Help! chicken pasture shift system

Discussion in 'Breeding, Raising, Feeding and Caring for Animals' started by gabe22, Jul 8, 2012.

  1. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    Hi guys

    I'm trying to raise chickens (never done it before) in an orchard. It's an old plum orchard with 2 mulberries and a huge pear tree on 345 square meters (3713 sq ft). There's grasses and weeds growing allover the trees, it's quite hard to get in now. I'm in a temperate climate (Romania), so we have grass from early march to Nov-Dec

    The main point for me is to do the least work possible so i can get decent eggs and meat.

    Now the question is, when you have a paddock shift system with mostly grass, how many paddocks do you have, and how often a year do chicks visit it, so as not to feed them at all? I know Mollison said 18 in a video, but that was for cows. (I'm not talking about the number of chicks, since 5 of them need 10 times less space than 50). I'll get as many or as few chicks as I can, so I don't need to feed them from March-Nov.
     
  2. Shawburn

    Shawburn Junior Member

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    Paddock Capacity

    The space you have is just under 20m x20m.
    You can probably keep 5-6 at the most and divide the space into 2 to 3 small paddocks. maybe 8x10m Virtually the size of a big-ish Chicken Tractor.
    All depends on the habitat for bugs etc that is there.
    This will reduce as the chickens "clean-up". More habitat , more capacity.
    Placing logs around fruit trees will create habitat for bugs under it and increase fungal growth (good for the trees)
    A pile of leaves composting in each paddock will house a lot of food.
    Sowing additional feed for them into the grass could extend capacity a bit.
    Alfalfa, Clover, Peas possibly Buckwheat grows well in that climate.
    When fruit such as the mulberry falls to the ground you can concentrate them in that area and possibly chop and drop some fresh leaves for them.
    I heard that coppicing of mulberry can extend the fruiting season.
    Coppice less than 50% of the tree in winter.
    Since your space is small you need to choose a suitable breed.
     
  3. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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  4. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    Hey, thanks for the tips.

    I'm also thinking of having a small tire pond in each paddock, and hopefully get some frogs in there so they can breed and the tadboles become feed for the chicken aswell.
    But I'm really curious, only 2-3 paddocks, so that would be roughly 100-170m for 5 chooks? Isn't that quite alot? I thought the idea behind rotational grazing is density for a short period of time, and a long 70-90 day rest
     
  5. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Here are some resources to help you calculate the carrying capacity of your land. Usually carrying capacity is expressed in "animal units." The animal unit is based on the cow; 1 animal unit = 1 cow. Other kinds of animals can be calculated as divisions or multiples of the cow unit. For instance to find out how many chickens the land will carry you find out how many cows it would carry and then multiply the number of cows by the factor for chickens. You can often find out the carrying capacity of a given piece of land from the regional agricultural extension office, if you have such a thing in your locale.

    https://www.mda.state.mn.us/animals/feedlots/feedlot-dmt/feedlot-dmt-animal-units.aspx

    https://www.teamaginc.com/aeu_calculator.php


    Carrying capacity in animal units is not an absolute, it's a general guide. Better to start with fewer animals and add more if the land can carry them, than to start with too many and damage the land and abuse the animals. Chickens can't live on just grass, they need mostly insects and small animals plus leafy plants, and ideally fruits. Something which emulates the diet of the original chicken, the Jungle Fowl.
     
  6. chook-in-eire

    chook-in-eire Junior Member

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    But don't forget that Jungle Fowl laid maybe two small clutches of eggs a year. They were not bred to produce 100 or 200 or even 300 eggs a year. Also, in a temperate climate chickens need a lot more carbohydrates simply to stay warm than in their tropical home. And even in tropical regions, semi-scavenging poultry systems are not noted for their productivity.
    Old chicken wisdom: "If you want eggs you need to feed for eggs."
    Sticking a modern chicken breed or even one of the American or European-bred old dual-purpose breeds into an orchard to fend for itself and lay eggs is IMHO akin to sticking a Holstein-Friesian cow onto a heather-moor on the Atlantic fringe and expect it to give lots of milk (Hint: it won't).

    Sorry to be sarcastic, but if you don't want to feed them from March-Nov then please don't get any.

    I would say, read up on poultry nutrition first and then see how much of the 'normal' rations you can realistically replace with what's on your land during the summer and what you can plant for them. (There was a good thread on this at https://www.permies.com/t/845/chickens/forage-chickens .) Grass is a nice extra for deep-coloured yolks and certainly makes for happier chickens but provides very little nutrition. A piece of land that feeds 1000lbs of cow/sheep/goat will not feed 1000lbs of chicken as chickens are not ruminants. Their nutritional needs are very different and their digestive system is actually quite inefficient.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that chickens do not like to venture into deep grass for fear of snakes (even here in Ireland where there are none :) ) and other predators. You say that the land is "quite hard to get in now" so you'd either have to introduce the birds when the vegetation has died back after the winter or you have to mow or strim it down for them. They do like to hang out under bushes and trees though as it gives them shade and cover from birds of prey.
     
