Bringing a new chicken pasture online

Chicken fencing

There’s nothing like a
new pasture to brighten both the chickens’ and my day.  As seems to
be our usual MO, Mark and I didn’t get all of the pastures around the
starplate coop done before we moved chickens in,
so we’re now rushing to build new pastures as we need them. 
Luckily, cattle panels are so easy to erect that I can fence in a pretty
sizable paddock by myself in a couple of hours.  (Mark will have
to come back later and add the gates.)

Trampled rye

I ended up leaving the chickens in our tree alley
for nearly two weeks, which definitely was an imperfect situation from
the birds’ standpoint…but which will hopefully add some much-needed
fertility to this soil.  When I dug swales in this area
last fall, I was glad to see that the ground was well-drained, but the
rye I planted on the bare earth only grew to about half the height of
the rye in our vegetable garden — a sure sign that the pasture needs a
shot in the arm in the fertility department.

From a plant’s point of
view, lack of fertility in new ground like this generally means lack of
nitrogen, and chicken manure is chock full of nitrogen, so letting the
birds spend a little too long here should help the next round of cover
crops (sunflowers and buckwheat) grow better than the rye did.  And
I figure our chickens weren’t suffering too much from lack of fresh
forage since they hadn’t quite pecked every comfrey leaf to bits by the
time I moved them on.

Fresh pasture

This is what the new
pasture looks like — lots of non-grassy plants since the spot was
woodland just last year.  After the chickens graze here for about a
week, we’ll rotate them to a new paddock and Mark will cut everything
pretty low with a weedeater.  We’ve already done that in one
paddock, and grass and clover is starting to take over the ground there
due to the close cutting.  Within a year or two, hopefully the main
paddocks will be a solid sward to provide plenty of greenery for the

Grazing chickens

The truth is that our
chickens prefer a non-grassy pasture to a grassy one, but only for the
first day or two.  Then a pasture like this starts to provide
diminishing returns, while a grassy pasture keeps feeding the flock for
many more days.  It’s all a tradeoff in the chicken-pasturing world
— their tastebuds vs. pasture health.

(If you want to learn more about our chicken-pasturing method, check out my 99 cent ebook Permaculture Chicken: Pasture Basics.)

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