Flock and coup size for "The Master Plan".

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Johntodd, Mar 5, 2016.

  1. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    I think that depends entirely on how the run is managed. IMO, any bare soil is unhealthy soil. So, if you are able to keep a healthy cover crop or mulch in place, the soil WILL improve. And not just a little bit, but it will improve dramatically. How often have you driven by a chicken run and seen the birds lined up at the fence, staring at the grass growing just outside beak range on the other side of the fence, while they are left in a barren moon scape that is alternately a dust bowl or a mud pit, depending on the season? I see it way too often to keep count. But, if you take that same barren run, and put a nice deep layer of mulch (6" is just a beginning, because that mulch will quickly melt into the soil as all of the beneficial organisms go to work on it) over the run, the chickens will have a never ending source of entertainment and food. They will flip through the mulch, harvesting the insects/worms/and even eating a fair share of the mulch.

    Vermont Compost company uses chickens as an integral part of their compost manufacture operation. This business model is a winning proposition for business owner, local towns and businesses who are able to divert their waste away from local land fills, chickens who derive all of their sustenance from this operation, while providing free eggs and enriching the compost with manure, and the many customers who purchase the finished product to enrich their gardens.

    John, there are many directions you could head with your garden/poultry operation. You could even divide your garden into 4 blocks, with the coop in the center. This would give you more options for management than the 2 block style. How big a garden do you REALLY need? Are you growing more than you need right now? Is a lot of it going to waste? Do you anticipate adding any other type of lifestock in the future? Are you working harder than you need to to grow what you want to grow? Are you planning to donate/sell excess veggies? Will you cover crop? Do you do a lot of tilling throughout the garden season? What's your climate, water availability, soil type? I'm excited about the many options available to you and hope that you will supply us with photos and an ongoing write up of how this plan unfolds over the next year or two. I'd also be interested in a before/after soil analysis.

    Reading back through your post, I came to the section where you are hoping for minimal feed inputs. While your birds will eat a lot of the greenery in your garden spots, I doubt that the plant material will be varied enough that they will have their nutritional needs met. I expect that you will need to feed them on a daily basis. But, you could grow some cover crops that are protein dense, and also grow some crops that bear a fair amount of seeds that they could harvest directly in the garden. I don't think you'll be able to expect them to have the soil weed free and seed ready at planting time. But, they will do a lot of pest management for you!
    2 people like this.
  2. raggy907

    raggy907 New Egg

    Jan 7, 2016
    Let me ask another related question: how much space would you need per chicken to NOT end up with a barren moon-scape? Could one chicken destroy an entire acre in a season?
    Obviously there are going to be a LOT of variables, but I'm guessing one acre could comfortably support 7-14 chickens depending on conditions.
    Rich in Alaska
  3. Johntodd

    Johntodd Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 3, 2016
    west TN area
    I think THAT's the question I should be asking!

    I can do some Wheel-Hoe tilling to do a final prep on the garden each year. But I want to be one of those people who sold their Rototiller because the chickens did so much work that I don't need it anymore.
  4. Folly's place

    Folly's place Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Ruth Stout's old book about no till gardening is all about mulch, a very good read. Chickens do love to root around in it to get the bugs and worms. Mary
  5. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    "I think that depends entirely on how the run is managed. IMO, any bare soil is unhealthy soil. So, if you are able to keep a healthy cover crop or mulch in place, the soil WILL improve. And not just a little bit, but it will improve dramatically."

    I do keep quite a bit of mulch in my run. I physically work it too. I flip it over, so that it drys out well, I pile it up, let the girls spread it out, I throw scratch on top of it, so they work it up some more. My runs are not baren dirt, my girls do lay on it, dig on it, poop on it, and then I do add it to the garden, not perfectly, so there is always organic matter in the run. The run is 20 x 30, I have been in this set up less than a year. It did have vegetation in it when we built it. I have 11 head in it now. Nothing is growing in there.

    In the previous set up that I had, I did let them free range quite a bit, and would like to point out, that they did not work the vegetation evenly. Some areas had more and some areas had less.

    I do think that the idea of the 4 paddocks has merit, one fallow, one with a cover crop, one with a garden, one with chickens might be a much better set up.

