Not into blogging?
us on Facebook.
A month ago, I started pondering --- why shut our chickens and ducks up into rotational pastures in the spring if they can just free range
all year long? My memory is terrible, so I'd forgotten just how much
trouble poultry get up to in the growing season if left to their own
First there are the ducks, who ever since the big flood, have been a bit hit or miss about giving me eggs. Oh, sure, they lay eggs (a dependable egg per duck per day)...but not in the coop unless we chase them inside every night.
Meanwhile, as the weather warmed up, our ducks started bedding down
further and further afield until one day we didn't find the waterfowl
until nearly dark. They'd settled in to float out the night in our main
creek, and I couldn't even reach the girls to chase them home. That's
when I knew that if we wanted eggs for breakfast, things were going to
have to change.
The chickens were causing
problems too, but in a different way. It all began in February, when
the first hens to pick up production decided that their current coop
wasn't worth laying eggs inside. Instead, three bad hens opted to jump
over our perimeter fences, scratch up the garden, and then lay eggs in
So I stuffed the
troublesome trio in the chicken tractor, and everything calmed back
down. Until, that is, I got it into my head that I'd let the tractored hens loose into the tree alley
to work up that mulch prior to planting. Unfortunately, the girls
didn't even last an hour before they remembered that they liked to fly
fences...and back they were in the main garden.
I could have put the
three bad hens back in the tractor, but I was worn out that day and
found it easier to simply chase them back into our main flock instead.
As a result, the girls kept flying fences, but this time they opted to
fly into our backup coop (earmarked for the spring chicks) to lay in
that nest box. Since the hens weren't causing problems in the garden
anymore (flying over the fence into that coop's pasture, running in the
pophole to lay, then flying right back over the fence into the woods), I
decided to leave well enough alone...for a while.
But then came the
bad-duck night, and the next morning our waterfowl found a hole in the
perimeter fence and ended up beside the secondary coop at the same time
that our chickens found a different hole and ended up in nearly the same
place. I figured our girls knew what they wanted --- to be back in a
rotational pasture attached to the backup coop --- so Mark fixed the
pasture holes while I shut the girls in.
think that free ranging would be what our poultry crave, but the truth
is that a managed pasture offers more tasty tidbits at this time of year
than an overgrazed barnyard. To
illustrate the point, the photo here shows the bit of sacrifice pasture
I use to let the flock out of their coop and into the woods during the
winter months. To the right is untrammeled pasture, just starting to
grow up in grasses and clover after a winter of dormancy. To the left is
the chicken-scratched and duck-trod-upon ground, which is bare except
for some smartweed seedlings (which chickens won't eat). Even the nearby
woods looks pretty picked over after a long winter of poultry action,
so it's no surprise that our girls would prefer to go back to a smaller
but fresher salad bar.
And me? I'm relieved to
be able to stop wrangling pesky poultry who are feeling their spring
oats. The ducks are now laying in the coop and are coming home at night
(because they can't range far in the pasture and don't have a tempting
body of water to bed down in) and the chickens aren't flying any fences
and are laying in the nest box they sleep beside. And that's the long
reason why I stick to rotational pastures even though we have acres of
woodland for our poultry to explore. Now let's see if I can remember why
it's a good idea to shut the girls into a pasture at this time
We haven't tried to actually
mix our chickens with goats yet, but today we let two hens forage in
one of the empty goat pastures.
The plan is to have them eat
any green buds that might be popping up from a layer of straw that
still had seed heads attached.
Casey B. built this nice milk
jug chick waterer
from one of our kits.
Keeping the container small
makes it easy to raise as the chicks grow.
It's best to stabilize a
light container like this. Hanging it from a string would create a
considerable amount of swinging.
One of those pretty Round Top Backyard coops has
just enough space to accommodate a 120W Siemens solar panel.
The panel provides shade for
the chickens and being on the ground makes it easier to adjust the
angle compared to roof mounted panels.
Image credit goes to reddit
We've been writing a lot
more about ducks than chickens for the last month or so, which isn't
because we love our chickens less. In fact, our land fowl are much more
malleable, while our waterfowl seem to require much more supervision to
make sure they come home for the night and lay eggs. On the other hand,
ducks are quite interesting.
