Rotational grazing for chickens

Chickens following cattle on pastureI’ve been working my way
around to mentioning rotational grazing over here for quite a
while.  The idea is simple — you move your flock into a new
paddock at intervals so that they always have access to fresh pasture
and never turn any one paddock into a moonscape.  Rotational
grazing has picked up a lot of momentum among sustainable cattle
farmers, but how well does the idea work with chickens?

The classic, Joel
Salatin example consists of grazing cows and chickens in a
multi-species rotation.  When the cows are moved to a new paddock,
the chickens are placed in the old one to scratch through those tasty
cow pies, spreading the fertility throughout the pasture.  At the
same time, the chickens eat up parasite larvae that would otherwise
recolonize cows the next time the bovines pass through.  The
system has gained a wide following, and is clearly a win-win for cows,
chickens, and pasture.  But what about those of us who don’t want

Chickens in the grassWithout a large ruminant in
the mix, you have to envision the rotational chicken pasture a bit
differently.  The first thing to remember is that chickens’
stomachs aren’t set up to digest low quality food like grass, so while
they may pick at a leaf here and there, they’re not going to get much
out of a pure grass lawn.  Chickens’ stomachs are actually a lot
like ours, and they crave meat (invertebrates, mostly), fruits, and
tender vegetables.  That’s where my
forest pasture idea comes into play — I’m
working on developing a suite of plants (and associated insect life)
that will provide the chickens with a large percentage of their dietary
Profitable Poultry reports that Joel Salatin
has planted mixtures of native grasses, broadleaf plants, clovers,
chicory, oats, and rye on his Virginia pastures so that tender plants
are available to the chickens throughout the year.  In the Pacific
Northwest, Robert Plamondon prefers oats for winter forage and white
ladino clover and alfalfa as summer feed.
  There’s a lot of
room for experimentation in discovering the best plants for a chicken
pasture in your neck of the woods.

Chickens in the gardenAnother option to consider
with rotational grazing is combining a vegetable garden with a chicken
pasture.  If you can run your chickens in the vegetable garden
during the winter, the flock will control many problematic pests while
fertilizing the soil and working any plant debris into the
ground.  I’ve found that combining the garden with a chicken
pasture works best with a relatively short season summer crop rather
than with a diversified garden since the latter is often active
year-round if planned correctly.  Our grain paddocks are the first
step in this direction for us, and have shown a lot of potential.

99 cent pasture ebookNo matter how you go
about it, rotational grazing has a lot of advantages over other types
of chicken management.  The more fresh food your chickens eat, the
less you have to pay for storebought feed.  Even more important,
the healthier chickens on pasture produce tastier and healthier eggs
and meat for you to eat.  I’ve recently decided that rotational
grazing is the best chicken management system for anyone who lives
outside the city.

Our homemade chicken
is a perfect
addition to the chicken pasture, giving your flock clean, fresh water
all day.

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