    However, I think this and the other posts on here are hypothetical, it would be nice if someone else with actual experience chimed in. I am an avid gardener, have kept chickens for years, and used them together, not as asked here, but as part of putting food on the table. I do not see this working quite the way it has ben depicted.

    Mrs K
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  6. Mini Meat

    Mini Meat Chillin' With My Peeps

    I agree With the subdivided paddocks. Stock densely enough that they have a major impact then move them over to fresh ground and seed the former in cover crop. Short periods of intense work then long periods of rest will work out better then long period of light work even with a long period of rest.
  7. MeepBeep

    MeepBeep Chillin' With My Peeps

    Too much fertilizer and too much 'pounding' of the ground creates an unfriendly environment for vegetation growth Chicken manure can easily drive the nitrogen content of the soil to toxic levels for vegetation.... Good healthy soil is not compacted and has balanced fertilizers and nutrients, if you tip the scales it can easily become infertile or at least less fertile...

    There is no solid answer, the amount of bugs, type of bugs, amount of vegetation and type of vegetation combined with growth rates of the vegetation and reproductive rates of the bugs varies from location to location as does weather and climate from day to day, these variables can make a huge difference even in short distance or from week to week... Even your particular chickens will make a difference, some like digging and scratching in one area others roam and pick... Also regardless of your desire for them live off the land, confinement even to a larger area doesn't really afford that option and you will likely need to supplement with feed if you want health birds, and thus another huge variable tossed into the mix... Also consider the huge effect of a short period of heavy rain or drought, both could result a huge mess even when it was working perfectly a few weeks prior...

    You are asking for a single answer when none exist, you will need to find your balance by trial and error and that could balance will have to be monitored and adjusted pretty much constantly as variables change...

    I would start with say 5 chickens and see what happens in a year...
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
    3 people like this.
  8. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Keep in mind the OP is talking about rotation of chicken run with what I assume will be a vegetable garden.
    Not that that will define an absolute answer.

    I think LG's suggestion of more than 2 area and some cover cropping would be a good idea.
    Much will 'remain to be seen'...due to variables in climate and that particular site and soil condition.

    I'd suggest starting with at least 6 birds...
    ......there are variables long term goals in the keeping a flock and how to manage that, as well as managing the soil.
  9. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas

    This is the best post I've seen on this thread and there are some other good ones. Another variable is what condition is the area when you put the chickens in? Is it plowed bare ground, covered with mulch (I like mulch), did you let the grass and weeds take over or keep the garden cleaned out. Does it have an established turf. There are so many variables trial and error is the only answer.

    I don't do this but a lady over on the sister gardening site does. She's written about it quite a bit. She has hers divided into seven areas and rotates them in a certain pattern. Chickens, fallow, and specific crops in the other areas in rotation.
  10. MeepBeep

    MeepBeep Chillin' With My Peeps

    I fully understand that, small area pasture rotation is a tricky business if want to avoid mud pits an over fertilization especially if you are trying to stretch it out for a year with no rotation... I deal with it trying to keep my llama and goat pasture productive all year, weather and growth patterns dictate when I rotate or when I close off areas to allow some recovery and allow the poop beans to be better spread out... IMO, it's easier to divide and manage multiple smaller pastures over the course of a year vs trying to make one big one last the entire year...

    In this case I would suggest dividing the 3000 sqft run into three 1000 sqft runs (or even a tractor type rotation) and using less birds rotate through the three segments giving time for the other two segments to recover and thus providing a sustained food source all year vs trying to find the exact number of birds that will deplete a single 3000 sqft in a year... Chickens like most animals will seek out 'prime' food that means they will seek out the new seedlings eating them before they get growing drastically reducing the amount of food that seedling could become... Another concern here is the fact that the 'garden' when rotated back to a chicken likely won't have much of a good variety of vegetation left as it would have been weeded out the previous year, it will likely be mostly fast growing weeds with littler variety and that is not likely going to sustain the chickens for long...

    I'm not saying this idea won't work, as it most certainly will but it's going to take trial and error and constant monitoring and adjustments to get the desired results... It might even require over seeding the to be chicken run each season to provide a better vegetation base...
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016

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