  7. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    You're right, chook-in-eire, even more reason to not expect them to do well on just grass.....
     
  8. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
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    "Also, in a temperate climate chickens need a lot more carbohydrates simply to stay warm than in their tropical home."

    Do you mean calories, c-i-e? That could come from fat. Do chooks eat much fat?
     
  9. Shawburn

    Shawburn Junior Member

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    Capacity

    You need to be practical about this to reduce feed cost..
    The space is small 345m square = 18.57m x 18.57m
    ...so it wont carry more than 5-6 and in summer only.
    Making "Paddocks" in such a small space will take some imaginative techniques.
    Good luck..! :y:
     
  10. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    Why not start with one 'chicken tractor' gabe? See how you go with them and then slowly add more. Personally, I don't see how you can get modern chicken breeds to fend totally for themselves - they need supplementary feed unless they are living in a really densely bio-diverse system. Yours doesn't sound densely bio-diverse.
     
  11. chook-in-eire

    chook-in-eire Junior Member

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    What does c-i-e mean?
    Seeds (grains, oilseeds, grass seeds etc.) always contain some fats, as do bugs to an extent, and baby mice and whatever else chooks find around the place. They can, if given the chance, eat too much fat and get too fat to lay or mate. Surplus carbs would also be laid down as bodyfat.
     
  12. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    Great links, thanks alot. Yea so it would seem 50 square meters per chicken is the norm, but as far as I'm understanding, you can decrease that number by rotating them right?

    Grahme, I've built and seen chicken tractors at work just a month ago, but it's not suitable for me. In the orchard, where the trees are planted in an irregular pattern, I can't really fit the tractor in between them all by myself. Plus I'd like to give them a bit more room

    Btw, if we are talking in chicken forage / square meter, would you guys say some crops are better yelding than others? My original idea was planting perennials in each paddock, including grains, so each time they are in that paddock, they would feed from whatever is growing in there.
     
  13. chook-in-eire

    chook-in-eire Junior Member

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    Sorry to be the party pooper here but the links serve only to calculate how much N is being produced on one's holding / per area unit for environmental compliance. They say nothing whatsoever about stocking capacity!!! You can not use those calculations to determine how many birds your given area may be able to feed.
     
  14. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    How many chickens per area depends on the carrying capacity of your particular piece of land. Those links give a method of calculating different animal units but do not tell you how many your land can carry. And calculated carrying capacity is only a guideline, you have to determine by observation how many animals your particular piece of land can carry. Most people, at least in my region, grossly overestimate how many animals they can keep on a piece of land. Consequently the land is ruined.
     
  15. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    Well that gave me a pretty good idea.
    traditionally in my area is 1 cow per hectare. The links tell me a cow would eat as much as 200 chickens. Which leaves me to a 50 square meters for a chook
     
  16. chook-in-eire

    chook-in-eire Junior Member

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    No, no ,no ! The link tells you that a cow shits as much as N as 200 chickens. That's all.
    A cow is a ruminant, a chicken is not.
    Think about it this way: a hen of a large fowl breed eats about 45 kg of proprietary feed a year (mostly grains, maize, oilseed expeller) PLUS lots of greens, fallen fruit etc.. So if you allocate 50m2 to a chicken that land would need to produce almost 1 kg/m2 (10 tons/ha) of very nutritious feed. The best wheat farms in the world barely produce that high a yield.
     
  17. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Mine don't. I never fed "proprietary feed" to my chickens.
     
  18. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    I dunnno what to say, heard and read about lots of people that don't feed 5-10 chooks from spring to autumn in areas smaller than mine. Actually a designer (doubting his skills now) told me I could have 20 in there no problem, if i just feed minutely feed them once a day
     
  19. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Personally I think it's possible, but think you should start with a small number of chickens and see how they do, and be prepared to feed them a little if they don't lay well. I give mine a little whole oats and sunflower seeds, plus any kitchen and garden scraps they might like. There's no need for commercial chicken feed, in my experience.

    Having used chicken tractors I would prefer to try a paddock shift system. I have a couple different flocks right now, one bunch in a stationary pen and the others free-range, but hope eventually to have a paddock shift system in a future food forest.
     
  20. gabe22

    gabe22 Junior Member

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    Yea, I'll give it a go.
    I'm just wondering, hypotethycally, if you only had grass, what should be the resting time & frequency in a year a paddock should be used?
     

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