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One-year-old forest pasture

Chickens in the weeds

Despite terrible management on my part, the one-year-old forest pasture in the steep powerline cut is going strong.  The terrible management involved barely rotating thirty-some chickens out of this pasture for weeks on end, with the goal being to prevent them overgrazing the more grassy pastures surrounding the coop --- I knew those pastures would go bare if overloaded, while this one seems to handle too many chicken feet and beaks with aplomb.  Since the powerline pasture is still in the process of being reclaimed from trees and tall weeds, I figured I wouldn't lose too much by grazing harder than I should this year.

Comfrey holds terraceIt turns out that the chickens prefer this pasture even after weeks of heavy grazing, which says to me that I might eventually be able to develop forest pastures that will need little or no rotation.  Maybe rotation is only essential for traditional pastures of grass and clover?

The photo to the left shows one of the big winners in the forest pasture this year --- comfrey.  You may recall that I hacked a lot of roots out of my main garden last winter and stuffed them into the subsoil on the downhill side of the terraces with no compost or other help.  When Mark went through in June with the weedeater, the comfrey was already big enough that I told him to just whack it down.  By the middle of July, the plants had grown back up and were blooming again, and it was also clear from bite-marks all over the leaves that the chickens had been nibbling on the high-protein greens.

Chicken path

Which is not to say that relentless grazing hasn't made certain parts of the pasture bare.  When the chickens exit the coop, they tend to run straight along the fenceline to the far end of the pasture so they can then walk the easy way up the hill along the terraces.  That fenceline path is pretty much plant-free, and likely to stay that way.  If I hadn't needed the weeds I cut for mulching the blueberry patch, I would have thrown them onto this bare ground to create a mulched path for chickens to scratch through.  For now, though, any erosion from this point will just run into the raspberries, who won't mind excess nutrients.

Protected persimmon

The tiny American persimmons I scattered throughout the pastures last winter seem to be thriving on neglect, like most everything else there.  I wrapped each one in a little netted cage to protect the sensitive roots from chicken-scratching, and even though weeds grew up in the cages, the persimmons are doing well.  Most are pretty small, but one is over a foot tall (from a seed that sprouted this time last year)!  My plan is to let the persimmons stay in cages until the leaves are well over chicken-height, then I'll graft Asian persimmons onto the tops and open the space up to the flock.

Mulch box

Older trees and shrubs are enclosed in mulch boxes this year.  The mulch boxes are chicken magnets, but still seem to be doing their job of keeping mulch from being flung out into the surrounding pasture.  On the other hand, constant chicken scratching shredded the leaves I mulched with pretty quickly, and the addition of manure composted them into invisibility.  I selected only hardy species for the pastures, though, so the shrubs don't seem to mind bare soil.

Nanking cherry

In early June, the Nanking cherries produced a few fruits for the first time this year, three years after planting.  I tried one cherry and wasn't terribly impressed by the sour flavor, so left the rest for the chickens.  I didn't actually catch anyone in the act of consuming the berries, but three hours after letting the chickens into the pasture with ripe fruits, every cherry was gone.

Chickens on a log

From a less serious perspective, this fallen cedar log continues to be one of the chickens' favorite spots in the pasture.  These are the eleven-week-old, second-batch broilers, taking a morning break.

I'm still learning and experimenting with the forest pastures constantly, so I can't provide guidelines for their duplication just yet.  However, I'm becoming confident that a mature forest pasture will provide more food for the flock than a grassy pasture would, and with lower work on our part.

The chicken waterer beside the cedar log is another frequent stop for our flock as they make a loop around the pasture.

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What a wonderful project! How much does your forest pasture reduce the use of supplemented feed for you? Also, your broilers...what breed are they? They don't look like Cornish Cross. Thanks for posting :)
Comment by pd Friday evening, February 7th, 2014
pd --- It's tough to estimate how much the forest pasture reduces our feed costs, but I'd say at least 10% (and that's when the pasture is very young like this and far from full productivity). The broilers are just extra kids from our laying hens --- in these photos, australorp X marans crosses (with some keepers that we're adding to the laying flock --- purchased Red Stars and White Leghorns).
Comment by anna late Wednesday morning, February 12th, 2014

Nice pics! Our forest is a mature stand of mostly beech and cherry, with some swamp maples mixed in, and a patch of spruce too. More leaf litter and wild raspberry than the diversity of greens you have, but our girls love the bugs, worms, and bonus amphibians we get... We did realize though that we also get frequent visits of wild turkeys and are realizing we need to be vigilant with worming or the girls lose their perky healthy glow!

Comment by Biologrady Friday afternoon, February 21st, 2014

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