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My chicken Paddock System

 
Kolomona Myer
Posts: 17
Location: Graham, WA
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Hello everybody,

I'm new to this forum. I stumbled upon it when Paul was interviewed on the Survival Podcast. I'm very intrigued by this Permaculture thing. I have 5 acres mostly treeless. I'd love to grow my own food. I tried to raise eight chickens a couple of years ago. Sadly my dog ate 5 of them, the remaining 3 did pretty good and produced some fine eggs but for some reason, they just died. They didn't go in the hen house one rainy evening and when I woke up in the morning they were dead. Very sad. After reading Paul's Chicken 2.0 post, I realize that I had too small of a run for them.

So here's what I have planned for a dozen Buff Orpingtons this summer. They will be primarily raised for eggs

I'm going to do the paddock shift method. I'm setting up a chicken run that's 100ft by 50ft

It will be divided into 4 sections, each 50ft by 25 foot. I need to build this on the cheap so I'm going to be using metal T posts and chicken wire. My coop is 4' x 6' x 5' 2x4 construction. It's very heavy and I don't want to move it if I don't have to. I figure all I need is 4 100 ft rolls of wire  and I can make this shifting system work.

For predator protection I was going to string a hot wire around the outside of the paddock. And crisscross some large rope with some streamers attached to hopefully deter hawks, eagles, and such.









I'll post some more pictures as soon as I get a chance.


I also have some thoughts on ways to attract bugs for them to eat. I plan on putting large rotting tree rounds in various places. Bugs seem to love these. I figure If I keep them moist throughout the summer that might make them more attractive for bugs. I can roll them over occasionally and let the feeding frenzy begin.

The area where they will be gets plenty of afternoon shade.

Any thoughts or suggestions. I really don't want to repeat my last attempt at chicken farming.


BTW - I'm loving this site, it's full of great info and people





 
Brenda Groth
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hubby is fighting me over getting chickens..but IF I do, the plan is to let them free range forage for the daylight hours and put them in a pen with a henhouse in the pen at night..

this year have too  many things on my plate to prepare for it but I'm working on it..

right now I'm also thinking ducks..as I have a large pond and they are heartier to start out, but if I do I'll just get one or two pair..and hope they survive the cat coyote hawk population here..the pond will be a big help ..and they'll only really require a small nightime home..less than a half dozen hens
 
Jami McBride
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Location: PNW Oregon
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I think it looks good Kolomona - you'll still need to move those chicken's a lot, but with lots of choices it should work out.

I don't personally believe in paddocks for chickens, because I haven't seen them work well enough to leave the ground green and growing.  Here's hoping yours is the system to work this out, and you can post pictures on your success!

Brenda - I love chickens and ducks - I hope you get to add both to your place soon....
 
Tim Canton
Posts: 175
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Jami,

Just curious what you think works well with chickens if not a paddock system?

Kolomona, I like the idea of rotting wood chunks.  Just imagine the feast underneath after sitting for a week or  more.
 
Jami McBride
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Well, as I say I just haven't seen a paddock system that continued in greenery - they all had massive dead spots or all vegetation greatly on the way out (going bald?). 

Now I live in the PNW with lots of winter rain (ground saturation during the coldest months) this contributes to the problems I've seen with paddocks I'm sure.  I can image that having to rotate when the next paddock isn't ready yet (enough new growth) could be part of the trouble too.  And people not being diligent on moving every few days, due to illness, trips, or whatever life throws at them.

What I have seen work well is free ranging of birds over a several fields, and/or where the birds are moved with electric netting from fresh, thick growth, to the next patch with lots of time for regeneration in between.

There are other issues at play here too - chicken's fed feed can be more picky and do more scratching and less grass/herb eating.

I think paddocks can work, however I think they can also fail easily due to over grazing, so one has to be diligent when using paddocks.

I hope Kolomona's system works out great, and some good tips about how to get success with paddocks can be posted back.
 
John Polk
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I strongly believe rotating paddocks is the ultimate sustainable system for housing chickens.  Overgrazing is not a flaw in the system:  it is a flaw in the management of the system.  If you are going to allow them to overgraze the paddocks, then why not just confine them to a small yard and let them destroy that yard?  ie, let them totally destroy 1,000 square feet now, versus 20,000 feet over time.  If you let them work a paddock to 'half-life', there is probably so much nitrogen in the soil that future crops will fail.
Don't get greedy, and don't get lazy, else you will be hurting your bottom line.
 
