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Confused newbie with questions

kip mcdaniel


Joined: Feb 22, 2012
Posts: 3
I'm a confused newbie. I've been researching getting backyard chickens for the last few weeks, and after about 50 hours of research, I'm more confused than ever. So I'd love some advice from you experienced owners.

I read Paul's Chicken 2.0 article today, and I really like the theory of it, but I'm worried that it won't work in our situation. We have a 1/4 acre backyard that is pretty skimpy in terms of vegetation (see pic below). A little grass and weeds and that's it. Not much for a healthy chicken diet, I would think, even though we're only planning on 4-6 hens. So, I'm concerned that they wouldn't get much of a healthy diet, but I'm also concerned that even with rotating say 4 different paddocks, they'd still reduce what little grass we have to just mud. Am I justified in my concern? Any good solutions to this?

I've also considered the chicken tractor method, but I'm worried that 4 or so hens will still reduce our lawn to just mud, even if I move the tractor every single day. Also considered just having a permanent coop (where you see the playground below) and having a traditional chicken run that I keep mucked out and with fresh hay.

Would love advice, thoughts on any of this. Definitely want to avoid just having a big muck of poo and mud in the backyard.

Thanks much

Kip

Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
Judging from the area you have pictured, 4-6 chickens will not denude this yard of grass. It wouldn't hurt to overseed your lawn right now for early growth to cover any overused areas showing in the pics. An excellent time to plant something more tender for forage purposes, both annual and perennial grasses.

Chickens will find the areas already bare of soil and use them for dusting spots if they can. You can try to avoid this by supplying them with a sandbox situation, mix fine sand and peat moss, throw in a little wood ashes and you have a chicken's dream~make part of it shady and part in the sun and you can't go wrong.

A good dog in the yard at all times and some wire strung along the top of your fence to deter escapees and you have a fine place for free ranging a few birds. If the dog is any kind of dog, he'll keep the chicken poop picked up for you and the chickens will help keep his droppings dispersed into the grasses as well.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
I would think about an overall plan for your yard, and then where chickens fit in that plan. Some things to think about:
A pond - even really, really small could make a big difference. The chicken could get drinks and meals there.
Productive trees - possibly on swales or hugelkultur.
You will have to feed the chickens grain, at least in the beginning. Once you get a baseline, just try to reduce it a little each year.


My project thread
Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
kip mcdaniel


Joined: Feb 22, 2012
Posts: 3
Helpful thoughts. Sounds like both of you are suggesting that I think of landscaping issues for the whole back yard with chickens in mind, and then use the entire area as a "free range" (of sorts) for the hens, rather than rotating smaller paddocks, right? You mention that our existing fence might work to hold them in. The wooden part of it has slats with gaps of 2 1/2" Is that big enough for chickens to escape through them? The wooden part is also 42" tall. But it sounds like you're saying I'd still need to string more wire fence along the top of it to increase that height, correct? I like the idea of being able to use the existing wood slat fence, as it would be more attractive than putting up moveable electric mesh or whatnot. I just ordered a book called Free Range Chicken Gardens from Amazon. Maybe this will help me think through the suggestion you both seem to be making, to use the entire yard at once (with a permanent coop, I'm assuming).

If anyone else has additional thoughts/suggestions, I'm all ears!

Kip
Taylor Stewart


Joined: Feb 15, 2012
Posts: 45
    
    2
If you're thinking of 1/2dzn birds or less, you may get a few bare spots around frequently used areas but probably not much. I suppose the width of your fence slats depend on whether it will hold hens. If they like to explore, they won't respect the fence at all. If they have enough to keep them occupied in the yard, they may not have a desire to explore. If you do split your yard into paddocks, the regrowth of some seeded species will probably keep them fairly content (I would suggest adding some legumes along with some bunch grass).
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
kip mcdaniel wrote:Helpful thoughts. Sounds like both of you are suggesting that I think of landscaping issues for the whole back yard with chickens in mind, and then use the entire area as a "free range" (of sorts) for the hens, rather than rotating smaller paddocks, right? You mention that our existing fence might work to hold them in. The wooden part of it has slats with gaps of 2 1/2" Is that big enough for chickens to escape through them? The wooden part is also 42" tall. But it sounds like you're saying I'd still need to string more wire fence along the top of it to increase that height, correct? I like the idea of being able to use the existing wood slat fence, as it would be more attractive than putting up moveable electric mesh or whatnot. I just ordered a book called Free Range Chicken Gardens from Amazon. Maybe this will help me think through the suggestion you both seem to be making, to use the entire yard at once (with a permanent coop, I'm assuming).

If anyone else has additional thoughts/suggestions, I'm all ears!

