What Should I Do?

Phil Williams

Chicken Paddock Shift in Action

Natural chicken powered mowing
Thursday, March 3, 2016, 4:12 PM

I have a flock of chickens that graze the upper slopes of my property between swales. Their manure migrates into the swales, feeding the trees on the downslope berm. They are moved weekly along this two acre stretch of property. The chickens benefit from fresh ground, insects, and vegetation. They are healthier and consume less feed in the process. The only negative is the work involved in setting up and taking down the electronet fencing each week.

Buff in Paddock

Buff in Paddock

Here are some pictures showing what a plot looks like when I move them in, and what it looks like at the end of the week. Bear in mind that at this time there were only five chickens in the flock. There was another eight in a brooder next to the coop, but at the time of the pictures, they were too small to join the flock. I think it’s important to see how much consumption and destruction a small flock of chickens can do. This also puts into perspective how bad for the chickens it is to keep them in a small coop and run. It doesn’t take long for a flock to exhaust the resources in a given area leaving only disease and bare earth.

Can You See the Five Chickens

Can You See the Five Chickens?

]Chicken Paddock (Clover, Alfalfa, Comfrey, Dandelion, Wintercress, Mulberry, Etc.... (5)

Chicken Paddock (Clover, Alfalfa, Comfrey, Dandelion, Wintercress, Mulberry, Etc.... (5)

Chicken Paddock (Clover, Alfalfa, Comfrey, Dandelion, Wintercress, Mulberry, Etc.... (3)

Chicken Paddock (Clover, Alfalfa, Comfrey, Dandelion, Wintercress, Mulberry, Etc.... (3)

This is a picture of what the paddock looked like after one week of use.

Chicken Paddock after one week

Chicken Paddock after one week

Now that is Chicken POWER!!!!

~ Phil Williams


Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  He is also the author of numerous books, most recently, Fire the Landscaper and Farmer Phil's Permaculture. 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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7 Comments

Cherihuka's picture
Cherihuka
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2012
Posts: 41
A Useful Example

Thanks Phil, for showing this. I've struggled with the idea of getting chickens again, over the cost of feeding them. We rent right now, with only an hour of sun on any piece of the property so I have to wait. But I'm learning as much as I can now to be ready for that day in the future...

I have read a lot (online - and backyardchickens.com is an awesome source of insights) and garnered many versions of what a chicken-dedicated garden should include (cabbage, squash, herbs, sunflower  for seed...), and the nutrient guidelines for healthy egg-layers. I've seen great ideas for partitioning pasture areas, but never seen what it looks like with the greens/weeds they'll eat planted in it, or the results - with # of birds and a timetable! This is great info. for planning.

If I could ask related questions... I'm guess-timating your pasture area(s) is 15'x40'? How much feed does it actually reduce (per 5 birds)?

And an unrelated question on swales and berms. Are these the same/similar to hugelkulture mounds? I wonder if either/or would collapse over time? I read that the hugelkulture mounds compact and collapse over time which would affect the trees dependent on their form or function and that berries/bushes are more recommended. Fruit trees being so expensive, it would be interesting to note what you recommend.

Of course, I'm in zone 4 now and have to plan ahead for winter feeding, so it all adds up/matters. I hope to get 4-6 birds immediately after my first harvest of a chicken garden and a season's worth of planting (such as your exhibit, with comfrey and clover, et al). It's a long time to wait, but I feel it's worth all the trouble to plan for, after the feed costs (and store dependency) I encountered with my last flock. 

PS - People who've never delved into chicken-keeping before, need to understand their destruction abilities, lol. 

 

 

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Cherihuka Reply

In the growing season, with regular rotation, I can reduce feed intake by about 50%. Of course this requires sufficient space. I can't say exactly how much space is enough. Depends on the time of year and how fertile your land is, what's growing, etc... The best thing to do in my opinion is to observe the chickens. If they are finding and enjoying the forage, it will be obvious in their behavior. If they are not, also obvious. I will say that it doesn't take long at all.

Swales don't collapse over time. The ditches can fill in over time, but this is not a problem as they are catching organic material to feed the trees downslope. As far as hugelkultur collapsing, yes the woody material breaks down, but you should not use so much woody material that it collapses. 25% woody material to soil. So yes the hugelkultur berms will shrink, but should not be a problem for your trees.For tall berms, I put my trees and shrubs on the sides, not the top.

The link below has great chicken keeping information and reduction of feed use.

http://abundantpermaculture.com/

 

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2244
Great info, Phil!

Who would have thought that a few chickens could beat down/use up an area so quickly?  I also love the picture asking if we could find the 5 chickens in the picture..no!  I maybe found 2 or 3.  How funny!

Thanks also for the great links; lots of good info!

Hey have you had much trouble with predators?  I know my neighbors raised chickens for a few years, and had some trouble with foxes getting in the coop and slaughtering their chickens.  I think maybe they then switched to a concrete floor under the coop, but am not sure. 

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Predators

Pinecarr,

With the electronet fencing, we haven't had any attacks over the three years I've been using it. I leave the door wide open to their coop. The last thing I need is a twice-a-day chore. We do have hawks, weasels, and fox.

Phil

pyranablade's picture
pyranablade
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2010
Posts: 206
Hawks

I imagine that it is the ability of your chickens to blend in with the foliage that keeps the hawks from killing them or even being aware of them.

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Chickens blending in

I'm sure it helps, but there are definitely times when the foliage is shorter. The coop I use is on wheels. When they're scared, they hide underneath it. It's only 6-8 inches off the ground, but they fit. With hawks it helps to have someplace for them to hide.

Carl's picture
Carl
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 17 2008
Posts: 20
Escape

Phil,

Thanks for the article. It appears that your fence is four feet high or so. Our chickens would just fly over that. Do you clip your chickens' wings? How do you keep them from leaving?

Carl

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