I finally started the
chickens back rotating
through their pastures after a winter spent free
ranging in the woods.
The reason was not so much that the grass was getting high (although it
was) as that the garden has reached a point that my blood pressure
rises when I see sneaky chickens there. Our temporary
fencing where the driveway enters our main homestead area is in
Lucy’s way, so she often knocks it down, which lets the chickens amble
right on in. After about six rounds of chicken herding, I decided
our flock could graze on grass and clover for a while.
I also figured the woods
could use a break after a winter of endless scratching feet. The
chickens clearly prefer the woods to the pasture, and would gladly
spend all year there, but from a management perspective, I need to save
that ground for winter. If I left the flock in the pastures
during the cold weather, they’d scratch up every bit of groundcover and
turn it into a muddy mess, but spread out through the woods, they
merely churn up the leaves and stay healthy and happy.
Before the signs of chicken
feet disappear from the woods, I decided to get an idea of how large of
an area our flock ranged over during the winter months. The map
above shows the focal points of chicken attention, three of which are
large trees like the one shown here.
I suspect that old trees
of any species build so much humus and fungal growth around their roots
that invertebrates move in like crazy. Maybe that’s why the base
of every sizeable tree within the chickens’ free range area was
Other favorite spots included
overgrown pasture fences, which form hedge-like zones that made our
flock feel safe, and (once our spring heat wave hit) the shade behind
the barn. As usual, the chickens remind me that providing optimal
habitat is more about structure than it is about the
specific plants that make up that structure. Nobody would plant
Japanese Honeysuckle for their chickens, but the mass of plant growth
attracts lots of worms and keeps hawks away.
Here’s my guesstimate of
where our flock of seven chickens roamed for the last five months or
so. I counted on the creeks to moat them in, but the truth is
that the chickens stayed closer to home than that, rarely straying
further than 100 feet from one of our fences (which mark the boundary
of regular dog and human travels). Perhaps if I had cut their
rations back further, they would have ranged over more than three
quarters of an acre, but I was already feeding them only
about half as much as the recommended
daily allowance for an adult chicken.
The chickens are
currently pouting at being locked into their pasture (no matter how
lush), but hopefully they’ll get used to it within a day or two.
Maybe in five or ten years, the mulberries, persimmons, and other
goodies I’ve planted there will make the pastures as enticing as the