pasture rotation, how many chickens are involved and what size are the
When I started reading
rotation, those were
some of my first questions too, but I soon learned the answers aren’t
really numerical. For example, I could tell you that the pasture
in question (#7 on the map) is about a twentieth of an acre and fed 17
chickens for two weeks. But you couldn’t take that data and
assume that a pasture half that size would feed 17 chickens for one
week, even if you matched up the ages and breeds of the birds.
(These guys are two months old and thus are about half an adult chicken
in terms of appetite.) The trouble with such simple math is that
every pasture has a different array of plants in it, and seasons also
drastically change the amount of food available from that
pasture. Still, I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour
of our pastures, starting with the three pastures our broilers enjoy.
Pasture 1 is about 490 square
feet and was
fenced in spring 2010.
It has suffered from lots of experiments since it was our first
pasture, initiated before I understood anything about rotation or what
chickens will and won’t eat. Pasture 1’s biggest problem, though,
is that it’s way too small for a full flock of broilers, so I usually add
temporary fences to
turn this area into a thoroughfare through which our flock accesses
grassy parts of the yard.
Pasture 2 is about 1,080
square feet and was fenced in spring 2010. It’s a bit better off
than Pasture 1 because I’d learned a few things in the intervening
months, and because the pasture is big enough to handle 15 to 20
broilers of just about any age for a week without being scratched
bare. There’s still no real permanent sward on it, though, so the
ground is dominated by chickweed this spring, just like
pasture 5, with
patches of other perennials poking through. The key to managing
this pasture so it can serve us all summer is to be sure to mow it
after moving the flock out so the taller perennials don’t turn woody
and shade out the more tasty, small plants that chickens enjoy.
Pasture 7 is about 2,100
square feet and is brand new, having come into production only last
year. This is
the pasture I’ve been playing around with all winter, adding terraces
and planting comfrey and trees into. If anything, I’d say pasture
7 is a bit too big for the broilers to utilize fully in a week,
although they eat through it faster than you might think since the
grazing quality is still very poor. The area was a mess of brush
until we cleared out the small trees last June, so the tender plants
the chickens enjoy didn’t have the sun to grow until recently.
The smaller photo above shows what the pasture looks like after the
chickens moved out and Mark ran through with a weed eater to whack back
the tall weeds.
Our broilers tend to do
pretty well in this three-pasture rotation, but it’s really a
four-pasture rotation because I let the flock walk through pasture 1
into two different areas on different weeks. (One of these
spillover areas is shown in the photo above.) Once I get all of
the unwanted woody plants out and the wanted perennials in (including a
permanent sward), this area should be sufficient for up to 20 broilers,
although I’d like to eventually add another pasture between pastures 2
and 7 to give everything a bit of breathing room in the summer.
And I really need a second set of pastures just like this for the
broilers shown above, who are a month old and nearly ready to leave the
I’ll give you a tour of
our more grassed pastures (used by our layers) in another post, so stay
is a fun way to get your flock to spend more time away from the coop.