Kip


The slat distance is fine unless you have chicks but they won't get far from their mama. You don't have to string wire fencing along the top of your fence, just a few strands of wire itself. A chicken doesn't fly over a fence, she hops up to a solid surface and hops down on the other side. The trick is making that top surface incompatible for landing or perching, even for a few seconds. Some folks extend their fence posts with the plastic insulators one would use on an electric fence setup and just use these as wire guides for stringing some single strand wire along the top of fences and gates to discourage a successful landing on these surfaces.

I wouldn't be doing any landscaping in your backyard if you plan to free range the whole area...chickens will re-landscape for you in short order and all the money spent will be just that. Keeping chickens and free ranging them in your yard isn't difficult and you don't need to build watering features when it's so much easier to just provide water in a receptacle. Makes it easier to add things to your water also, like ACV or garlic.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Jay Green wrote:... and you don't need to build watering features when it's so much easier to just provide water in a receptacle. Makes it easier to add things to your water also, like ACV or garlic.


Sure you don't need to build watering features but it makes sense from a permaculture POV. Every component to the system should perform at least 2 functions and have it's needs met 2 different ways. A small pond, even 2 ft across and 1 ft deep, maybe even six inches, would provide water and probably food for the chickens in the form of insects and other small critters. It'd provide a different micro-climate from the rest of the yard where different flora could grow. More importantly, it'd be a great backup to a water receptacle. I can't tell you how many times I've found my chickens water empty! Half the time they knocked it over themselves.

Don't forget the big picture.

BTW, what's your location?
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
That could be where we differ...I look at things from a more practical point of view as opposed to a permaculture point of view. I can see something like that becoming a stagnant, scum pit real quick in the hot weather, particularly after chickens have had their way with it. Proper receptacles don't get knocked over easily, are easily kept filled and are just as easily cleaned, do not become places for mosquitoes to breed and proliferate, and are easily obtained at any feed store for around $6.
kip mcdaniel


Joined: Feb 22, 2012
Posts: 3
Thanks again, everyone. A lot of good thoughts. I'm in Nashville, CJ.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Jay Green wrote:I look at things from a more practical point of view as opposed to a permaculture point of view.


Properly done, permaculture is practical, that's the whole point. Besides, it is a permaculture site.

As for those $6 waters... I've tried them, I've tried all sorts of different styles. They all wind up turned over (I doubt my chickens are exceptionally uncoordinated). Maybe not when I first fill them but when the water is half gone they just aren't that stable. This is only a problem for me when the chicks are still small and need to be confined. The waters can other issues as well. No water to drink because the chickens have mucked it up with poop and pine shavings. Stuff happens.

I have a very large pond:
willows far.JPG
and a very small pond (swale):
6 inch swale
and really don't have a a mosquito problem.

The small swale is the relevant image in this case. I filled it up and it stayed full because of runoff from the pigs 20 ft away. It was unbelievable how quickly small wildlife was drawn to the spot!

Now, I'm not trying to further confuse our newbie, but one of the things permaculture aims for is resiliency. If one water source for the chickens vanishes, is there a back up? When my chicks are inside the house, I have 2 small waters - you certainly could go that route outside as well.

Another aim is to put in as many edges as possible. I think I'll just let that edge concept lay there. It takes a while to sink it.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
kip mcdaniel wrote:Definitely want to avoid just having a big muck of poo and mud in the backyard.


4-6 hens wont be a problem. Do you have a garden?
Kahty Chen


Joined: May 07, 2010
Posts: 26
Location: Southern Oregon
Cj Verde wrote:

Another aim is to put in as many edges as possible. I think I'll just let that edge concept lay there. It takes a while to sink it.


I'd like a little more input for that percolating edge concept, please, if you have a moment!
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Kahty Chen wrote:
Cj Verde wrote:

Another aim is to put in as many edges as possible. I think I'll just let that edge concept lay there. It takes a while to sink it.


I'd like a little more input for that percolating edge concept, please, if you have a moment!


Actually, that edge comment was not directed at Jay but any newbies reading.

It's a really complex topic but the gist of it is that edges are very productive and efficient at wringing out, I'm not sure how to put it, but lets say energy from a system. Like your intestines could just be a straight run from the stomach but instead there are as many turns, edges as possible, giving your body extra time to extract all it can from the nutrients going through it. I can't tell you exactly why there are all those folds in the brain but it serves a similar purpose.

It's a permaculture goal to keep sunlight or water on your property for as long as possible (to wring all you can from it).

Edges or boundaries between types of environments are extra productive, like where forest meet field or mangroves (ocean meeting forest).