Brenda Groth
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after reading the chicken thread and pauls chicken page, I'm kinda starting to see the paddock system..but for me I'm still thinking better to fence the areas I DON'T want them than to have to fence in all the areas I do want them..then allow them into the DON'T areas when they are safe for them, like in the fall, winter and early spring..to clean up bugs.

My thought (if you look at my blog plan you can give me input) would be to fence my food forest garden to keep them and the deer out..where most of my crops are..and maybe fence the area up by the house to keep them out of the porches, and people places as well, which wouldn't be too difficult as I have the west fence in now, but only 44 " high.

I'm thinking get a breed that aren't the best flyers?? so they don't go hopping my fence to get to what I don't want them into..and putting the coop on the south side of the entire fenced mess so that they are near the house but not so near as to be a real nuisance (paul's poop factor)..thus they could poop pretty much anywhere in the rest of 10 acres that they wanted to but they would have to stay out of my fenced areas unless invited in.

still the biggest obstacle is my husband..

and yes the ducks are also a big thought for me, but the poop mess would have to be prevented with them too ..and they are good flyers..but if they have 10 acres to roam there might be no need to get into the fenced areas

Irene had a good idea to just cover the things you don't want them to eat..but that doesn't keep the poop factor off of the furniture as Paul would remind us
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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I'm just guessing here as I have zero experience, but wouldn't the issue of overgrazing the paddocks be simply due to too many birds in too small a paddock? Is there not some ratio of birds to square feet that would ensure no paddock destruction?

Add in paddock rotation and now you have the added element of time in any one paddock. Surely there's a way to build the paddocks such that the number of chickens relative to the size of the paddock and the number of days/weeks in any one paddock can be tweaked such that no paddock gets wrecked?

Also want to ask Jami, since we live in the PNW, to expand on the issue of wet. I know people around here who run cows or horses can easily destroy a pasture if the animals are allowed out in the winter (aka: the wet season) but again seems to me this is an issue of number of animals to acres of pasture. One cow in 100 acres won't wreck the pasture even in the wettest winter. So...back to chickens...?

I like Brenda's idea but then you've got the issue of the coop needing to be cleaned. And the birds needing to be put back in the coop (an issue I asked on the other thread). Then I thought perhaps a floorless coop could be moved around the property in Brenda's system.

I still can't get past Paul's claim that one can leave the chickens for days without input - that suggest not putting birds in at night, or doing so in a way that they do it themselves but no predators can get in. How does that work??
 
Jami McBride
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The truth is that we run into problems when we don't consider all the contributing factors.  It is the animal to land ratio, and the soil condition, and the type of plants growing, and the weather, and...... A wise manager will keep an eye on all the players and intervene when the balance needs adjusting.

Here in the PNW we have another big issue to watch - winter rain and our soil becoming water logged (as you mention above) happens all the time.  I would suggested we find other, tougher things to grow besides field grass.  Things that grow when it's cold, things that don't mind having their feet wet, things that respond well to being trimmed.  I am still in search of such things myself   To much in my yard dies back or weakens during the winter months.

People who feel strongly against or for 'a method' usually do so with passion because of their own experiences, however they are not always aware of why it works so well (their contributing factors) or why did not work so well (there contributing factors) when recommending advise to others.

I am not saying a paddock system is not a good way to go - I am just saying when we confine, in a system, we put more burden on ourselves to manage (said system) - period, so we need to discuss contributing factors for success.  I think it wise to list here some of the things to be on the look out for when using a paddock system, and animals to space ratios is a good one, but again my ratios will be different than someone in Montanan or New Mexico.

I wish what to do in life was as simple as - "This is the way to go".  The truth is, the best method is going to be based on what each one of us has to deal with in our situations, what our goals and needs are, and how much time, money and land we have to work with.  Back to chickens......

