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

Preview of chicken experiments for 2012

Black Australorp pulletAfter a year of chicken research, I feel like I'm ending with more questions that I started out with.  Here are some of the experiments I want to explore over the next year.

Pasture optimization.  How often do we need to cut back heavy weeds to keep the succulent new growth coming in?  Does it make sense to add another type of animal to do this brush-clearing, or would we be better off renovating our pastures by hand?  Which traditional pasture plants will our chickens enjoy the most?  Can I figure out the perfect ratio of tree cover to give our chickens a more diversified food source without shading the understory too much?  How much more pasture area do we need so that I don't feel like our ground gets overgrazed during the summer and winter lulls?  Does it work to plant annuals for those seasons of low pasture productivity?

Chicken breed selection.  We're trying out three new breeds --- Cuckoo Marans, Black Australorps, and Light Sussex.  I'd love to narrow that down to one or two, but want to find birds that will go broody, lay well, forage avidly, and have a low feed conversion rate.  Assuming I decide on a good breed or breeds next year, in 2013 it will be time to learn about poultry genetics and how many birds I need to keep a flock going without undue inbreeding.  It's also worth considering whether a hybrid of two of our breeds would exhibit extra vigor and bulk up faster for broilers.

Chick under lemonBroiler timing.  Raising four small sets of broilers made sense on paper, but given what I now know about pasture productivity, it seems like I might make better use of our pasture by lumping them together into two batches.  Right now, I'm thinking that I'll start eggs incubating in March to hatch in April and go out on pasture in late April to early May, then have a fall batch that starts incubating in July to go out on pasture in early September.  That will probably mean learning how to make a broody hen set on my schedule rather than hers.  Or it may mean more work with our incubator.

It looks like I've got a fun year of trial and error ahead of me.  Stay tuned to our chicken blog for details!

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to have more than one flock in multiple pastures.

This post is part of our 2011 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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