Chicken pasture size and rotation
get the most food-value out of your pasture, you not only need to raise
chicken breeds that forage aggressively, you also have to plan your
pasture size and rotation well. I looked
everywhere last year to
figure out how big a pasture needs to be to provide a large component
of a chicken's dietary needs, and drew a complete blank. Finally,
this winter, I stumbled across the figure of 10
square feet of pasture
per bird per week
(with frequent rotations) in Raising Poultry on Pasture: Ten Years of
Granted, the type of operation outlined in the book uses pasture more
as a source of vitamins and minerals than as the flock's primary food,
but I thought their area estimate would give me an idea of the bare
minimum amount of land needed to graze our birds.
I've talked Mark into
building me five new pastures this year to join
our current two pastures from last year. Our old pastures are
small and shady in the winter, so I plan to mostly use them to grow
some grains and legumes to supplement the chickens' winter feed, though
I will graze the chickens there for a short time in the fall.
Three of the new pastures will be in the sunniest part
of the yard for
winter and spring grazing, while two more will be on the hillside above
the original pastures for summer shade. I estimate that the total
square footage from all seven pastures will be about 4250 square feet
(a tenth of an acre), which (I hope) will be enough to keep our
chickens healthy all year.
Optimal rotation frequency is
another big question mark. Last
year, I kept the chickens in their pastures way too long, mostly
because I wanted them to scratch the ground bare so I could use those
paddocks to plant grain in. For most of our pastures this year,
though, I want to keep the pastures vegetated at all times for optimal
chicken health. When rotationally grazing with ruminants (like
cows and sheep), the goal is to make your livestock eat everything to
in a short period of time (mob grazing), then move the animals to
another section of the pasture for a while to let the plants grow
back. This will give you lots of tender growth rather than
leaving you with a pasture denuded of the good stuff and with lots of
plants your livestock don't want to eat, which is what you get if you
leave your livestock in a pasture continuously.
Mob grazing works great
for cows, but I'm not sure yet whether it's the
best plan with chickens. Although chickens do nibble on leaf
matter from time to time, a healthy chicken is mostly eating
invertebrates, fruits, and seeds, so I should really be managing our
pasture to promote creepy crawlies, not grass. Tomorrow, I'll
write about what I'm planting in the pastures to keep the chickens fed,
but for now I'll just say that I don't really have a clue yet whether I
should be rotating the chickens quickly, thus keeping the browse low
and tender, or infrequently, thus attracting more grasshoppers.
I'll just have to keep an eye on the flock and pasture conditions and
make it up as I go along.
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