Chickens can be feed root veggies, brush fodder, kitchen scraps, whey, small rodents - etc. very nicely during winter months.  You will find chickens will eat tossed in greens and such much better when not fed processed feeds or steady grains (can you say spoiled).  So someone in the PNW could try and offer these things in order to limit scratching during rainy periods.  I know I lock up my ducks when my grass becomes logged because they will kill it off completely in a few days when looking for water logged night crawlers (smart ducks, bad news for the grass).  When things dry a bit and harden back up the ducks are free to go = management.  Forget about chickens - I just don't have enough land!

I hope this helps explain where I'm coming from better.
I love the pictures of this paddock system above - it is so helpful when we can see how things will work before we implement them.

 
Tim Canton
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Jami,

I just want to clarify a little bit.  Earlier you said you have not seen paddock works but using moveable fence in different location you have seen work.  Are they not sort of the same idea?  Or are you saying the moveable fencing allowed for movement into more different areas, thus giving the ground more time to recover?  I am just trying to see if i am missing/overlooking something?  I am also assuming (perhaps incorrectly)  that when you say free ranged over several fields you are talking about a mobile coop of sorts and field far enough apart the chickens wont wonder all over?

Also i love the idea of feeding them rodents in the winter....cat might be upset though

THANK YOU
 
Tim Canton
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L8Bloomer wrote:

I still can't get past Paul's claim that one can leave the chickens for days without input - that suggest not putting birds in at night, or doing so in a way that they do it themselves but no predators can get in. How does that work??


I think, and I would love for Paul to clarify it, he is referring to an electrified fence system that keeps predators out and some sort of open coop.  Does that make sense?  I do know that Paul has also written about his LGD's which keep everyone safe.  Seems like you would need to be raising a lot of birds to justify raising a dog to protect them though?
 
Jami McBride
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organick wrote:
Jami,

I just want to clarify a little bit.   Earlier you said you have not seen paddock works but using moveable fence in different location you have seen work.  Are they not sort of the same idea?  Or are you saying the moveable fencing allowed for movement into more different areas, thus giving the ground more time to recover?   

I am also assuming (perhaps incorrectly)  that when you say free ranged over several fields you are talking about a mobile coop of sorts and field far enough apart the chickens wont wonder all over?


#1  Yes, with the movable fencing there was more range and flexibility than with a set paddock system - so I reasoned that this made the difference in success (success being the vegetation did disappear under the birds) in the PNW.

#2  Um no, the chickens were either walked out into certain fields or they just went out on their own.  They would come back to the barn to roost.  There were other animals with them and a dog running the property.  They were fenced out of areas where they would do damage so a tractor wasn't needed.  Again, it's the concept of eat, poop and move only mostly directed by the chickens themselves.

 
John Polk
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The question about birds per area boils down to sustainablity.  Urban and suburban chickens cannot generally be kept for the long term.  A common number for sustainable limits is between 40-50 chickens per acre.  I 'round it off' to 43.5 which gives 1,000 square feet per bird.  On the long haul, if they have less than that, the property will be degrading to the point it won't support anything without a long rest and rebuild.  Besides destroying the plant and insect life, they will be depositing so much raw nitrogen that regrowth will be weak and sporadic.  I have known suburban people put a dozen hens in an 8' x 12' coop with a 12' x 50' run.  By the end of summer they had a 12x50 mud hole, so they got rid of the hens.  Two years later they still have a mud pit.

Too many chickens can truly destroy a yard.  And YES, fencing them out of the kitchen garden during the growing season is a must.  My sister had a kitchen garden that would have kept the family of 4 eating all summer.  It took one hen a couple of days to destroy every living plant in it.  Chickens are eaters, not gardeners.

The electric chicken netting is very good for setting up paddocks.  Keeps them in, critters out, and it is quick/easy to move.  Very adaptable.
 
Mariah Wallener
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Jami, what an interesting idea (this will sound crazy to some, but I grew up in the 'burbs...). The chickens roosting in the barn with the other animals, and where the dog is free to roam (always wondered how I was going to raise a LGD and gain him access to the chicken paddock while keeping other predators out!)...

We don't have a barn (one day...sigh! my dream to own a barn) but would love to hear more about how this works.
 
