Finca Concept of Keeping Free-Range Chickens

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,386
17,759
856
Holts Summit, Missouri
I am going to post on this for a while. For most folks my interest will not apply because my resources and limitations are not realized on every property. My flock is closed meaning no birds are to be imported from outside so all my birds I raise here. Landscape will be managed to support chickens by providing nutrition, cover and some cases habitat for roosting and nesting. Lansdcape will be subjected to changes over time to realize needs for chickens as well as other agriculture endeavors and wildlife. Products to be produced include fryers, soup birds, table-eggs, laying pullets and birds for show.

We have about 18.5 acres in a rural location currently bounded on north, west and south sides by four strands of barbed wire fencing original used to confine beef cattle. The upper elevations now look largely like a savannah which is in many ways similar to the prairie it supported before European settlement. A few trees are oaks and many smaller trees are persimmons. Several patches of brambles and sumac are also present. Surprisingly, a large portion of the herbaceous plants are native. Soil is dominated by clay and can be classified as poor likely do to past poor pasture management practices. The lower elevations are covered in deciduous woodland dominated by hickory and oak trees with remnants of cedar hawthorn indicating a more open habitat about 40 years ago. Trees suitable for use as den sites for critters like raccoons and raptors are few. Erosion has played a role there but organic matter of soil is quite abundant in some parts. Perimeter has a diverse assemblage of fruiting trees reliant upon birds as dispersers of their seeds. Property has a nearly centrally located 1/10 acre pond that at maximum depth when full exceeds 8 feet. The pond is prone to summer kill events for fishes therefore it is excellent habitat for central newts and green frogs. A nearly continuous supply of water inters from north as generously provided by trailer court septic pond overflow. I like the wildlife and some like my chickens in a different way which creates conflicts.

Neighbors: Most neighbors in area have dogs. Most of the dogs are confined most of the time. Other dogs are free-ranging all the time. The free-ranging dogs I seldom see while the typically confined dogs are prone to be problematic. I know of more than 50 dogs within a ½ mile radius of my home. Several neighbors have chickens and most have them free-range at least part of the time. Most of the flocks are hatchery bought although one neighbor has at least a partially self-sustaining flock.

Three management systems will be at play which correlates with types / purpose of birds involved and season. First system has bulk of birds has adults confined to chicken tractors and coops with covered runs. Embryos and chicks will be confined to incubators and brooders though 5 weeks post-hatch. Juveniles through early adulthood will be kept free-range within paddocks delineated by electrified poultry netting. Pasture within paddocks will be managed to provide patches of edible plant forages and cover from raptors and sunlight. Considerable amounts of feed will be imported into system where most will be in the form of nutritionally complete formulations. Second system is similar to first except embryos and chicks will be hen reared in a free-range setting and much of feed will be supplied as incomplete formulations enabled by more frequent moving of pens over fresh ground and more seasonal demand with respect to egg production. Third system is total free-range keeping without confinement by electrified poultry netting and where adults are free-range during all but coldest part of winter. Most of year feeding is only intended to supplement natural forages although during mid to late winter provided feed will be complete.

Breeding involves pure American Dominique are kept largely as system 1, American Games are kept as system 2 with a few in system 3 around house, and Missouri Dominiques (FX hybrids of American Dominique and American Games) to be kept as system 3 only. Additional adults are kept in pens as backups in the event of catastrophic loss of free-range birds. Every effort will be made to keep the Missouri Domiques operating entirely in a sustainable manner.

I use free-ranging dogs as defenders of poultry and will acquire sheep and goats as management tools for pasture. Considerable plantings of various plants producing edible fruits and vegetables are planned.
 

centrarchid

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,386
17,759
856
Holts Summit, Missouri
See satellite image dated late 2013. Yellows depicts property boundary.

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Purple area encircled on southern part of property is woodland that is also the with most relief and lowest altitude. Red line in northern area indicates mowed area of yard approximating 2.5 acres. Patterns are mowed pathways that beyond red markings into woodland and along fence to west..

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centrarchid

Crossing the Road
11 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,386
17,759
856
Holts Summit, Missouri
Here is one of my favorite plant species of value to chickens and insects, the False Indigo Bush Amorpha fructicosa. This is outside my office but I have another developing in the front yard. It provides chickens cover from sunlight and prying eyes for about five months of the year. It does not provide much of either during balance of year but does have a fair amount of leaf litter providing insects with winter habitat. It is also intensely attractive to pollinators, many that are native, but honeybees as well. Several butterflies can develop as larvae in the plant.
http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=amfr


Stands need to be at least 10' wide and 4' tall to be effective cover for chickens.

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