Backyard Foraging Options

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by BlueBetween, May 17, 2011.

  1. BlueBetween

    BlueBetween Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 4, 2011
    Near Seattle
    Can we chat about this? I'm trying to wrap my mind around what is the best thing to do. The way I see it, I have the following options for my 4 chicks, 1/4+ acre fenced in backyard, with a big old dog, eagles and hawks flying overhead, but with lots of mature trees, shrubs and hiding places. I keep going back and forth about all of them, and I've been trying to research ideas in the forums but can't come to a decision.

    1.) I can build them a secure enough pen/run next to their coop/run that I'm comfortable with them being out in during the day. It's got two trees in the area, a huge rhody that is more tree than bush and a huge butterfly bush. I imagine that it will all turn to mud and I'll have to put sand or mulch down. I don't think I'll need to put a top on it as I don't plan on leaving them out there at night and the tree has a good canopy. The more I think about this, the more I wonder if it's going to stink to high heavens (we get a lot of rain here in Seattle) or if this is just creating a lot of extra mucking out work for myself. And I wonder if these two trees will survive?

    2.) I can build them a tractor/forager that I move around the yard daily. Is this going to totally ruin my yard, though? Seriously, I'd like to know if this is really beneficial or not to the yard. And do I just hose down the poops at the end of the day? I like this because they will stay out of my garden, the dog can't get to them, and neither can the eagles, but I wonder how much damage they can do to the grass in one day?

    3.) I can let them free-range and spend my $ and effort fencing in my garden and beds; instead of containing them, I'd contain the plants I don't want them to eat. Seems like... an almost impossible job, aside from the veggie garden, but I think my yard is big enough to be able to handle them foraging without them completely cleaning it bare (but what do I really know?!) But then I've got poop everywhere....

    Mostly I want:

    A.) Happy & Safe Chickens.
    B.) A not totally poopy and ruined yard. I really don't want to worry about poop on my patio and chairs. I like things to be green and pretty.
    3.) Dark orange yummy yolks and healthy eggs.

    Any suggestions for options I have not thought of, or what works best for you in a similar situation?
    Thank you!
  2. jamband

    jamband Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 26, 2011
    from the perspective of best for your yard #2 is the way to go....Have you read any of salatins books? the big issue moving it enough and allowing sufficient rest before returning the chickens to that spot...ideally 21 days as that will break pathogenic cycles........intensive grazing is the best method of pasture management in the sense that in nature this it what would happen....usually the chickens would follow larger animals but either way intensive is the best pasture management but again moving it a lot like twice a day is super important. Bare , destroyed areas will recover slowly. Also much differs depending on your location

    that being said I like a paddock shift system which would probably work well for you in your yard.
    Last edited: May 17, 2011
  3. BlueBetween

    BlueBetween Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 4, 2011
    Near Seattle
    No, I have not read his books, but now I want to read this: when it comes out. I'll do some research about him and "paddock shift system" tonight, thank you. So, twice a day moving the tractor, rather than once a day... perhaps it also depends on tractor size. Or maybe they spend half a day in the tractor, and half in their run. I'm probably over-thinking all of this. But thanks for the info!
  4. tarragon

    tarragon Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 3, 2011
    Bothell, WA
    This is a good discussion. I am also in the Seattle area (Bothell) and my 4 chicks have been living in their new coop for one week. So far I've been letting them out every day, leaving the door open to the run. They wander the whole yard, nibbling as they go or sunbathing (well, today at least). They head back in to get some food or water, then back out again. But I can see that this might be a problem. Today they keep wandering onto the patio, and like you, I don't want to have to clean poop off chairs and the patio all the time. And now that the sun has come out the plants will (hopefully) begin growing more soon. I was thinking of a moveable pen, made from a roll of the 2" welded wire and some stakes. Wouldn't that be easier to move than a tractor? I don't want to keep them in the run all day since there is no grass there.
  5. jamband

    jamband Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 26, 2011
    He has some really good books...he uses tractor for his meat birds........Yeah 4 birds would probably not need moved twice a day in a decent sized tractor.....I think it comes to watching and being on top of it. He recommends moving when they have consumed a certain percentage of the foliage...cant remember exact %.........Also check this article out, written by Paul Wheaton from a permacultural perspective. explains many systems including really makes sense. giving the areas a rest breaks bad cycles , allows for better gowth, concentrates fertilization, allows bugs to repopulate the area etc
  6. Christie Rhae

    Christie Rhae Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 5, 2010
    Big Island, Hawaii
    I have had chickens for one year. Did lots of research and thought I had everything figured out...sort of.

