Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Rotational grazing for chickens

Chickens following cattle on pastureI've been working my way around to mentioning rotational grazing over here for quite a while.  The idea is simple --- you move your flock into a new paddock at intervals so that they always have access to fresh pasture and never turn any one paddock into a moonscape.  Rotational grazing has picked up a lot of momentum among sustainable cattle farmers, but how well does the idea work with chickens?

The classic, Joel Salatin example consists of grazing cows and chickens in a multi-species rotation.  When the cows are moved to a new paddock, the chickens are placed in the old one to scratch through those tasty cow pies, spreading the fertility throughout the pasture.  At the same time, the chickens eat up parasite larvae that would otherwise recolonize cows the next time the bovines pass through.  The system has gained a wide following, and is clearly a win-win for cows, chickens, and pasture.  But what about those of us who don't want cows?

Chickens in the grassWithout a large ruminant in the mix, you have to envision the rotational chicken pasture a bit differently.  The first thing to remember is that chickens' stomachs aren't set up to digest low quality food like grass, so while they may pick at a leaf here and there, they're not going to get much out of a pure grass lawn.  Chickens' stomachs are actually a lot like ours, and they crave meat (invertebrates, mostly), fruits, and tender vegetables.  That's where my forest pasture idea comes into play --- I'm working on developing a suite of plants (and associated insect life) that will provide the chickens with a large percentage of their dietary needs.  Profitable Poultry reports that Joel Salatin has planted mixtures of native grasses, broadleaf plants, clovers, chicory, oats, and rye on his Virginia pastures so that tender plants are available to the chickens throughout the year.  In the Pacific Northwest, Robert Plamondon prefers oats for winter forage and white ladino clover and alfalfa as summer feed.  There's a lot of room for experimentation in discovering the best plants for a chicken pasture in your neck of the woods.

Chickens in the gardenAnother option to consider with rotational grazing is combining a vegetable garden with a chicken pasture.  If you can run your chickens in the vegetable garden during the winter, the flock will control many problematic pests while fertilizing the soil and working any plant debris into the ground.  I've found that combining the garden with a chicken pasture works best with a relatively short season summer crop rather than with a diversified garden since the latter is often active year-round if planned correctly.  Our grain paddocks are the first step in this direction for us, and have shown a lot of potential.

99 cent pasture ebookNo matter how you go about it, rotational grazing has a lot of advantages over other types of chicken management.  The more fresh food your chickens eat, the less you have to pay for storebought feed.  Even more important, the healthier chickens on pasture produce tastier and healthier eggs and meat for you to eat.  I've recently decided that rotational grazing is the best chicken management system for anyone who lives outside the city.

Our homemade chicken waterer is a perfect addition to the chicken pasture, giving your flock clean, fresh water all day.

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