Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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A winter of chickens ranging in the woods

Australorp roosterI finally started the chickens back rotating through their pastures after a winter spent free ranging in the woods.  The reason was not so much that the grass was getting high (although it was) as that the garden has reached a point that my blood pressure rises when I see sneaky chickens there.  Our temporary fencing where the driveway enters our main homestead area is in Lucy's way, so she often knocks it down, which lets the chickens amble right on in.  After about six rounds of chicken herding, I decided our flock could graze on grass and clover for a while.

Chicken pastureI also figured the woods could use a break after a winter of endless scratching feet.  The chickens clearly prefer the woods to the pasture, and would gladly spend all year there, but from a management perspective, I need to save that ground for winter.  If I left the flock in the pastures during the cold weather, they'd scratch up every bit of groundcover and turn it into a muddy mess, but spread out through the woods, they merely churn up the leaves and stay healthy and happy.

Chicken focal points

Multi-trunked sycamoreBefore the signs of chicken feet disappear from the woods, I decided to get an idea of how large of an area our flock ranged over during the winter months.  The map above shows the focal points of chicken attention, three of which are large trees like the one shown here.

I suspect that old trees of any species build so much humus and fungal growth around their roots that invertebrates move in like crazy.  Maybe that's why the base of every sizeable tree within the chickens' free range area was scratched bare.

Overgrown fenceOther favorite spots included overgrown pasture fences, which form hedge-like zones that made our flock feel safe, and (once our spring heat wave hit) the shade behind the barn.  As usual, the chickens remind me that providing optimal habitat is more about structure than it is about the specific plants that make up that structure.  Nobody would plant Japanese Honeysuckle for their chickens, but the mass of plant growth attracts lots of worms and keeps hawks away.

Free range chicken perambulations

Here's my guesstimate of where our flock of seven chickens roamed for the last five months or so.  I counted on the creeks to moat them in, but the truth is that the chickens stayed closer to home than that, rarely straying further than 100 feet from one of our fences (which mark the boundary of regular dog and human travels).  Perhaps if I had cut their rations back further, they would have ranged over more than three quarters of an acre, but I Hens grazingwas already feeding them only about half as much as the recommended daily allowance for an adult chicken.

The chickens are currently pouting at being locked into their pasture (no matter how lush), but hopefully they'll get used to it within a day or two.  Maybe in five or ten years, the mulberries, persimmons, and other goodies I've planted there will make the pastures as enticing as the woods.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock healthy with POOP-free water.

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