The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Renovating the chicken pasture

Clear vines

I begged for drought to slow the spread of blight on our tomatoes, and the weather complied...for a while.  You can only hold back our rain so long, though, before the Chorus frogweather gods rebel and drop six inches of water on you in one fell swoop.  The creek rose, the jewelweed revived, and the parched earth in the chicken pastures gave a sigh of relief.  Time to change our plans and renovate the forest pasture now instead of later.

The forest pasture was chock full of life, but it was all out of reach of our chickens.  Despite being birds, chickens don't really fly, and once the weeds get more than a couple of feet tall, the flock might as well be foraging in a desert.  The ninja blade, the chainsaw, and brute strength served to whack down the weeds, root out the logs, and move all of the biomass to the edges of the pasture.

Green caterpillar orange horns

Hickory horned devilIn the process, we were treated to some magnificent finds, like the chorus frog  pictured earlier and the hickory horned devil shown here.  I'll bet you've never seen a caterpillar this big and scary --- I hadn't.  This guy will turn into a regal moth --- the heaviest moth north of Mexico --- and despite its spines, the caterpillar won't sting.

Caterpillar legs
Vines on tree

Chicken pecking groundWe planted an everbearing mulberry in this pasture in the spring, but I haven't even been able to see the tree for months due to the smothering action of Japanese honeysuckle, hog-peanuts, and virgin's bower.  Imagine my surprise to discover that the mulberry was vine-wrapped but thriving, having doubled in height already.  Maybe our chickens will be treated to summer fruits sooner rather than later.

I'll be planting annuals for winter forage (probably rye, oats, Austrian winter peas, and oilseed radish) while the ground's still damp, but first I wanted to give our chickens an opportunity to scratch the earth up a bit first.  Good thing we have such a large flock momentarily --- 19 near adult chickens, 8 of whom will go in the freezer this week.

Chickens renovating pasture

Turning them onto such a bare pasture makes it much easier to see the behavioral differences between our various types of chickens.  The Golden Comets were the first to find the new pasture (a process that involves going into the coop and then out a newly opened pophole), eventually followed by just about everyone else.  The White Cochin and one Cuckoo Marans just couldn't figure it out --- they stood forlornly on the other side of the dividing fence, watching their buddies eat the insects knocked loose during our clearing spree.

Chicken in woods

The Black Australorps wandered around pecking for insects, but the Golden Comets thought it was a better idea to stay in one place and scratch up bugs.  I got down close and was surprised to see that every swipe of this old hen's foot turned up something edible --- little earthworms, centipedes, and snails.  The number of invertebrates she consumed in such a short time was amazing.

Australorps and turken

For more on the larger picture of chicken pasturing (and my evolving plans for our pastures), be sure to subscribe to our chicken blog.  As you probably figured out, this post is really just about pretty pictures.

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to pasture our flock --- a bucket waterer in each pasture only has to be filled once a month.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We had to do this for our goats this year after they ate the low tree branches. It seems like you two are always doing stuff we are doing, only on the other side of the country.

Your blog is a lot of fun for us, thank you for sharing.

John & Jin

Comment by Seedyeggs Wed Sep 7 13:06:42 2011
I love the name of your blog, and love the content --- one more blog to add to my morning read. :-) I think your post about foraging for your goats is more like what we're currently doing for our chicks before putting them on pasture. We've just about pulled all of the sourgrass out of our yard to feed their gaping maws....
Comment by anna Wed Sep 7 15:41:03 2011

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