    We built a chicken coop and run like fort knox. It is very sturdy and expensive to build. I started with 6 chicks...then just HAD to get 10 more. So we added on another run..again built like fort Knox. We never let the chickens out. It is pretty close to my house and even with 16 chickens I never smell anything. If you go into the coop you can smell chicken poop but it is not offensive. So I wouldn't worry about smell... especially with just 4. We did put pea gravel down in the run first so that it could drain when it rains and part of the run is covered. Chickens don't like to get wet. chickens started the bored/feather plucking thing. I realized they need to get out and scratch and look for bugs. So I let them in my yard when I am home. Yes they poop on everything. We pressure wash our driveway every weekend.

    Now one year later I have arrived at this decision... we are building a new coop. (Moving to our other house..long story) I am going to build a larger coop/run, not built like fort knox..but safe and a little less expensive. And then I am going to build a big fenced in area where they can feel like they are free ranging but they still have a measure of safety and cannot poop on the porch. lol

    So If it was me I would go with option number 1.
  7. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    There is a fourth option, which is a pretty good one for your goals and worht considering:

    Have them in a run most or all the time, but chuck in a bunch of fresh greens every day or two (kitchen scraps, nontoxic garden weedings, garden scraps, stuff you cut from fields and so forth, etc). They will have fun and varied nutrition and dark-orange yolks this way, without any attendant predation risk and without pooing all over your yard.

    Your yard WILL get rather pooey if you use a tractor... not, obviously, the patio and chairs, but large areas of grass will be pooey to some degree or another. (It takes a reasonable while before the stuff breaks down). So if you care about that, a tractor may not be ideal.

    Good luck, have fun,

  8. BlueBetween

    BlueBetween Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 4, 2011
    Near Seattle
    Pat, that is plan 1, my original idea with your excellent point of giving them weeds (though I guess they don't eat my two worst offenders, dandelions and buttercups? who knew!) - and even with a few tubs of grass growing under wire, it has a lot of potential and possibility. But then I keep reading that the runs don't stink "Unless They Get Wet!" and since I live in Seattle, I started worrying. It will get wet. And even though it's at the top of my yard, it will get muddy.

    I also read that it won't stink if you till it into the earth every few weeks (sounds like a lot of work! And what about my shallow rhody roots?). Mostly, I don't want stink in the chicken yard, which will mean stink in my patio and my neighbor's yards... and I didn't build my coop run big enough to leave them in there all the time. So while I adore the idea of a nice fenced area where I can keep the girls safe and still enjoy watching them from my clean patio chair... I am worried about rain and stink.

    What do other PacNW people do? My friend up the street lets them run all over her yard and she has no flower beds left, and has to clean her deck off all the time. The other neighbors down the street had them penned under a cedar tree and I never smelled them... but also never saw them mucking out under the tree....

    I have time to figure it out though, because my covered run IS big enough for a few more weeks, and field trips to the grassy place with the temporary fence and stakes is also what we do now and again - they love it.

    I'll read your article, organick, thanks.

    And tarragon, yes that works, right? But I some areas don't provide any cover, so I feel the need to be out there with them when I do that... and it's not good on rainy days, of course. And also, have you pounded those stakes into the ground recently? I am not a fan, not of doing it every day or so... for moving it around, but then maybe your yard is not as full of roots and rocks? Another idea I had was like yours and maybe it's a variation of what Organick is suggesting too?: stakes and wire fence - but in places around the yard where it will stay - the corner with the rhodys, another corner with more rhodys, an area of the yard we never use... and then rotate them around from pen to pen for a period of time and then back to the coop so the land can recover. It's a lot of wire though, and I'm not sure how attractive it would end up looking. Something to think about. Chickens scratching around in the background of the yard... will they eat blackberry vines???!
  9. MrsRevDr

    MrsRevDr Out Of The Brooder

    May 10, 2011
    I read on another post that someone put up a line of twine with across the part of her yard where she didn't want her chickens to go, she put the twine about chicken breast high and every foot or so attached those little bells that they see as wedding favors and when a chicken would hit the line of bells it would scare it away...I haven't tried this myself mind you.
  10. maclady

    maclady Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 28, 2011
    Lost in Space
    I would go with option 1 with a sand floor in a covered run. I have found many post on sand and am considering putting sand in my run. You can grow flats of greens for them to tear into. I use the flats that are left when you but a flat of say petunias or impatiens. I filled it up with soil tossed on a variety of seeds and when it got big enough put it in their run. They loved it and it was large enough to keep them busy for awhile. (I have 4 Buff Orpingtons) I did it once with a pot and they even pulled the soil out of the pot to get to the roots of the plants. You can buy chicken forage mix seeds online or just go get seed for lettuces, spinach, kale, mustard or whatever you decide to grow for them. Good Luck. [​IMG]

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