management on my part, the one-year-old
forest pasture in the steep powerline cut is going strong.
The terrible management involved barely rotating thirty-some
chickens out of this pasture for weeks on end, with the goal being
to prevent them overgrazing the more grassy pastures surrounding
the coop — I knew those pastures would go bare if overloaded,
while this one seems to handle too many chicken feet and beaks
with aplomb. Since the powerline pasture is still in the
process of being reclaimed
from trees and tall weeds, I figured I wouldn’t lose too much by grazing
harder than I should this year.
It turns out that the chickens prefer this
pasture even after weeks of heavy grazing, which says to me that I
might eventually be able to develop forest pastures that will need
little or no rotation. Maybe rotation is
only essential for traditional pastures of grass and clover?
The photo to the left
shows one of the big winners in the forest pasture this year —
comfrey. You may recall that I
hacked a lot of roots out of my main garden last winter and stuffed
them into the subsoil on the downhill side of the terraces with no
compost or other help. When Mark went through in June with the weedeater,
the comfrey was already big enough that I told him to just whack
it down. By the middle of July, the plants had grown back up
and were blooming again, and it was also clear from bite-marks all
over the leaves that the chickens had been nibbling on the
Which is not to say
that relentless grazing hasn’t made certain parts of the pasture
bare. When the chickens exit the coop, they tend to run
straight along the fenceline to the far end of the pasture so they
can then walk the easy way up the hill along the terraces. That fenceline
path is pretty much plant-free, and likely to stay that way.
If I hadn’t needed the weeds I cut for mulching the blueberry
patch, I would have thrown them onto this bare ground to create a
mulched path for chickens to scratch through. For now,
though, any erosion from this point will just run into the
raspberries, who won’t mind excess nutrients.
The tiny American
scattered throughout the pastures last winter seem to be thriving
on neglect, like most everything else there. I wrapped each
one in a little netted cage to protect the sensitive roots from
chicken-scratching, and even though weeds grew up in the cages,
the persimmons are doing well. Most are pretty small, but
one is over a foot tall (from a seed that sprouted this time last
year)! My plan is to let the persimmons stay in cages until
the leaves are well over chicken-height, then I’ll graft Asian
persimmons onto the tops and open the space up to the flock.
Older trees and
shrubs are enclosed in mulch
year. The mulch boxes are chicken magnets, but still seem to
be doing their job of keeping mulch from being flung out into the
surrounding pasture. On the other hand, constant chicken
scratching shredded the leaves I mulched with pretty quickly, and
the addition of manure composted them into invisibility. I
selected only hardy species for the pastures, though, so the
shrubs don’t seem to mind bare soil.
In early June, the Nanking
produced a few fruits for the first time this year, three years
after planting. I tried one cherry and wasn’t terribly
impressed by the sour flavor, so left the rest for the
chickens. I didn’t actually catch anyone in the act of
consuming the berries, but three hours after letting the chickens
into the pasture with ripe fruits, every cherry was gone.
From a less serious
perspective, this fallen cedar log continues to be one of the
chickens’ favorite spots in the pasture. These are the
eleven-week-old, second-batch broilers, taking a morning break.
I’m still learning
and experimenting with the forest pastures constantly, so I can’t
provide guidelines for their duplication just yet. However,
I’m becoming confident that a mature forest pasture will provide
more food for the flock than a grassy pasture would, and with
lower work on our part.
is another frequent stop for our flock as they make a loop
around the pasture.