Not into blogging?
us on Facebook.
"When you are talking about pasture rotation, how many chickens are involved and what size are the pastures?"
--- Keith Alexander
Pasture 2 is about 1,080
square feet and was fenced in spring 2010. It's a bit better off
than Pasture 1 because I'd learned a few things in the intervening
months, and because the pasture is big enough to handle 15 to 20
broilers of just about any age for a week without being scratched
bare. There's still no real permanent sward on it, though, so the
ground is dominated by chickweed this spring, just like
pasture 5, with
patches of other perennials poking through. The key to managing
this pasture so it can serve us all summer is to be sure to mow it
after moving the flock out so the taller perennials don't turn woody
and shade out the more tasty, small plants that chickens enjoy.
Pasture 7 is about 2,100
square feet and is brand new, having come into production only last
year. This is
the pasture I've been playing around with all winter, adding terraces
and planting comfrey and trees into. If anything, I'd say pasture
7 is a bit too big for the broilers to utilize fully in a week,
although they eat through it faster than you might think since the
grazing quality is still very poor. The area was a mess of brush
until we cleared out the small trees last June, so the tender plants
the chickens enjoy didn't have the sun to grow until recently.
The smaller photo above shows what the pasture looks like after the
chickens moved out and Mark ran through with a weed eater to whack back
the tall weeds.
Our broilers tend to do
pretty well in this three-pasture rotation, but it's really a
four-pasture rotation because I let the flock walk through pasture 1
into two different areas on different weeks. (One of these
spillover areas is shown in the photo above.) Once I get all of
the unwanted woody plants out and the wanted perennials in (including a
permanent sward), this area should be sufficient for up to 20 broilers,
although I'd like to eventually add another pasture between pastures 2
and 7 to give everything a bit of breathing room in the summer.
And I really need a second set of pastures just like this for the
broilers shown above, who are a month old and nearly ready to leave the
A chicken waterer at the far end of a pasture is a fun way to get your flock to spend more time away from the coop.
I summed up ways
to tell what has been eating your chickens in a previous post, but many of you have asked
for the followup --- how to keep those predators at bay. Even
though we live in the middle of the woods, we've only lost a handful of
chickens, so I figure we're doing a pretty good job of predator control
(without shooting anything). Here are our top tips:
Get a good dog. I'm pretty sure Lucy does 95% of the predator control on our farm. Whenever she hears a sound, she tears off looking for the source. Nearly all of our chicken losses have occured recently since her old bones have kept our faithful dog closer to home. (You'll first have to train your dog that chickens are to be protected, not eaten, of course.)
Locate the coop close to your house. Speaking of close to home, you can go a long way toward scaring off predators by keeping your chickens in an area that you walk through many times a day. After some experimentation, we've started locating our chick brooder right outside our back door, after which relocation we haven't lost a single chick to predators.
Include a rooster in your flock. If you don't have neighbors who will complain about the crowing, a rooster will really pull his weight in chasing away predators. One winter while our flock was free ranging, a hawk swooped down and started tearing at the neck of one of our hens. The rooster made such a show and the flock yelled so loudly that I knew something was going on and had time to chase the hawk away before the hen was injured.
Close the chickens in at night. To be honest, I only do this with our chicks, although I could probably have prevented our raccoon incursion by following suit with the adult hens. To make this technique effective, you'll have to combine it with a campaign to turn your coop into a predator-proof establishment once the door is closed. No, chicken-wire doesn't cut it, but hardware cloth might if it's screwed down tightly.
Include trees and bushes in the pasture. During the day, hawks are our biggest danger, and these birds of prey usually hunt by circling over open areas. Tree cover makes it much tougher for a hawk to notice your poultry, and bushes give your chickens a spot to hide if they are in danger.
Our chicken waterer is spill-proof, so it won't wet down your coop if the flock mills around for a few hours inside while you sleep in Sunday morning.
When's the best time to
start silkworm eggs? Probably about
two weeks ago, although I only pulled mine out of the fridge on May 8.
The trick is to time
your hatch for a period when there are plenty of young mulberry leaves
around, and for the sake of safety, you probably should also work
around the frost-free
date. It would
be a shame to get baby silkworms going, only to have a frost nip back
the leaves so you end up without a food source.
What I forgot to factor
into my calculations is that it takes about two weeks for silkworm eggs
to hatch after you take them out of cold storage and put them in a dish
at room temperature. So we'll be getting a slightly late start
this year, but it shouldn't be a big deal. I'll report more once
we have little white caterpillars crawling around.
Our chicken waterer keeps hens healthy with POOP-free water while they wait for their caterpillar treats.
First of all, I
apologize for the low quality of these photos. You can't talk
chickens into posing unless they feel like it, and when they did, my camera
was broken and I had
to borrow Mark's. Plus, the day was dark and damp, which makes
for bad photos. All of those caveats aside, I did want to show
you how our broilers are enjoying their forest
I usually like to rotate
chickens out of a pasture after a week or less, but our flock had
barely explored beyond the lower fenceline during that time, so I opted
to leave them in this pasture longer. I could tell they were
really getting a kick out of the complexity of the environment, and the
boxes were a
One of the most
intriguing things I noticed as I watched the flock was that the
chickens walked right up the terraced pathways just like people do,
ignoring the steeper slopes wherever possible. Maybe that means I
don't have to worry about erosion on the near-vertical slopes from
The only downside of the
glee with which our chickens explored their forest pasture is that I'm
likely to lose their favorite species since I can't talk myself out of
leaving the flock in this spot until they explore to the furthest
extreme. The solution to that problem is to break the pasture
apart into smaller sections and rotate through them faster, but I'll
have to put some thought into how to divide the space without losing
the pathway aspect of the terraces. In the meantime, I'm enjoying
watching the chickens graze.
