Chickens in a forest pasture
This year, we're going to experiment with
raising broilers on a forest
The method we've conceived is a lot like the way farmers used to raise
chickens around here, letting them have free run of the woods to
collect most of their food. The traditional Appalachian farm
family probably kept few or no chickens alive over the winter when food
was scarce, but they also fed their chickens little or nothing during
the growing season when bugs and fruits were abundant.
I haven't been able to
find much information about forest pastures for chickens, so we're
making most of it up as we go along. A google search to find the
carrying capacity of an acre churns up widely varying results, but
conventional wisdom seems to come down to this:
- Traditional "free range" farmers
put about 80 to 100 chickens on an acre.
At this level, your pasture won't be eaten down to bare earth, but your
chickens won't get much sustenance from the land either. Various
sources estimate that chickens on this type of pasture may get between
5 and 20% of their food from the pasture.
- Less scientifically backed
sources suggest that about 10 chickens can get all of their food from
an acre of land.
This is more like what we're considering, but I think the websites we
found are far too vague to be counted on. After all, winter is
the down time --- could ten chickens survive on an acre in the
winter? If so, could we raise three or four times that many on an
acre in the summer, slaughtering most of them so that only a few
breeding birds have to forage there during the cold weather? Are
there crops we can plant in parts of the pasture to give the chickens
more nutrition? Does that number consider rotating chickens
through multiple paddocks to give the overgrazed regions time to
recover? Perhaps most importantly, how will we know if our
chickens aren't getting enough forage in a forest pasture and need some
We're thrilled to be
trying to answer those questions this year. Maybe by this time
next year, we will have licked the chicken pasture probem just like
Mark licked the dirty chicken water problem.
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