Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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A true forest pasture for chickens

Chicken forest pasture

Rooster on branchWe moved the flock on to their newest pasture on April 20.  The first and second pastures we fenced in this year were on a grassy slope at the edge of the garden and were pretty similar to what traditional pastured poultry farmers graze their chickens on.  But this third pasture is closer to what I'm aiming for in the long run --- a true forest pasture, with some scrubby box-elders, a big black walnut, spicebushes, elderberries, and a new Illinois everbearing mulberry (fenced off to protect its mulch from chicken feet.)

When we cleared the nearby garden patch five years ago, we threw the branches over the fence and into what has become our newest chicken pasture.  Our rooster was thrilled to have a higher spot to stand guard while his ladies went about their foraging and I think the whole flock will also enjoy this spot's shadiness --- their previous pasture was already starting to get a bit hot for comfort in the afternoons.

Chickens on pasture

Forest floorThe groundcover in the new pasture is so variable that I can't even list all of the components --- a good sign since chickens like variety.  Due to partial shade, there are only a few patches of grass and most of the ground is instead covered with chickweed, cleavers, violets, golden ragwort, lots of Japanese honeysuckle (hopefully it won't be a problem!), virgin's bower, crowfoot, and purple dead-nettle.  Actually, there are probably a lot of other types of plants present --- those are just the ones that jumped out at me as I watched the chickens forage on their first, drizzly morning.

Chicken with crowfootI expected the chickens to demolish the chickweed that is copiously covering the ground, but the plants are going to seed and must not be as tasty in this stage.  Instead, everybody went straight for the developing fruits atop the small-flowered crowfoot (Ranunculus abortivus), a weedy relative of the buttercup.  The other top choice was scratching through fallen leaves in search of worms.

Although our chickens are great foragers, we added in a few design features to tempt them to spend even more time in the pasture.  I feed the flock just inside a door halfway down the length of the pasture, and the chicken waterer is screwed onto a tree a good distance away.  Since chickens tend to hang out near the food and water, I figure this will help spread their impact around a bit better.

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