Annual chicken pasture with oats and peas

Chickens grazing oats

We planted one of our
over-grazed pastures in oats, Austrian winter peas, oilseed radishes,
mustard, and chicory on September 9.  The oats, especially, grew
quickly, although I noticed that the leaves were a bit sparser than I’d
hoped — I think that on rough ground, I should increase my seeding

Chicken eating mustardIt’s a tricky topic to decide
when to turn livestock into
winter pastures

On the one hand, young grains are most nutritious before the stems
start to elongate, a change that occurs within about a month if the
weather isn’t too cold.  On the other hand, tender plants are more
likely to be totally eradicated by grazing rather than just losing some
top growth and rebounding during the following rest period.

Conventional information
on grazing annual winter pastures comes from studies with ruminants,
but chickens have the additional habit of scratching up the ground,
which would make me inclined to let the pasture mature more before
turning in the chickens.  On the other hand, chickens have
stomachs that can’t deal with very much roughage, which would make me
inclined to turn the chickens into the pasture when the grass is even
younger than is optimal for cows.

In the end, my decision
was a bit random — I just opened the fence one day and let the flock
in.  Here’s what the pasture looked like on October 2:

Oat pasture

And the next day on
October 3:

Chickens knock down oat leaves

As you can see, the
chickens did a bit of trampling damage in the first 24 hours. 
I’ll keep you posted when I have more of an idea of whether I should
have waited longer, how long the chickens can spend in the annual
pasture without causing long term damage, and so forth.  Right
now, our fat and happy pullets are lazily resting along the fenceline
— I think I need to cut back their storebought feed.

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to rotate
chickens through pastures — fill a five gallon bucket in each pasture
and forget it.

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