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  • What Should I Do?
    Portable Electric Chicken Fencing

    Chicken Paddock Shift

    Rotational free ranging chickens
    by Phil Williams

    Monday, June 9, 2014, 6:22 PM

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.

Paddock 5

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.

Electronet Paddock

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.

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14 Comments

  • Mon, Jun 09, 2014 - 9:25pm

    #1

    kevinoman0221

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Sep 24 2008

    Posts: 96

    Thanks Phil. I had wondered

    Thanks Phil. I had wondered how much ground prep was necessary for those electric net fences, in terms of mowing. I guess if you have to mow every time you shift, that definitely adds an extra element of work.

    How old do fruit trees need to be before you can let chickens in with them unprotected?

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  • Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 2:01pm

    #2

    Phil Williams

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 14 2009

    Posts: 269

    Fruit Trees and Chickens

    Kevin,

    The problem with having chickens around young fruit trees is they like to dig around the base of the plant where the fresh dirt is loose. I put stones around the base of the tree. I have a couple of mulberries and paw paws that are tiny that the chickens have not bothered with the rocks at the base. My large established trees also have stones, but they would OK without. The stones are also nice for snake habitat, water runoff, and heat sinks.

    Having said that, I have heard others complain of chickens breaking limbs in new fruit trees, by trying to roost in them. My fat hens don't do that, thankfully. Also, if you want to mulch your trees, they will undo your mulch way faster than you can put it down. I have a living mulch underneath the trees.

    I hope this helps

    Phil

     

     

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  • Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 4:08pm

    #3

    sand_puppy

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Apr 13 2011

    Posts: 1837

    Space for happy chickens

    Phil,

    Thanks you so much for your wonderful and very clear explanations and pictures.  It lets us "city folk" get a picture of how this is done.  And your pictures are beautiful.

    It sounds to me like raising free range chickens in a sustainable manner take lots of space.  5 paddock, each 650 square feet, totals to 30,000 square feet, or 3/4 of an acre.  And this is used to support 10 chickens.

    And if one wanted to raise, say, 30 chickens, we would be looking at 2+ acres of chicken pasture.

    I suppose that chicken pasture could be dual purposed with fruit tree groves.

    This reminds me of reports I have heard that it is difficulty for a family to raise all its own food on only 5 acres.

    A question for Phil (and other PPers):  If you were going to attempt to raise chickens as the primary meat source for a family of 4, how many chickens and how much land would you recommend?  Roughly.

    Thanks

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  • Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 8:31pm

    Reply to #3

    Quercus bicolor

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 19 2008

    Posts: 190

    sand_puppy wrote:It sounds

    [quote=sand_puppy]
    It sounds to me like raising free range chickens in a sustainable manner take lots of space.  5 paddock, each 650 square feet, totals to 30,000 square feet, or 3/4 of an acre.  And this is used to support 10 chickens.
    And if one wanted to raise, say, 30 chickens, we would be looking at 2+ acres of chicken pasture.
    [/quote]
    Sand puppy, you added an extra zero in your math. 650 x 5 = 3250 sq. ft. or about .075 acres for 10 chickens.  That's about 130 chickens per acre.

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  • Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 10:12pm

    #4

    Phil Williams

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 14 2009

    Posts: 269

    Space for Chickens

    In regard to space there really is no set rule. You could obviously raise more chickens in less space, but this requires more feed, and the grazing areas get more toxic. Your climate and growing zone also factors into it. 

    Bear in mind that for chickens, pasture is not ideal. They originated as jungle fowl, and much prefer forest. I will be adding about 150 small trees and shrubs to their pasture in the future. Eventually, the chickens will be able to forage in a really good food forest.   

    Phil

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  • Wed, Jun 11, 2014 - 12:26am

    #5
    Carl

    Carl

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jul 17 2008

    Posts: 15

    Winter

    Phil,

    Thanks for the clear description. Seems like a great system. Do you shut the hens up in the coop at night or leave them out. What happens in the winter? Do you still move them around, but just use more supplementary feed?

    Carl

     

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  • Wed, Jun 11, 2014 - 1:09am

    #6

    Phil Williams

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 14 2009

    Posts: 269

    Winter

    Carl,

    I worked on a solar powered automatic door triggered by a photo cell, but it was unreliable. Now I simply leave the door open. I cut a piece of heavy plastic and put it over the door, so they can come and go as they please and keep out the elements. I cut a slit in the plastic, so they can push their way in. Up to this point, no predator issues. I think this is because they are moved often, and there paddocks are close to the house. I have another larger flock rotating between tree growing swales further out, and I have had an attack from a weasel, when I accidentally left the electric off.

    In the winter, I still move them around mainly to keep them spreading the manure, and also so it does not become unhealthy. They do still forage. I will usually have less chickens at this time, as all unproductive layers and meat birds will be gone. But yes, more feed.

