The wintering methods of Harvey
Ussery and Throwback
at Trapper Creek both share one common feature — they keep
chickens off pasture. Unfortunately, the idea of rotating
chickens quickly through small pastures falls apart once real cold
weather hits, which may be in October, November, December, or even
January, depending on where you live and on how much you’ve built up
the organic matter of your soil. At that point, grass stops
growing and soil microorganisms stop being able to handle the influx of
chicken waste. If you keep grazing your flock after this point,
chickens will kill the plants and their manure will run off into local
streams, causing pollution.
I don’t have enough
spare organic matter to mulch a winter yard, nor do I have a
greenhouse, so I’ve had to come up with a lower tech solution —
running the chickens in the woods. This technique clearly won’t
work for everyone since neighbors would complain and predators could
eat the flock, but our chickens are all still present and none have
crossed our “moats” — two creeks, a swamp, and our pasture fences
which together bound about 2.25 acres.
The chickens spend most of
their time in the acre closest to home, where they’ve pretty thoroughly
scratched through the leaf litter already. But each week they
range a little further, and there’s still plenty of ground to be hunted
through. I figure their current range will probably be enough to
to keep all 11 chickens happy until spring — I’ll let you know if I
start seeing degradation of the woods.
As I learn more about
rotational pastures, I’m discovering that it’s helpful to have a
release valve on the system, a place to send the flock if they’re
starting to degrade the plants in their pasture. Well-managed
rotational pastures should be able to handle more animals each year,
but you can easily set them back in the early stages by
overgrazing. So we compromise, losing the organic matter of their
daytime manure when we need to graze them in the woods, but keeping
their scratching feet off the resting pastures. And, as a bonus,
we get to enjoy the happiness of our flock when faced with acres of
leaf litter to scratch through.
clean water after a long day hunting in the woods.