My chicken-pasturing journey
I've been experimenting with the best way to pasture chickens
for about a decade, the real root of my journey began in
childhood. The photo to the left shows my sister feeding some of
chickens that ran wild in our suburban
neighborhood, foraging for a living in backyards and in a small wooded
A few people tossed out
bird seed for our neighborhood flock from time to time,
but the fowl primarily made their own way in the world, roosting in
trees, raising their chicks in secluded bramble patches, and hunting
through the leaves for dinner. I figured if these feral chickens
could make a living in the city, surely I could replicate their success
in a more controlled fashion on my own homestead.
Not counting the wild
chickens that roamed our street when I was a
child, I began my chicken-keeping career roughly a decade ago with
traditional coop-and-run combo that most old-school chicken-keepers
favor. As you can see in the photo to the right, the run quickly
turned into a bare, muddy mess. In
retrospect, I wonder if my flock was any better off than
factory-farmed hens, who at least don't have to deal with cold, wet
Lesson learned: you can't pasture a lot of chickens in a small space
no rotation and expect any greenery to remain.
After Mark and I moved
to our homestead, I read Andy Lee and
Patricia Foreman's Chicken Tractor
and decided the authors had come up with a brilliant solution to the
pastured poultry. Our homemade
tractors allowed us
to pull the
flock to a new patch of lawn every day, ensuring the hens didn't spend
long on muddy ground and that they always had something green to enjoy.
But the chicken tractor
system also turned out to be imperfect for our
homestead. When we decided to scale up past a few laying hens to
raise our own meat birds, we learned that roosters and small tractors
mix, and that big tractors are heavy and hard to move by hand.
we were becoming discontented with chicken tractors during the winter,
not because the chickens couldn't take the cold in an exposed tractor,
but because our lawn doesn't grow during the winter months. So
eventually ended up with the cold, muddy feet I was trying to avoid.
Our next experiment
chicken pastures, a
version of which we still use today. The first year, I raised
broilers and a broody hen in the pastures and kept our main laying
flock in tractors. After the meat birds went into the freezer, I
added the rest of the layers to the pasture and was struck by the
difference in comb color between our broody hen (who had been on
pasture all summer) and the tractored layers of the
same age. The truly-pastured broody
hen had a brilliant red comb,
a sure sign of good health, while our tractored hens looked drab in
comparison—the rotational pasture had proven its worth.
But, of course, I still had a steep learning curve ahead of me.
The photo to the left shows my first rotational pasture after a summer
hard chicken scratching. Yes, it did turn into a moonscape nearly
as bad as my non-rotational chicken run. I had a lot left to
about maintaining a quality rotational-pasture system, a topic that
fills the bulk of Permaculture
Chicken: Pasture Basics.
As you can tell, I made a lot
of mistakes on my way to chicken
and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not entirely there yet.
Building any kind of permaculture system is a process of trial and
error as you create a cultivated ecosystem that matches your climate
growing area. But hopefully my experiences will jumpstart your
own chicken-pasturing experiments so you reach your goal as quickly as
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