So there you go. I'm not trying to hijack the thread but if Kip spent 50 hours researching chickens I thought he might be up for some extra permaculture/chicken ideas.
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
I'm assuming you're looking for a definition then, or an explanation, Kahty? If not, I apologise. Either way, I'll keep it brief. The idea is that the area of transition from one type of space to another (woodland to pasture, water pond to shore, shore to grassland, etc.) hosts greater diversity, and diverse systems are said to be more healthy by permacultural standards.

My ideal (for the moment) setup for this system is to have hugelbeds formed into north-south oriented rows with food forest guilds planted atop them, the valleys and sides between planted in pasture grasses and nitrogen fixers with at least one ground-growing berry, cranberry or wild strawberry. Being able to close off the ends of each row selectively would let you use each valley as a paddock, and twenty-eight of them would mean, at one shift per day (and not too high a population density), pasture with lots of time to regenerate itself, lots of shade and shelter from bird predation due to food tree canopy cover, and more forage than simply pasture made up of the same species of pasture plants, as windfall and unharvested nuts and berries would eventually find their ways into the valleys. They would, if on the ground long enough, play host to all sorts of bugs that chickens thrive on, and just the fruit and nuts themselves would feed them, not to mention that pigs run 5 days before the chickens would eat the older hardier forage and the soft stuff that wouldn't last and they would shit all over the place. Their patties would be crawling with insect life when the chickens were run, providing more forage. All this activity in the valleys, in turn, would stress the nitrogen fixers and fertilize the areas forming the base of each row, which, in older setups, will be where the tree and shrub roots will extend.

I hope this helps, though it is a little rambling and kind of beating around the topic.

-CK
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Kip,

I'd like to know where north is with reference to the picture of your backyard, but there's no reason I can see that the setup I just posted couldn't be scaled down to the size of your yard. Its a lot more work than just putting up a coop and run, though. But providing you don't mind picking berries, you could make short hugel hedge rows and plant fruit shrubs and cane berries like raspberries and blackberries, some nitrogen-fixing shrubs, and do the polyculture pasture between, make sure chickens can't get through the hedges, and close off the ends, and wham, now you have a paddock for each two rows you make.

-CK
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Chris Kott wrote:My ideal (for the moment) setup for this system is to have hugelbeds formed into north-south oriented rows with food forest guilds planted atop them...
-CK


Chris, I'm not sure about the north-south orientation. My gut says east-west to track the sun but I'd have to research it. I'm also not sure which would be more important - the orientation or how it fits in with the lay of the land, though in Kip's case it seems sort of flat.
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Thanks CJ,

My reasoning is probably borne from my northern latitude, but if the rows were east-west, the later in the season, the longer the shadow, to the point where, unless there was a lot of room in between raised beds, the southernmost beds would block the sun of the ones to their north. In a north-south orientation, rows might shade themselves, so perhaps a squiggly or slight zig-zag layout might be better, but the only difference between morning and night would be which side gets the light, but the rows could be a lot closer together, especially in Kip's potential case, as shrubs and cane berries don't have huge canopies to worry about. Please let me know if you see a flaw, I love constructive criticism.

-CK
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
One more post before bed!

Kip is way further south than you so I don't think that reasoning applies to him. For you though, I guess it depends what you've got on those beds and how far apart they are. I lose light in the fall due to the mountain but the tomatoes (and everything else) still ripens.

This maybe be better off on the hugelkultur thread. In the meantime, I'll look in my Sepp Holtzer book to see if he mentions orientation.
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Thanks CJ,

I don't actually know if being further south would change anything, though. I didn't see how far south Kip was, but unless he's in the tropics, isn't the sun always going to be slightly to the south? If Sepp says otherwise, I'd love to know what and why. Now that I'm rethinking it, I didn't consider the row shading itself. With an east-west orientation and wider row spacing, you also encourage a shaded pasture as well as a sunlit pasture, hence more edge.

-CK
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
Hi all,

I figure it might be a good idea to justify why I took Kip's question about 4-6 chickens and replied with an answer that suggests tearing up his yard and putting in rows of food hedges. The whole yard looks to me like a traditional monoculture lawn, which suggests a lack of diversity. The more plant species coexisting (or the more edge you have), the more insect life the plants and soil are able to support. Among those will be insects that clean up animal poo, or rather, eat it and turn it into their own poo, breaking it down further for easier plant absorption. More life means more production overall, and that's good even if it means your chickens are fed on forage and saving you the cost of feed.

By the way, I love the addition of a swale, or multiple swales, to the mini food forest/chicken pasturage plan.

-CK
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2614
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
I've put my hugelkultur response to orientation here.
 
 
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