    I hope this helps

    Phil

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  • Thu, Oct 01, 2015 - 9:05pm

    #7
    The_Good_King

    The_Good_King

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 01 2015

    Posts: 1

    So many questions!

    What percentage of feed costs have you managed to replace with forage in this system? Do you think that forage could replace feed in an ideal situation? And could you make a guess at what problems might arise doing this on a larger scale? And what about having a central coop that opens into each of the paddocks?… I have so many questions! This is such a fascinating concept!

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  • Mon, Oct 05, 2015 - 4:54pm

    #8
    rbdisme

    rbdisme

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 05 2015

    Posts: 2

    over the top?

    Thanks Phil for the great information and images! Do your chickens ever escape over the fencing? I am attempting to figure out some confinement for my leghorns (currently free ranging to my neighbor's dismay), but they seem to be able to fly quite well. What is the key to keeping them in if there is no 'roof'? Thanks!

     

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  • Mon, Oct 05, 2015 - 6:11pm

    #9

    Christopher H

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 29 2009

    Posts: 120

    I've been paddock shifting to include compost generation

    I've been using a paddock-shift system for chickens since early summer that includes compost generation along the lines of Geoff Lawton's "chicken tractor on steroids".  I use a 100' electronet and mobile tractor that I move weekly.  The enclosure includes a 2-week old compost pile, a 1-week old compost pile, and a pallet bin about 7' x 3.5' that gets the fresh compost.  The bin is started with week-old bedding from the bottom of the tractor (just about anything high-carbon, from dried grass hay to dried phragmite reeds to shredded leaves), covered with a nice layer of horse manure, and then comfrey and other fresh greens/weeds on top of that.  I have a deal with a restaurant a mile down the road where they put their kitchen scraps in a bucket for me, and I dump that daily into the pallet bin that contains the fresh compost mix.

    The birds absolutely LOVE scratching through the compost piles, picking out the insect larvae and eggs (among other things).  It also allowed me to raise 36 birds this summer from chicks, with vastly reduced grain inputs (although the flock was culled back to 20 hens yesterday).  It's a fair amount of work — about 15-20 minutes each day but about 2.5 hours every weekend to move the tractor and enclosure — but worth it in terms of the reduced inputs and educational experience.  Plus, at the end of each week I have about 2/3 – 3/4 of a cubic yard of finished compost for the garden, full of chicken manure and constantly turned over by their scratching.  They will literally scratch a pile flat in just over a day, leaving me to pile it back up again.

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  • Mon, Oct 05, 2015 - 6:18pm

    Reply to #8

    Christopher H

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 29 2009

    Posts: 120

    Escaping chickens

    I deal with this problem regularly, and the easiest solution is to clip the flight feathers on one wing.  I just haven't gotten around to doing it yet, so I often arrive home to find a handful of birds pacing around the outside of the enclosure while the remainder are inside of it.

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  • Mon, Oct 05, 2015 - 6:24pm

    #10

    Christopher H

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 29 2009

    Posts: 120

    Winter plans

    One more thing on this excellent topic — I wanted to throw out my winter plan and see if anyone has any feedback.

    Since I live in NY and will have to stop paddock-shifting once the snow starts flying, my plan is to build an 8'x16' chickenhouse/greenhouse on the south side of my outbuilding.  I will put a corrugated metal roof on it with corrugated plexiglass on the long south wall.  I figured if I pile in wood chips about 1' deep throughout the entire enclosure, along with a large pile of them in the middle, it will provide a good source of food for worms/bugs/grubs, and will also provide heat for the cold winter nights.  I can just dig a hole in the wood chips and bury the food scraps in different parts.  The chickens will hopefully have a lot of stuff to scratch around in throughout the winter.  I'll keep the 100' electronet in place throughout the winter, outside a small chicken door in the side, to give them a place to get outside on warmer/sunnier days.  If I build shelves in one part of it and make some simple screen doors to keep birds out when I'm not there, I can use it as a place to start plants for spring/summer.  Plus, I'll have a source of good compost in the shed itself, waiting to be used.  The chickens can resume their paddock shift in late March or early April.

    Any thoughts on all of this?

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  • Mon, Oct 05, 2015 - 6:49pm

    Reply to #8
    rbdisme

    rbdisme

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 05 2015

    Posts: 2

    electronet

    Thanks for the honest answer. Trying to appease a neighbor, so escapees would not be good. Is the benefit of the electronet to keep predators out, or to keep chickens in?

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  • Tue, Oct 06, 2015 - 12:13pm

    Reply to #8

    Christopher H

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 29 2009

    Posts: 120

    Electronet

    The main purpose of electronet is to keep predators out.  If you can reduce your chickens' ability to fly over the fence by clipping their wings, they will be pretty content staying in so long as they have sufficient area and food to scratch and peck.

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