Nuts and bolts of rotational chicken grazing

Rotational pasture diagramJonathan wrote in to ask how
we get our chickens into the appropriate field each morning, and I
realized that my blog entries have been very vague about the nuts and
bolts of our rotational chicken pasture system.  Let’s look at it
theoretically first, and then I’ll give you an idea of the specifics of
our own incarnation of the system.

If you’re working with
permanent pastures, you’ll want to situate your coop in the middle of
the area to be grazed, then build pastures like the petals of a daisy
radiating out from that central point.  In theory, you could make
as many pastures as you want, but you should keep in mind that chickens
will spend much less time at the extreme ends of the pasture (unless
you give them a reason to be there, like a
chicken waterer, compost pile, or dust bath
spot.)  I suspect that eight to ten “petals” is about the maximum
you should put on your “daisy.”  Your petals will also be much
Popholeregular than they look in
this diagram since you’ll have to work around trees, driveways, and any
other obstacles that restrict straight lines.

You’ll need a door in
the side of your coop leading to each pasture, but luckily these doors
can be quite small.  “Popholes”, as the British call them, are
openings just large enough for a chicken to fit through, perhaps a foot
wide and a foot or two tall.  All of the popholes but one will be
closed at any given time, so the chickens have no choice but to go out
into the open pasture each morning.  When it’s time to rotate to a
new pasture, wait until the chickens are tucked in for the night, then
close the old pophole and open up a new one.  So, to answer
Jonathan’s question, no, I don’t lead the chickens into the appropriate
field each morning.

Double coop pastureAt the moment, we have two
coops, one with two pastures and one with three, but my goal is
eventually to have four pastures radiating out from each coop. 
Although the two coop system was an accident (
first house is in too shady of a location for winter chicken health
), I’ve been pleased with the
flexibility that allows me to raise chicks of various ages alongside
older hens.  If you were planning for two coops, though, I’d
recommend making your daisies side by side so that you can place a gate
between the adjoining pastures to entirely contain your flock as you
lead them from coop to coop.

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