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Terracing a chicken pasture, part 1

Terrace design

All summer and fall, I've been dreaming of turning the steep powerline cut pasture into a useful part of the farm.  With the garden put to bed, I was finally able to steal some time to put the first stage into practice.

First, the goals:

  • Prevent chicken-scratching from causing erosion on a steep slope.
  • Provide easy access so we're able to manage the vegetation.
  • Hold water on what's otherwise a dry slope so trees won't need irrigation (with the side benefit of helping deal with the overflow of water that turns the bottom of the slope into a swamp).

Building a terraceI'm starting with two terraces, although I suspect I'll eventually make three or four if these work out.  First, I stacked a lot of brush (cut out of the pasture this summer) on the downhill side of where I wanted the terrace to go, then I carved soil out of the uphill side to toss onto that raised area.  If I was building a terrace to hold heavy machinery, I wouldn't want to put biodegradable wood down there, but my goal is to keep these terraces in place with root action in the long run, so the brush just has to hold the slope until the roots get established.

Speaking of roots, I've already planted the berm on the downhill side of the biggest terrace with comfrey, and plan to seed cover crops (probably oats, then buckwheat) on the unused flat part of the terrace this spring.  That way I'll be able to turn the chickens into this pasture a bit over the summer without worrying that they'll scratch bare soil to pieces, and I'll also be building much-needed organic matter for the five tiny American persimmons that will eventually spread their roots into this space.  The trees will be grafted to naturally dwarf Asian persimmons once the trunks are four feet tall (in a year or two), which means they'll stay shrimpy enough not to mess with the powerline overhead.

Switchback trail

Rather than putting the terraces directly on grade, I opted to turn them into a switchback trail, with one gently rising and one gently falling so the two mostly-flat areas meet at the edge of the pasture.  This is really just to make it easy for me to access, and may have the unintended consequence that water runs down the terraces rather than pooling in them.  I'm hopeful that a few logs laid across the terraces will hold soil and water in place.

Terracing a hillside

As you can see, the digging is hard work, so I'm just plugging away an hour or two per day.  More photos to come, but meanwhile, I'm curious to hear any feedback on the design.  For example, do you think half-rotted old trees about ten inches in diameter will hold the uphill side of the slope if I pound fence posts in behind them at intervals?  (Again, this is just supposed to last for the first few years, until the plants I stick between the timbers take root.)  Do you think it's realistic to think I can get my terraces vegetated enough to let chickens graze in here part-time this summer?  I'm very curious to hear from anyone who's tried to terrace a chicken pasture.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well hydrated so they can spend their days foraging for food.

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I have no constructive input but I wanted to tell you how excited this project makes me~!

We have a HUGE manmade mound that is just an eyesore that I would like to do something similar with.

I can't wait to read more.

As always, THANK YOU for all that you do. You guys have my absolute favorite blog.


Comment by Emily early Monday morning, December 17th, 2012
Emily --- I'm excited too! There's something profound about standing on top of a hill where I couldn't even keep my footing before and surveying our terrain. :-)
Comment by anna at lunch time on Monday, December 17th, 2012
If you were worried about the upper bank sliding maybe a couple mobile home anchors (one at each end of the terrace) with a wire or rope between them to hold the 10" logs in place while the roots of the trees can get established would work. Just an idea.
Comment by Brian Monday night, December 17th, 2012
Brian --- Mark ended up pounding in fence posts, but I think your idea is a good one if we start to see slumpage. Maybe two anchors on the ends attached to a wire wrapped around both fence posts?
Comment by anna mid-morning Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

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