I am a big fan of the paddock shift method of raising chickens. It is the healthiest way to raise chickens, and it allows you to control where they go, and where they are excluded. You end up with a healthier pasture which gives you healthier chickens, therefore healthier meat and eggs.
Paddocks 1 & 2
There are many different ways to set up a paddock shift. I have (5) paddocks for my chickens to rotate through. Each paddock is about 650 square feet. This much space is enough for up to (10) full sized birds. They start at paddock one, where they spend a week, then they move to paddock two for a week. When they are finished with paddock five, they rotate back to paddock one, and start the process over. This gives plenty of time for the pasture to recover, and the pest and disease pressures to subside. These are permanent paddocks built with wood posts and chicken wire. The paddocks double as my food forest and exists just upslope of the garden, so my fruit trees and garden benefit from the chicken fertilizer and pest control, and the chickens benefit from all the healthy food falling on the ground. The bad thing about the permanent paddocks is that you have a lot of fencing, which is not as pleasing to the eye as an open space.
Paddocks 3 & 4
After I spent 3 days digging holes, setting posts, and cutting and hanging chicken wire, my wife matter of factly replied, “That’s a lot of fence. I liked it better when it was open.”
She had a point, although I wished she kept it to herself. The nice thing about having the permanent paddocks is that I don’t have to setup and move fencing every 7 days. It is set forever! That is the reason I went through all the work to set it up. Also, the cost was actually slightly cheaper for the permanent paddocks than buying another electronet fencing setup.
I also use electronet fencing to paddock shift my larger broiler/ layer flock. The nice thing about paddock shifting using electronet is that you can have as many paddocks as you want, in any shape you want. The bad thing is that you have to setup and take down the paddock when you want to move them. Also, you have to mow the vegetation on the fence line, so it doesn’t touch the electric fence, which can wear out the batteries. This is particularly difficult in the winter when the ground is frozen, or snow and ice is on the fence.
The chickens are not allowed in their new paddocks yet, as I just planted my chicken forage seed mixture, and I want the seedlings to mature first. They have been out in the lush pasture contained with the electronet in the meantime.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.