At first, chicks have nearly
no impact on a pasture. They seem to be eating constantly, but
they’re just so tiny that the plants grow back faster than the tiny
birds can consume the greenery.
But as chicks morph into
miniature chickens around week four to six, they suddenly start eating
much faster (and scratching up the ground to boot). Last year, I
wasn’t prepared for our broilers’ suddenly voracious appetites, and let
our pastures get overgrazed, but this year I vowed to do better.
So far, it’s working.
Everyone’s homestead is
different, so my techniques won’t necessarily work for you, but here
are some tricks that have made our grazing lives easier:
- Start broilers early.
Since our chicks hatched at the beginning of March, the pasture plants
are currently at peak growth at the same time the chicks start to
double down on the greenery.
- Pay attention to the pasture.
It really helped to put the chicks right outside our kitchen window,
because I could tell when their forays
into the forest garden began to have a negative impact on the
perennials. Be sure to rotate chickens to a new pasture before
the ground is really stressed.
- Have plenty of room to rotate
into. We’re using temporary
fencing material, so it only took fifteen minutes to move the
chicks’ pasture from around the peach tree to encompass a big patch of
clover-filled “lawn”. We’ve got quite a lot of these lawn patches
between fruit trees and berries, so I hope we won’t run out of fresh
ground before the time comes to put the broilers in the freezer.
(Movable coops make utilizing bits and pieces of space like this much
- Mow pasture areas. Chicks,
especially, will only eat greenery if it’s very tender and young, so
treat their pasture like a lawn. It should be mowed about a week
or two before you turn your birds into the space, and again right after
you rotate the flock out.
- Raise fewer birds at a time.
If you buy chicks from a hatchery, you’re forced to bring home 25 or
more at a time, but incubating
your own eggs lets you keep the number of voracious beaks
down. Assuming you don’t mind the limited selection, picking up
chicks at the feed store gives you the same flexibility.
- Plan an emergency release valve.
If it looks like your chickens are going to turn their pasture into a
moonscape, don’t simply throw up your hands and let them do it.
Plan ahead and have an area to turn the chicks into where they can’t do
much harm. Our release valve is let the adult hens forage
in the woods (assuming we finish fencing off the garden), but yours
might be a heavily mulched run or a patch of ground you want to have
eaten bare to turn into a garden next year.
We still have plenty of
time to make mistakes since our first set of broilers is only six weeks
old and they’ll soon be joined by another batch. Here’s hoping we
manage to keep over-grazing to a minimum and have even tastier meat
permanent pasture helps spread your flock’s foraging more evenly across