People keep their chickens in as many different setups as you could possibly imagine. And no doubt it can be a task deciding what route you're going to follow. Certainly, some are better than others, even though “what works, works.” Here, I’m going to share with you the very best of them all. It may not work in all situations, of course, but it is probably the most versatile, and if it can be utilized by yourself, then you should 100% try it! We’ll refer to it as “stationary rotational grazing.” When you’re tired of bare and muddy, poop covered runs, high bedding costs, bored chickens living in their filth, and wouldn’t mind a reduction in labor and feed costs, or increased flock health and happiness, then this is what you’re going to want to do:
HOW IT WORKS: This method provides the same benefits as a “Chicken Tractor,” yet saves you from having to move it all around the yard, which can at times be undesirable, or even impossible for those with small yards that will still get killed down. It also gives you more control over the area the chickens will inhabit, by allowing you to keep them from certain things, plant and care for the area, etc. at your discretion. As a matter of fact, there are two ways that you can do the best way! Here they are:
#1: The basic idea is to have a series of pens around your coop, at least one on all sides, with a door to and from the coop and each pen. The size of the pens is determined only by the amount of birds you’ll be running in it and how often you will want to move them to another section; the larger the pens and the fewer birds in it, the longer that you can keep them in one pen before they start to wear it down and it’s time to move them. And of course, the opposite holds true; the smaller the run size and the more birds in it, the more often you will be moving them. There are also two ways that you can reduce the impact a large number of birds has on the ground. 1. is to have larger runs. 2. is to have a greater number of smaller pens that the birds are moved through more frequently. I prefer method number one because it's less labor-intensive, and makes it easier to re-seed the pens when they are resting. In addition to making everything else involved quite a bit easier, too. You’ll allow your birds access to one section until it starts to look worn, then move them to the next. As stated, you may re-seed the pens if you wish when the birds are not on them. If using stationary pens (see example #2 below for portable fencing) then I would also recommend you even consider planting some small fruit-bearing bushes or trees. They’ll have all the fresh ground, bugs, seeds, and weeds they can get at without causing trouble on your porch, in the garden, or at the neighbor’s place, as they often do when free-ranging. And you can effectively keep them safe from predators.
#2: This modification simply involves using a single, portable electric fence (or other fence of your choice). You rotate this run around the coop, gleaning the same effect as above with reduced fencing costs, but increased labor. I prefer method #1, but it is up to you, however, to decide what's the best in your situation.
The three most common ways that people generally keep their birds are:
In Stationary pens
Portable “ Chicken Tractors”
I prefer the free-ranging, really, but it does have many down falls and often isn’t possible with many.
The “tractor” is pretty good, but I don’t really feel like dealing with moving it around so often, it's labor-intensive, it limits me to a smaller number of birds, and does not give me as much control over the area the birds are foraging in, although it is possible to have that. Most importantly of all, my property doesn’t have the lay and terrain for that to work!
A stationary run is generally the least desirable for me. But of course, it often has it’s “pros” and is actually used by me for controlled single-pair breeding. That’s the best thing about it, that it gives you a lot of control.
Another way that you can keep a flock, which I didn’t mention above because it’s not very popular, is a very large fenced area, ideally, for me, around an orchard or similar area, that’s so large the birds do not kill the growth inside and reduce everything bare. It is very prohibitive because of the space needed and initial fencing costs. Otherwise, I really like it.
I think the method described of “stationary rotational grazing” is generally the best way to get the desired benefits of live, green ground, bugs, weeds/seeds etc. with as little work as possible, and when you have minimal space to work with, as well as reduced labor, time and money input.
I'm sure you noticed that that was also a basic overview of some different ways to keep a flock. As I hope you can see, stationary rotational grazing is really simple and may outperform all the others. It works great, and you won’t regret trying it once you plunge in.
Runs vs Pens - and what is possibly the BEST way to keep a flock.....
Recent User Reviews
"Love The Idea"
- 4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Jul 31, 2018
I went with some tractors, but also hate moving them.
Rotational grazing as you are calling it is a great idea. Wish I had more doors and fences... the cost of gates is adding up big time! I considered doing the same thing but only two sided.
Thanks for sharing.
"Great idea, but not practical for most backyards"
- 3/5, 3 out of 5, reviewed Jul 30, 2018
This is very similar to grazing cattle in different enclosed pastures. Ranchers have been using rotation for many years. Applying it to chickens makes sense. The portable run seems just as labor intensive as the tractors; however, I like the idea of segmented runs. It would be difficult for me to do this though because it requires a lot of space. We live in 1/3 acre in a suburban community and our hens are kept in a U-shaped run behind and along the sides of our greenhouse. While the run over 40' in total length and 5ft wide, I think it would be difficult and cost intensive to divide the run in segments and control the chickens access to each segment. Also, enough segments are needed to allow time for the "pasture" to recover after grazing. I'd say at least 5 segments are needed - 1 active grazing area and 4 recovering pastures with a weekly rotation of the chickens. This is because I know my 5 hens (soon to be 7) are able to devour all plant matter in their run in about 1 week and it takes about 4 weeks for plants to reestablish themselves. For my case, that would mean five 5'x8' runs. I feel like 5 hens (let alone additional the two chicks we are growing out right now) need more space than 5'x8' even if they do get fresh ground every week.