Pasture Feeding Chickens

by Robert Bradford

TEMPERATE but adaptable to ALL AREAS

Everything in this article is specific to our location, SW MO, USA and our stock, Salmon Faverolles. The weather here is generally wet spring and early summer followed by very dry late summer. Fall and winter average 1" of moisture per week. Our land is heavily wooded which is good for the cook stove/HVAC but bad for gardening and grass, too much shade.

We began this adventure with 25 straight run day old chicks in a stock tank in the attached greenhouse. We then started building the open front coop. Knowing that chickens will eat most anything smaller and slower than a chicken we put the coop in the orchard for the mutual benefit of birds and trees. The young fruit and nut trees do not yet cast enough shade to hurt the grass. The chickens have been here 19 months and in that time have never denuded more than 25% of the grass in the orchard/pen and any bare earth is then covered with chopped leaves and grass clippings to prevent mud.

We use the deep litter system in the coop and clean it out to bare earth every spring and fall to use in the gardens. The coop is then immediately refilled with 12" of grass clippings and leaves gathered with a bagging mower.

We learned the hard way that the pen needs overhead wires to dissuade hawks and the coop needs 2X4 wire to exclude raccoons. I mow the orchard to keep the grass a reasonable height for the chickens.

Last fall we decided to make a 4X16' compost areas in the orchard so we could stop sorting scraps from our garden and kitchen. The shape is so that insects can never get more than 2' away from the chickens. Now the compost gets it all and the chickens have free choice of all of the compost. We have to trust them to not eat things that they should not.

Last spring I made an adjacent 4X16 for compost and my wife planted tomatoes (excellent yield) in the old compost bed. It is now fall again and as soon as the frost calls an end to the tomato season the current compost will become our winter onion/garlic bed and the old tomato bed will become the new compost area.

Every pair of beds share a gate at each end, compost open at both ends and garden closed. When planting is done I will make a third 4X16 to use as a second compost/feeding area.

Each fall and spring I intend to make an additional 4X16 to keep up with our growing flock and the need for more garden area.

Our old garden behind the house suffered from too much shade and too many Japanese beetles and tomato worms. All three problems were solved by the chicken, garden, orchard combination.

The chickens get layer pellets (starter crumbles for chicks in a creep feeder), oyster shells, DE and grit, all free choice and any insects and worms they can catch plus daily kitchen, garden or mowing scraps, grass and cast fruit.

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