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New ground for chicken pastures

Chicks in wheat stubble

Clover pastureOur Light Sussex chicks are voracious.  They're currently in our tiniest pasture, but I thought for sure it would last them multiple weeks since the chicks aren't even fully feathered.  Instead, it looks like they'll need fresh forage in less than a week.

My original plan had been to let Mark finish up the pasture running up the hill behind the coop, but I really don't want to turn the chicks in there until they're at least four or five weeks old --- that pasture lacks tender, chick-friendly food and has too much predator pressure.  The other pasture attached to our chicks' coop was overgrazed by the Cuckoo Marans and has been seeded with pasture plants that need some time to get established.  What will our Sussex chicks eat in the meantime?

Chick pasture map

Potential pastureMy eyes turn to the semi-frequently mowed berry and fruit tree areas that bracket our vegetable gardens.  There's lots of chick-friendly forage available on the ground and the chicks aren't big enough to do too much damage (especially since the mulch in these areas has rotted into the ground and needs to be refreshed.)  I've been wishing I could run chickens in there to deal with some insect problems, and we're sick of mowing.  The problem is fencing and housing.

Light Sussex chicksWe could use chicken tractors, but I think our chicks need a tighter coop for at least a few more weeks, and they're already too big to fit all fourteen in a yard-size tractor.  Instead, I'm pondering several options:

  • Temporary fencing using the existing coop.  I figure it would take me and Mark less than an hour to toss up some fencing around the berries adjacent to the chicks' current pasture.  We have extra pea trellis material on hand to use if the deer come calling and can rustle up enough of the lightweight fence posts that we use for trellis posts and tomato stakes.  After the chicks eat up the groundcover between the berry bushes, we could move the fencing to make an avenue across the driveway and then surround parts of the forest garden.  By the time the chicks eat all that, surely they'll be big enough to run up on the hill.
  • Pastured chickPermanent fencing and one or more new coops.  On the other hand, this time of year is a lull in our pasture productivity, and we'll often want to have extra pasture areas.  So maybe it would be a good idea to fence these areas in permanently?  The problem there is that we'd have to build gates (time consuming) and perhaps add one or more coops (even more time consuming) since we wouldn't want permanent fencing crossing our driveway.  Plus, the area where the driveway ends in front of the trailer is already pretty tight, and I'm not sure permanent fencing along both sides of the driveway would be a good idea.  On the other hand, putting in the time to build permanent fences now would save time in later years, and I suspect deer would be afraid to walk up the driveway if it had fences on both sides.
  • Chick in cloverPortable coop with temporary fencing.  Another option would be to combine a portable coop with temporary fencing, which would allow us to run the chicks all the way over to the berry and tree area on the west side of the back garden.  The major bonus with pasturing this area is that we could finally deal with some of the insects that hit our peach trees while grazing more land that we're sick of mowing.  The downside is that a portable coop big enough for fourteen chickens would be heavy (and harder to build than permanent coops.)  Mark had an idea of making a portable coop with two handles so it could be carried since dragging definitely wouldn't be good enough in the tight spaces of our yard.  It almost seems simpler to just build an extra coop over there if I want our chickens to graze that area.

Ripening butternutAny other ideas?  Additional pros and cons for the ideas above?  At this instant, I'm leaning toward temporary fencing around the berries to give us some breathing space which we'd use to build permanent fencing around the forest garden.  Our butternuts need another week or so to finish ripening anyway before we can take them off their dying vines.  But I'm always looking for better ideas.

Our chicken waterer kept the chicks busy even when stuck in a too-small brooder.


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I've always liked the idea of fencing panels. A five foot or longer section of chicken wire/netting/etc between two long but light, posts that you could drive in to set the panel in place. At the end of the need for that fenced area, the posts could be pulled up and all the panels stacked and carried away to the next place or to storage. I think chicken wire's flexibility would help with hills or around trees, but perhaps building them and moving them around might make more work than simply driving posts quickly and rolling out the wire.

Comment by Matthew ~B Sun Sep 11 11:50:34 2011
Those fencing panels seem to be very useful in certain settings, but I suspect our congested yard isn't one of them. I've seen them used to best effect with goats in big areas of overgrown pasture, where there's nothing in the way of the panels and you can set them wherever you wish.
Comment by anna Sun Sep 11 12:31:07 2011
If it were me, I would be going with idea number one - temporary fencing and use the existing coop. You can do this quickly, easily and cheaply, and it satisfies your needs and your chicks' needs for the time being. Then, as you noted, you can take your time to really think through the situation and make better-informed decisions about any permanent structures you may or may not want to have in place in the future. :)
Comment by Ikwig Sun Sep 11 14:32:48 2011

I know it's costly but what about moveable fencing with some predator protection like the "electronet" or similar type, you can get them with a solar charged battery or maybe even use your own.

On the upside it would be easy to move and reuseable. Or better yet, if anyone you know has one borrow it and check it out.

Love your site.

Comment by Anonymous Sun Sep 11 14:58:01 2011

Ikwig --- The more I think about it, the more I agree with you. Sure, temporary fencing will be more work in the long run, but it will be less up front work now and will let me experiment a lot before committing to a bigger project. I think I'm sold. :-)

Anonymous --- The trouble with electric fencing is that it really works best in a big, open, lawn-like pasture. Any time electric fencing touches a tall weed, you lose the electrifying ability and your animals can get through. That means it would be tough to use in our convoluted yard and also in the brushy areas we'd like to turn into pastures. I figure if we're going to have to go through with a weedeater and cut lanes for electric fencing, we'd be better off just using a non-electrified option.

Comment by anna Sun Sep 11 15:37:03 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime