Advice wanted for pen rotating

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by SuperK, May 21, 2017.

  1. SuperK

    SuperK Chillin' With My Peeps

    We are getting more and more chickens (thanks chicken Math!) and we are looking into moving and expanding our chicken coop and pen to allow for more protected ranging for the birds. We are considering building 4 pens off the coop with separate access both inside the runs for the chickens and outside the runs for us humans. Each Pen section of the new space will be approximately 400 square feet (20 x 20) with a central common alley that allows us to get into the area to open and close off pens. Each day we plan to open one area in the morning for the foraging, then close it off at night after the birds have roosted. Only one pen will be accessed at a time but that pens door will be open all day allowing them access to both the pen and the coop for egg laying. The photo below may explain this better.

    Under the pen photo is a rough outline of the rotation schedule I am going to ask advice for. These will be net covered pens, completely enclosed but we want to give them a better foraging experience, decrease our feed costs, lower the amount of bugs in the area and keep the losses of birds and eggs to an absolute minimum. We are also looking to find a number of days that we can keep them in a pen before the recovery time for the grass in the "off" days or fallow time becomes critical. Right now we are thinking 4 days per pen will allow good ranging with 12 days for recovery before the next access. Each time we increase the number of days in a single area, the recovery time in the other pens goes up as well, for example if we add a day to 5 in Pen 1, the fallow days in Pens 2,3&4 goes up to 20. There will be a day however where the damage these girls can do to the pen they are in will no longer be repairable in a rotating schedule. Any one out there know what the sweet spot for range / recovery for rotation is?

    I am looking to know this before we get them coop moved since we will also have to bring in the grass. We live on a Lava flow so we will need to truck in dirt and sand to create the base for the grassy area for the new pens. it will take 3-4" of cinder soil then top soil then grass seed, grown to maturity before even letting them out. After all that work, we'd kind of like to make sure they don't rototiller this area into a barren oblivion in the first month. As usual, thank you for any advice or help.

    Pen Idea 1.png
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  2. eggbert420

    eggbert420 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 15, 2017
    How many chickens?
  3. PD-Riverman

    PD-Riverman Overrun With Chickens

    Jan 14, 2012
    Conway SC
    I got 67 pens and 67 coops and a bunch of nesting boxes. Well I got to change that now because I just added a 6000sqft run this afternoon and just now got the chickens moved into the coop in that run---they get to check out their new place tomorrow.

    The pen will be destroyed grass wise in a few days if you got several chickens in each. Chickens scratch and they will destroy the roots unless you put down something to keep them from scratching. I turn my chickens into the grass area during the winter for just a few minutes then back into their non-grass run to keep them from tearing up the grass.
    SuperK and eggbert420 like this.
  4. SuperK

    SuperK Chillin' With My Peeps

    "How many chickens?" - Eggbert 420
    I have 15 hens and one rooster that are full grown, I have 10 mixed run 'adolescents' about pullet age, and 5 new chicks that are still in a brooder, but will be full sized once the grass is rooted and ready for occupancy. So it will be a total of 30 birds. Of course, the ones that grow up to be roos will not become part of the flock. One Roo per flock is enough for us.

    Thanks for the info- oh, BTW, what can we put down to keep the scratching from happening?
    Looks like a day or two at most per pen then. That means there will be 8 days recovery per pen for each two day run.
  5. PD-Riverman

    PD-Riverman Overrun With Chickens

    Jan 14, 2012
    Conway SC
    Punch in "grazing frames" on youtube. In your case you might want to do most of the yard. If you lay wire on the dirt the chickens will still peck the grass up through the wire, so you would need a good wire a few inches above the dirt and where they can not get their head through it to keep them from destroying it. I use some 1"x1" 14 gauge wire on 4ft x4ft frames so I can handle them when it comes time to replant/clean. I only use these frames in pens that I do not allow to free range. Doing this you do not have to stop the chickens from going into that area---if the grass does not grow through the wire---they can not get it. I also plant a lot of things for the chickens/rabbits---things that are easy to harvest. In the last 2 years I have been more able to free range than ever before because of my GP watch dog. She will keep the Hawks, predators run away.
    In 2014/2015 and some in early 2016 because of 27 different breeds I could only allow one pen at a time to free range but I had other fenced in area's that I let other breeds into for a little while.

    The 6000sgft I fenced in yesterday is just to have another area to turn some into to keep them separated from the other flock and to keep the ground predators at bay. These are bigger chicks(getting close grown size) growing out---probably more roosters than pullets. I will not have the GP dog in this area because she is in the bigger 1 1/2 acre fenced in area---protecting them.

    I just wanted to add, going to ALL this expense so they can get some grass is nice but not necessary---some chickens never eat greens and as long as they get a good protein feed they do fine. I like mine to eat greens, but if they can not free range then its usually a lot more work and expense on the owner to keep some greens growing/collecting to give them greens. Some just grow fodder and save the money that it would cost for extra grazing pens. A lot of fodder can be grown in a small area---even inside in the winter.
    Last edited: May 22, 2017
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    It's going to be a factor of number of chickens, how much room, climate, how well the turf is established, and the types of stuff that grows in the pens. In Hawaii you have a climate that stays warm and you get rain, so stuff will grow. That's about the only thing that's in your favor, the stuff should come back pretty quickly as long as you don't overgraze.

    When chickens graze they prefer certain plants. Some stuff they just won't touch if something better is available. If your chicken density is low enough so they don't wipe everything out, certain plants they don't like will need to be mowed or removed to allow the good stuff to grow. My chicken density is low enough that they don't turn it into a barren wasteland but I have to mow it several times a year.

    With your number of chickens and those sizes I don't think you have a prayer of following your plan, even in your climate. You can always do a trial and error and see, you might get lucky but I would not count on it. Those grazing frames may work for you. Another option might be to keep one pen open all the time, accept that they will wipe it out and live with it. Then rotate the other pens when they have recovered, but part of the time they will be confined to that wiped out pen only.

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