Chicken Paddocks Update #1


Back in April we brought you Chicken Week to celebrate our hen’s introduction to the wild backyard. At that time, I wrote a post about pastured poultry in paddocks. Here’s a quick summary:

There are many methods for raising chickens, including the typical coop and run. Of all the options (I discussed five in my original post) we decided to go with pastured poultry in paddocks. In this system, chickens rotate through several paddocks planted with food chickens can self-harvest because it has several benefits and/or addresses limitations of the other options.

The gist of using paddocks for chickens is that you provide multiple (i.e., four) fenced areas which the chickens can access from their coop. These areas are deliberately planted with vegetation that is healthy for chickens to self-harvest. The paddocks are also planted with an overstory (trees to roost in, especially for protection) and an underbrush (especially to hide from airborne predators). By planting perennial food, you further minimize the amount of work necessary on your part to feed the chickens (the plants come back every year). Paddocks are designed to be large enough so that chickens can hang out there for an entire week before moving on to the next paddock; There is enough vegetation in each paddock that they do not decimate the landscape before they leave. (To further protect the ground cover, you could make use of these grazing screens. These enable chickens to eat the top portions of ground cover but not to destroy the plants by uprooting them.) In a system with four paddocks, the first paddock will have three weeks to “recover” before the chickens are back to eat more. Poop doesn’t accumulate all in one place. The entire bug population is not destroyed in one day. Vegetation is not obliterated. And the only work you have to do is let the chickens out in the morning (each paddock is accessed from the coop via a different gate) and close up the coop at night. In conjunction with the deep liter method for bedding, maintenance becomes almost a non-issue.

I’m still sold on the value of paddocks for chickens. But alas, the realities of life (especially micro-farm life) meant that building paddocks fell to the bottom of the priority list… which meant that our chickens were free-ranging in the (fenced) backyard until recently.

I confess – having free-ranging chickens in the backyard wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The primary issue that needed to be addressed was keeping the chickens out of the garden – I accomplished this by putting up deer-netting stapled to 4’ garden stakes all along the Fenceline Garden. Since our underground fence is currently not working, this is also effective for keeping the dogs out. As an added bonus, the fabric is tiny enough that you can barely tell it’s there until you get close. (Why didn’t I think of that before installing an underground fence?) The other challenge was that the chickens pooped all over the inside of the lean-to shed which quickly became their favorite place to hangout. Oh, and they loved hanging out at the backdoor; more poop.

If it weren’t for all the poop, I might have considered moving on with allowing the girls to free-range in the backyard. Our bug population was pleasantly in-check and the woods were being eliminated in several places. What’s more, the dogs and chickens get along great so no extra fencing was needed to keep them safe. (In fact, the chickens are the ones who get a little bossy some times!)

But alas, the poop problem could only be addressed by containing the birds to a certain area of the yard. Lucky for us we have fabulous neighbors – one neighbor supplied us with fabric and posts from and old fence and another gave us top rail. Free. Fence. #win

So at the end of June, Ryan adjusted the location of our masterfully created coop and fenced that puppy in! Here’s what it looks like now…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Instead of four separate paddocks, we’re opting for just two. The dividing fences aren’t up yet so currently it’s just one chicken yard.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

It’s time to get more vegetation planted in there because the girls are starting to make quick work of the grass! (Most of the brown you see is actually pine shavings that have fallen out of the coop.) You can see in this picture that there are chickens outside of the paddock as well. Since we’ve had so many bugs lately (due to gobs of rain) I thought I’d let them wander the backyard for a while.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

These timbers (attached to the house) will be trimmed back. Right now we still have many of the other timbers still sitting in the paddock. We don’t need them all, but the hens do like climbing on them. And every once in a while I turn one over so they can enjoy the bugs underneath.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

You can see bits of kale and bok choy (from our neighbor!) laying on the ground that have not yet been eaten. If you enlarge the picture, you’ll also see the remains of some lettuce I planted for the chicks (it’s in the upper left corner of the paddock).

The day he put the fence in we kept singing:

Posts in the ground,

Posts in the ground,

Lookin’ pretty cool with yo posts in the ground

Looking Pretty Cool

The chickens love it in there and have made quick work of all the weeds. But you’ll notice, it’s just one little chicken yard – no paddocks. I got so used to the sight and idea of them grazing in our big back yard (they are excellent foragers!) that it pains me to think about dividing their little space up into four sections. I’m even a little skeptical about dividing it up into two sections, but that’s what we’ve decided to do for now. Sometime soon we’ll be putting up fences to make two separate sections for the chickens. We’ve laid it all out so that there will be access from the coop and so that the two external gates (we’re going to add a second) will open into separate paddocks.

Now all that’s left to do is plant some food in this bad boys…

I started by transplanting lettuce from the garden. It was too biter for human consumption, I but I thought the chickens would enjoy it. Sunday morning I went to feed them and discovered I was out of feed… by the time I got back from the store after church, they had enjoyed a mighty large salad! I’m still working on a plan for both perennial and annual plants to add to the paddocks. More on that soon! Meanwhile, just yesterday I received a random phone call from a neighbor who is disheartened by some of her (organic) vegetables going to waste and wants to know if she can bring a weekly delivery of too-wilty-for-humans veggies for the chickens. We have such great neighbors!

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