The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's innovative solution to the thorny problem of keeping clean water in your chicken coop.
This spring, we have
most of the back garden in a rye cover crop to grow organic matter, so
the lower end of the back garden seemed like the perfect spot for late
spring chick habitat. Tall plants like rye (or raspberries) make
chicks feel very safe, so they spend more time pecking and less time
Here's a shot of the
brooder from the other direction so you get an idea of what our chicks'
current habitat looks like. The window side of the brooder faces
east so the chicks warm up quickly on chilly mornings, but then they
get shade during warm afternoons. In contrast, the early
spring chicks had
their brooder window facing due south. Since the door opens in a
different direction now than it did then, we were able to move the
brooder only about 15 feet down the slope and still give this set of
chicks plenty of space to graze where the last set seldom wandered.
And this picture sums up
the true theme of this post --- gratuitous chick photos. They
won't be this cute for long, though, so don't worry --- I'll post
something more substantial soon.
Our chicken waterer keeps the brooder dry and our chicks hydrated.
While I'm profiling
I thought it would be worth taking a look at chicken pasture 5.
If I had the space to put chickens elsewhere, I would have seeded
grasses and clovers here last fall and left
the ground fallow just like I'm doing for chicken pasture 6. This spot ended up
pretty bare at the end of 2011 due to moderate shade combined with
overgrazing, and the seeds I planted in 2012 mostly seem to have
perished since I continued grazing while the seedlings sprouted and
tried to grow.
But simply being left alone
for the winter did wonders for the pasture. Some of the clovers,
grass, and chicory seem to have survived after all, and the bare spots
in between became home to a dense carpet of chickweed. I'm sure
the latter will disintegrate by summer, but it's currently turned
chicken pasture 5 into our laying flock's favorite grazing grounds this
About a fifth of chicken
pasture 5 is much more sad-looking since our birds passed through this
area all winter on their way to grazing in the woods. The photo
above shows the overgrazed area (on the right) along with chicken
pasture 3 (on the left), depicted on moving day. I just open the
door to a new paddock and the flock is bright enough to run through the
coop and onto greener pastures. When they start regretting
leaving the chickweed behind, I've already closed up the relevant
pophole. No more of your favorite pasture for two weeks, guys ---
it needs time to regrow.
A chicken waterer at the far end of a pasture is a tried-and-true way to tempt your flock not to hang out on the coop's doorstep all day.
Forest pasture seven
(the one I've spent the most time experimenting on over the last year)
is brimming with potential this spring. We have high hopes we'll
taste our first homegrown Nanking
cherries from there
this year --- the fruits are already about half size and are swelling
planting is also
doing well. This area is actually right outside the pasture,
which makes it easy to establish new perennials without worrying about
trouble from chicken feet. My hope is that the red curants,
comfrey, and sunchokes I planted there will reach into the pasture and
become chicken fodder over the years to come.
Of course, the biggest
change in pasture 7 over the winter was the addition of a couple of terraces. It seems like my
worries about the
rotting timbers we used to hold the vertical faces up were unfounded --- nothing
has moved over the winter and plants are already beginning to grow back
to hold the soil in place.
The comfrey roots I hacked out of the
forest garden and slipped into subsoil on the lower banks of the
terraces are also doing well. That's the great thing about
comfrey --- it thrives pretty much no matter what. The logs
I hauled out of the forest to add to that bank are also beginning
to work their way into the soil.
The only real failure so
far is the oat seeds that I scattered onto bare ground in early
spring. Despite a smattering of straw to help the seeds
germinate, the pasture instead turned into a bird buffet, attracting
cardinals and sparrows to the feeder. Luckily, there seems to be
enough wild growth present to keep our broilers happy as they explore
this pasture for the first time.
Our chicken waterer refreshes the flock with clean water after a hard day's work hunting for bugs.
I like this simple
automatic coop closer configuration from Nu Trac.
good news is: our second hatch turned out 16 happy, healthy
chicks. The bad news is: my hatch
rate was a rather
73%. What happened?
How about mother of the
eggs? Two-thirds of the dead-in-the-shell
chicks were laid by our Rhode Island Reds...but half of all the eggs
that went into the incubator were from Rhode Island Red mothers.
While it's possible the mother was the problem, it seemed much less
likely once I cracked the dud eggs open and discovered that all except
one were fully formed but hadn't pipped.
The other thing I
noticed was that all of the dead chicks were in the
top half of the tray, and eggs in that area also hatched later.
(Average hatch order for the bottom half of the tray was 4.5, with a
100% hatch rate; average hatch order for the top half of the tray was
7.8 with a 45% hatch rate.) Combining the elongated hatch with
the irregularities within the incubator, my analysis is that the
temperature in the top half of the incubator was cool or irregular.
Our chicken waterer keeps chicks healthy as soon as they're out of the shell with unlimited clean water that never presents a drowning hazard.
flock back in the pastures, I was curious to see how my
work. The idea is that raised walls would allow chickens to
scratch through the mulch at the feet of our fruit trees without
flinging the leaves out into the pasture and baring roots. So
far, mulch boxes seem to be a success!
I saw our hens scratching
through the mulch a couple of times, but never when my camera was
handy, so you'll have to settle for shots of chickens and mulch boxes
separately. But what you can see from these mulch boxes is that
even a solid week of chicken activity only knocked a minor number of
leaves out of the box.
The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free chicken waterer enjoyed by flocks around the world.
Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed.