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Chicken Yard Restoration

 
Jon Gagnon
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hi all,

Wondering if anyone has some useful information about improving the soil biodiversity in a chicken yard? We have a chicken yard that doesn't offer as much to the chickens as we'd like. Is there a strategy to increase the tithe or humus in a chicken yard with the overall goal of offering more insects, etc. for the chickens?

Thanks!
 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1132
Location: Denver, CO
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I heard about a permaculturist in the tropics who would fill buried garbage cans with free shredded paper. The paper would encourage termites, and soon the barrel would be full of them. At that point he would shovel them out to feed the chickens. I certainly wouldn't do it near any structures, or neighbors structures, and I would might worry about what was in the paper. But it gives an idea of the sort of thing you could do.

Where are you located?

If slugs or snails are a problem in your area, a board laid out on the grass overnight and then turned over will give the chickens a feast, while eliminating a problem. Various bug traps, like the sort for Japanese beetles, might work. If you have a beehive, raised high enough so that chickens can't ambush the healthy bees coming in and out, the chickens will clean up the dead and dying ones outside the hive. (Bees only live a few weeks in the summer.) Mulch will encourage lots of creepy crawlies. Some plants like comfrey attract (beneficial) insects which could also be chicken food. And some "trap crops" attract and concentrate pests that the chickens could eat, which would depend on your area.



 
Miles Flansburg
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Jon, how much property do you have ? Do you have room to run a chicken tractor?
 
Jon Gagnon
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We have plenty of room and do have a chicken tractor, but it only fits about 1/4 of our flock. I am located in Southwestern Ontario.

Thanks for all the ideas. Is there any value in sectioning off a part of the chicken yard and using cover crop and/or intense mulching to build the soil up?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Not sure if this might help: http://geofflawton.com/videos/chicken-tractor-steroids/
 
matt hogan
Posts: 71
Location: Tennesse, an hour west of Nashville, zone 7
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chicken hunting
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I would definitely section off the yard and rotate the grazing as much as possible. Move the chickens before the plants are destroyed. Have a sacrifice area to preserve the rest.

When I still had a chicken run, I was thinking about planting some vines like grapes in a corner that is fnced off or outside and trained through the fence to the inside but above chicken destruction level. That could feed them and cycle some more nutrients into the soil.
 
Jon Gagnon
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If I section off an area to rest and restore is there any cover crop, or regular crop, or trap crop that anyone would recommend? Aside from comfrey which was mentioned.
 
Benton Lewis
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Here is an awesome video on raising chickens:


Its called "How to Grow Chickens Without Buying them Grain By Only Feeding them Compost"
 
Chris Sargent
Posts: 45
Location: SE Alaska
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I'm working on improving my chicken run as well. Here's what I have for ideas.

Add lots of wood chip mulch inoculated with some mushroom spore. Should help cover bare ground areas, give the chickens something else to scratch through, help prevent some of the standing water/puddle areas I have, and compost down over time into soil. Mushroom spore should add some diversity...don't expect to get any mushroom with all the chicken scratching but you never know.

Add some cover/forage crops. In the main area I'm building some forage boxes like these
. I'm seeding them with a variety of nitrogen fixing peas and clovers, some grain/grasses, etc. I have a couple of different patches I'm going to build these in around the run. I'm also planning to fence in a few more areas and plant forage plants so I can do a bit more rotational grazing. Last summer the chickens pretty much free-ranged all summer but with the additional gardens I'm planting, neighbor dogs with a bit too much interest in the chickens, and getting tired of chickens getting into and crapping on everything I'm thinking of keeping them a bit more contained in the future. I still want them to range and get more nutrients from bugs and greens so I want to try a rotational system.

Plant more fruiting bushes/shrubs. The chicken run area already had a variety of wild blueberry, huckleberry, and salmonberry bushes and the chickens love, love, love picking the berries off them. Unfortunately they also stripped them of all their lower leaves and possibly killed some of the smaller shrubs. I've been adding some rocks, and pieces of old lumber around some the the bushed to protect the roots. Come spring I'm going to fence around some of the patches so the chickens can't strip them before they have a chance to flower and fruit. I'm also thinking of planting some more fruiting bushes around the fence line. I want to include some nitrogen fixers as well.

Adding rotting logs and bug boards. I'm laying around some old boards and logs throughout the enclosure. Bugs tend to congregate under the boards, where it is nice and damp and protected. Creates a safe breeding ground for the creepy crawlies. Every so often I'll go out and roll the logs to a new spot. Chickens come running to get the exposed bugs and spend hours pecking at the logs picking out bugs and their eggs.

 
Jon Gagnon
Posts: 6
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Hi Chris,

Are you growing the grasses for the chickens to eat or leaving them to go to seed so they can eat the seeds? I'm just wondering if I'm feeding them grasses or the seeds of the grasses or a combination of both?
 
Chris Sargent
Posts: 45
Location: SE Alaska
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Jon Gagnon wrote:Hi Chris,

Are you growing the grasses for the chickens to eat or leaving them to go to seed so they can eat the seeds? I'm just wondering if I'm feeding them grasses or the seeds of the grasses or a combination of both?


Both. The grass in the chicken yard gets eaten pretty fast...so doesn't get a chance to seed. However, I do have some other areas where I let the grass grow wild and collect the seed heads in the summer and fall and throw them into the yard for the chickens. The chickens love them that way. If I let them out to free range they don't seem to notice the taller grasses or seed heads above them. Maybe they just haven't learned to look up...but they'll happily jump up to pick berries off the bushes...so I'm not sure why they don't jump for the taller grass seed heads.
 
Guerric Kendall
Posts: 102
Location: zone 6a, NY
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chicken duck forest garden
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They'll look up at other birds, predators, and animals that are taller than they are, but food up high just doesn't seem to be in their field of vision when foraging.

Your best bet for actually increasing soil biodiversity would be with compost and chicken tractors to limit the area they get through every day. To otherwise offer more insects to a large flock, you'd have to raise them yourself. There are plenty of BSFL threads around, as well as those for mealworm raising, and earthworms. For general-purpose cover crops, white dutch clover is great due to it's hardiness and protein content. Grains? Something quick like barley, or buckwheat.
 
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