Factors that affect chicken pasture size

Chicken by compost pileI’ve posted before about the
data I found for
much space chickens need on pasture
.  The summary is that
semi-industrial pastured chicken farmers plan on around 30 feet per
bird, once you factor in rotation
After watching our chickens on pasture for over a year, I’ve figured
out why solid numbers are so hard to come by — every pasture is

Climate.  Your pasture might be
three times as productive as mine if you live in a tropical climate, or
a tenth as productive if you live in a desert.  More productivity
means you can have a smaller pasture for the same number of birds.

Black australorp pulletChicken breed.  If your chickens are
the scratching type (like our Golden Comets), you’ll need a lot more
space than if you’re raising sedentary Cornish Cross.  On the
other hand, I think our Black Australorps are easier on the pasture
than our Golden Comets since they seem to be more inclined to hunt down
bugs on the wing and less inclined to scratch up the ground.

Seasons.  Here in the mountains
of southwest Virginia, our pasture plants grow fastest between late
April and the end of June, then it’s a slow decline to total lack of
growth in the winter.  (Plants in the forest
stop growing earlier since they’re shaded by the canopy
above.)  Meanwhile, our kitchen scrap supply slowly builds through
the early summer until I’m bringing the chickens a gallon of tomato
tops, cucumber ends, and corn cobs every day starting in mid July and
continuing until cold weather hits.  All of that adds up to being
able to cram perhaps twice as many chickens into the May to November
pasture compared to the December to April pasture.

Six week old chickChicken age.  If you’re raising
chicks instead of just maintaining a laying flock, you need to consider
the growth rate of your hatchlings.  Until they’re four to six
weeks old, chicks seem to make no impact on the pasture at all — they
are eating, but are mostly consuming insects and tiny pieces of
leaves.  By six weeks, though, I figure a chick is equivalent to
about a third of an adult hen, and those cockerels and pullets have as
much impact as any other chicken once they reach three months.

Stay tuned for some
number crunching on how many square feet I think our chickens need to
stay happy and healthy (while keeping the pastures green.)  And
don’t forget their fresh water supply —- our
chicken waterer is a must.

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