When half of our farm went underwater during the floods early this month, our ducks flew the coop...or
rather, they swam away and refused to come home at night. We'd hear
them quacking at intervals down the huge lake that had taken over our
lowland areas, but even as the floodwaters receded, the ducks refused to
even return to the coop for a snack. I thought they'd run away for good
when Mark came home from checking on the chickens one day and excitedly
told me that the ducks were back! He fed them a much-relished meal,
shut them in for the night...and waited in vain for eggs.
At first, I thought our
ducks had found somewhere else to lay during their two-week excursion
and that they were rushing out of the coop in the morning to return to
that hidden nest site. But over the course of a week, one duck, two
ducks, three ducks, and finally all four ducks began to lay at home once
again. My final conclusion was that the ducks were able to consume
enough wild food to keep them alive, but not enough to make eggs, and
that the laying pellets we offered when they came home slowly worked
through the waterfowls' system and resulted in eggs in short order.
Why is our experience
relevant for the 99.99% of you who aren't likely to lose your ducks to
floods? I think we all like to dream of letting our livestock free range
for all their food, but the reality for most of us is that production
will be low to none if we don't provide supplemental feed for our
flocks. Perhaps if our ducks had run away while the world was at its
most green, they might have been able to lay on wild food alone. But I
suspect that if we want duck eggs, even if we had a pond, we'd need to
pony up the cash for some extra grain and soybeans to supplement their
wild diet. I guess there really is no free lunch...even if you're a duck
and have acres of water to choose from.
A clever heated
sand box for chickens
caught my attention recently.
Build a box to hold one of
kennel pads and add about
5 inches of sand. Prop up an old window or panel of plastic to keep out
snow and rain and you've got a nice warm spot for your flock to enjoy.
Would an increase in Winter
egg production offset the cost of electricity to run the pad?
Image credit goes to Deb Bino
from the Urban Chicken Podcast.
Our creek flooded and turned the duck pasture into
a big lake.
We thought they were gone for
good when they decided to stop sleeping in the coop.
They showed up a few days
later, but still wouldn't go in the coop.
Today I was able to lure them
back to the front door of the coop with some feed. The plan is to keep
luring them back with the hope that they'll decide to sleep in the coop
We miss our duck eggs.
Spring is chicken season, and to celebrate, I've got some free and cheap goodies for our readers to enjoy. First, Pasture Basics
is free on Amazon today. The book is full of everything I've learned
about rotational chicken pasturing over the last few years and should
help prevent the smelly, brown chicken runs I often see on others'
The second book, Thrifty Chicken Breeds, is marked down to 99 cents today. This companion ebook picks up where Pasture Basics leaves off and helps you choose the right type of chicken to put on your new pasture.
And, to make this a true chicken-giveaway week, one lucky reader will walk away with a free premade EZ Miser,
our favorite type of waterer for pastured poultry. Just share why you
want an EZ Miser (or why you love the Avian Aqua Miser or EZ Miser
you've already got) on facebook, twitter, or google plus, click on the
giveaway widget below, and you'll be entered to win!
don't like change...any sudden change can stop a duck's
production...sudden food change, really anything! Even something like
not getting as much water as they are used to. If you don't have a bucket in your coop they can dunk their heads in,
that would be stressful to them also... That's where chickens have an
advantage.. much more resilient to changes." --- angie silvera
After reading Angie's comment on Mark's lament about our ducks' lack of eggs, I immediately filled up a bucket with water to treat our flock. Angie was totally right --- our waterfowl had
been cooped up indoors with no way to clean their feathers for weeks,
and if they felt as dingy as they looked, chances were they needed the
But our flock had other
things on their minds. Like the raging snow-melt-filled creek that was
finally sufficient to tempt them out across the snow. Clean and happy,
our ducks finally gave us the first egg in weeks. Here's hoping they
soon return to the four eggs a day we'd been enjoying pre-snow!
to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the
RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed.
It's been over a week since
our flock of ducks and chickens has had a chance to forage outside.
The ducks had been laying at
a nice regular rate, but that stopped when they started being cooped up
I suspect it's the stress of
spending too much time with the chickens that's caused the slow down.
Maybe a bigger coop or more privacy from the chickens would yield