Tim Canton
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RustyDog,
When you say 40-50 per acre  is that based on a acre being rotated across?  an open acre with birds always on it?  Would that be an acre that has 40-50 12 months year?  I am just trying to get a better feel for numbers.  I was just thinking in terms of an acre being able to produce many more than 50 meat birds but I guess like anything else there so many variables.  Just wondering what the numbers were based on system wise.    Many thanks
 
Jami McBride
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L8Bloomer wrote:
Jami, what an interesting idea (this will sound crazy to some, but I grew up in the 'burbs...). The chickens roosting in the barn with the other animals, and where the dog is free to roam (always wondered how I was going to raise a LGD and gain him access to the chicken paddock while keeping other predators out!)...

We don't have a barn (one day...sigh! my dream to own a barn) but would love to hear more about how this works.


A  couple of thoughts:
First, a dog doesn't need access into a chicken house if said dog is on duty from dusk to dawn and has access to the outside of the house where the predators have to come in from   Think mote where the dog is the water around your chicken house.

Second thought, it can work out nicely when running a small holding to mix and blend your animals and their housing.  Consider places that get a lot of snow - having one central barn with different stalls/paddocks, and dog sleeping in there on duty.  Outside the barn could have a lean-to off it's side where larger animals that don't want to 'come in' could get out of nasty weather, and/or where materials could be stored for use as bedding over the winter.  Lots of great possibilities...

 
John Polk
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My number of 40-50 chickens/acre is based on year round, year after year.  A broiler flock will probably be gone in 3 months, and the pasture probably will not have another flock until next spring, so you could easily have 4x that many on it.  You will have 9 months to let everything to regrow, and break the parasite/disease cycles.  If you raise them in a brooder to 6 weeks, they will probably only spend 6 weeks on pasture.  Just don't let them stay in one spot too long.  If your nose can smell ammonia in their pen, they will average ½ pound lighter.  With 100 broilers, you will lose 50 pounds of meat!
 
Walter Jeffries
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What we do is managed intensive rotational grazing of our sheep and pigs. The chickens, ducks and geese have a strong tendency to follow the pigs and sheep around the rotation all by themselves. This way I don't have to fence for chickens (hard to do) but just for the bigger animals. The end result is we get managed rotational grazing of all of the animals.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Tim Canton
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^^  How much land available would one need to be able to run sheep or pigs ahead of the chickens though.  It certainly doesn't seem a paddock as Kolomona suggested would be enough?

Blessings
 
Walter Jeffries
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As a general rule of thumb think of about 10 pigs per acre. Sheep and pigs can graze the same land and they eat a bit differently so they together are more efficient. See this:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2007/10/how-much-land-per-pig.html

But, don't use numbers too hard, don't use too sharp a pencil. There are really too many variables to say what works on our pastures works everywhere. Climate, forage types, slope, soil, etc all make a difference in how many animal units can be supported per acre.

You can improve your pastures dramatically by over seeding. We frost seed:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2010/09/frost-seeding.html

Originally our pastures didn't have legumes (e.g., clover, alfalfa, etc). Now they are lush with these plants that pull nitrogen out of the air to fertilize the soil. Fifteen(?) years ago the local ag extension pasture person came out and walked our fields with me. Her first question was how fast do we want to make change. She explained there is slow and inexpensive or fast and expensive. I said I can go slowly. She said good and explained about grazing and over seeding to gradually improve the soil and pastures. It worked great. The biggest cost has been fencing and that wasn't too bad since we do it ourselves. Thirteen years ago we expanded the pastures and then again two years ago we expanded them again, opening up fields that had grown up to woods and then seeding. In time they will be nice pastures too just as they were a hundred years ago.

As to setups, my favorite is a 9-square, sort of like a tic-tac-toe board with a home base area and then paddocks. This is topographically like the drawings. The animals have a small home area that is closer to us and safest from predators. The larger animals go out to further paddocks. The smaller ones stay closer in the inner paddocks. Note that nine is not a magic number, just an easy illustration and method for a small setup. Over time as our pasture grew we ended up with more than nine paddocks. The main idea is rotate and home base.
 
Suzy Bean
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Hey folks! I just put up a "moving paddocks" page at appropedia.com. ( http://www.appropedia.org/Moving_a_Paddock ). Feel free to add any wisdom you might like to share with the appropedia community.
 
Kolomona Myer
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Location: Graham, WA
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Update:

Due to a bunch of things that have happened in my personal life, I will not be able to have chickens this year.   

I am doing some gardening and will begin posting some of my trials and tribulations as well as asking many questions.
 
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