereof.) The chickens are free ranging. We put them in the bullet proof coop at night, and during the day, they have the run of the entire back yard.

I'm going to put some winter rye seed down, and some winter cover crop I bought from Grow Organic. I'll mulch the barren swales with wood chips or straw or something.

The question is: The chickens are going to go around and scratch and pick at the seeds I throw down. Can I out-seed what they can pick? Will the seeds still be viable when they make their way through the chickens digestive tracks?

Should I just fence the chickens in until spring until the seeds get a chance to get going?

What are your thoughts on free-range chickens and planting cover crops from seeds?

Thanks for your input.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Tim Flood wrote:
The question is: The chickens are going to go around and scratch and pick at the seeds I throw down. Can I out-seed what they can pick? Will the seeds still be viable when they make their way through the chickens digestive tracks?


That's their job, to scratch the hell out of new seedlings coming up and leave bare dirt behind. Few seeds are viable after having gone through a chicken. There are seeds like peppers and pokeweed that are spread through bird droppings, but often it is because the bird is processing the whole fruit, not just seed that is thrown down.


Should I just fence the chickens in until spring until the seeds get a chance to get going?

What are your thoughts on free-range chickens and planting cover crops from seeds?

Thanks for your input.


I keep mine in a chicken tractor, that way areas that I want to get scratched up will get scratched up, and seeds that need a chance to get going will have their time. I would suggest that you seed things like chicory and dandelion and sow thistle in your swales -- things that can regenerate from a long taproot. No matter how savagely the chickens attack them, they will regenerate once the chickens are kept away for a while.
 
Craig Dobbson
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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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My experience has been that chickens will eat anything they can find and once they find something they like, they will scratch around for more. It's not just the seeds at risk but also the swales. Chickens will scratch the soil down hill and leave gaps, hills and holes all along the way. If there is mulch, they will move it. So what can be done? Luckily there are a few things you can do.

1. Divide the space into paddocks so that there is some time when the chickens can't access an area that has recently been seeded. If you're trying to establish a whole new system, then you may wish to create a sacrificial space to keep your birds on while you develop the rest of the land. By adding lots of mulch, compost, logs, leaves, kitchen scraps and other materials, you can keep the chickens busy in one location while the rest of the property is establishing.

2. Feed them in the coop before you let them out to range. They will fill up early and be less inclined to gorge on your newly planted seeds. Of course once you let them out, they will scratch and do what chickens do. At least with a full crop, they might leave more seed for your swales. Provide them a compost pile to focus on and they may ignore the seed. My instinct tells me this might be futile though. Whatever they don't eat, they will scratch and uproot.

Electric netting is my favorite option to rotate them around in. You could also make a chicken mobile or a coop and run system. Any fence that's not electrified probably should have a covering of shade cloth or netting to prevent them from flying over.

I don't let my chickens onto any swales because they just keep scratching the mounds apart and filling in the low parts with soil and mulch. Most of the time they are in a paddock shift system on pasture. During the winter, they free range. My dog is trained to keep animals out of gardens and swaled spaces so that's a huge help. Once the ground freezes, I don't mind the chickens being a little more loose with the rules. They can't move frozen earth.

In your shoes, I'd probably keep the chickens off the newly swaled and planted areas until they are well established and the cover crops have a decent root system. Then introduce them slowly and keep an eye on them. You'll find the right balance eventually.

Good luck
 
Kate Muller
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Location: New Hampshire
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I let my chickens free range and they love to dig in the swale berms and swales. I can't keep anything mulched if the have access to it.

I have found burlap is a great material to put down when you are trying to keep the chickens off of something while you are waiting for the seeds to sprout.

The will remove the mulch off of everything. They will start destroying it before I have even finished putting it down. I will fence them out of an area or I will use the black plastic deer netting over mulch to keep the birds out of it. I use rocks to hold down the netting or burlap.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I generally put a layer of branches over a seeded area to keep chickens off it.
 
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