Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

How should we manage the chickens? We strongly believe that they are healthier on fresh grass, moved as often as possible. Right now, that means every other day. I also like to have two roosters, but that means two cops that have to be moved. Each coop is in its own stretch of electric fence and each fence is hooked to the energizer we have for the chicken fence. This fence is separate from the energizer for the cow fence because poultry net is a major drain on an energizer; there is just so much of it to ground out.

The problems with this system are myriad. It is hard to move the chickens that often. It is a bother to move that much fence. The chickens really can destroy/enhance a bit of pasture in under a day, and our pasture has a slow recuperation time. If I seed behind the chickens, one inevitably gets out and eats the pasture seed- very expensive chicken food. A trailer based chicken coop would make the whole thin easier in some regards, but then we would need the tractor to move it, and we do not use the tractor often enough to make that seem "easy".

Another way to manage the chickens while still providing them some fresh grass would be to have a permanent coop, or even semi-permanent. We could situate it so that  different doors could be opened on different yards, meaning each yard could regenerate between times the chickens were on it. That sounds pretty good until I remember that our grass takes a long time to regenerate. Also, that would mean devoting a fairly large area just to chickens. I'm not sure I want to do that.

We could have a permanent coop with a smallish yard that we managed like a straw yard; we would keep the bare dirt that would quickly form covered with bedding. To provide some ranging time, we would let them out very late in the day so that they would not range far and could not do too much damage. That also sounds pretty good, but the cost of bedding adds up, and at some point, we'll have to spread that bedding as compost. It seems a bit silly to not "spread" it the way we already do, by having the chickens deposit their manure right where we want it- on the pasture.

As for genuinely free range chickens, they are amazingly destructive. They scratched blueberries last summer right out of the ground in their attempt to dig through the mulch. They eat an inordinate amount of broccoli leaves; they like to taste tomatoes. No one likes to have chicken poop on their front step, and the chickens like people; they will most definitely decide to hang around the house at least some of the time. And a free ranging chicken may lay her egg anywhere and roost most anywhere.

I'm not sure what we'll do, but those are the options. There's a good chance we'll stick to our current system until our backs give out and we're forced into some other method of managing them.

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