Flock density for a run that will not overload soil?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by calee, May 25, 2008.

  1. calee

    calee Out Of The Brooder

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    How many square feet do y'all recommend per bird in a permanent run area?

    We're thinking 5 sq. ft. per bird in a dirt floor coop (with heavy-duty hardware cloth buried 2 ft. deep around the perimeter), but we're not sure how much space to leave in the run to keep the chickens from totally denuding & poisoning the soil.

    We'll be able to let them run in the yard for about half an hour in the evenings (more on the weekends & over the summer), but the rest of the time, they'll be in this fenced-in pasture.
     
  2. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

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    Heres the deal. The unadulterated "poop," so to speak.

    Chicken poo is highly concentrated, containing a dense array of volatile compunds. It is highly nitrogenous and will burn most planst in it's raw form. The earth itself cannot readily absorb too much of it at once and it cannot do much of it at all without surface vegetation.
    Add to this the chickens own bad habit of tearing up the landscape with its clawing and scratching and you really start to see the picture.

    This means chickens do best on grass, and plenty of it. This was well documented a century ago, during the heydey of range farms. Those folks had it well worked out, the ability of the earth to absorb and process chicken droppings. Are you ready?

    500 chickens/acre. AN acre is 43,560 sq ft, so this equals 87.12 sq ft per bird

    Most people dont like the sound of that. It's not enough room for all the chickens they already have - or want to get! But, if you intend for the earth itself to filter and process the droppings of your chickens then...

    ...well, there you go. Do with it what you will.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 25, 2008
  3. calee

    calee Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you! That's exactly what I was looking for. [​IMG]

    We have the space to keep more chickens than we originally planned on, but with the red-tailed hawks here, the cost of building an enclosure that big with a netting top... :eek: I'm starting to get why arks/tractors are so popular.

    If we do go the tractor route instead and move the pen daily, how many square feet do you think each bird would need to feel comfortable?
     
  4. airmom1c05

    airmom1c05 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    You might try what I'm trying: I use deep litter in my run! I have a Wal-Mart plastic pail and a child's hoe. Every day I remove the droppings from the coop and run and deposit them in the compost pile. I know I miss some of the smaller bird droppings, but for the most part, I keep it mostly poop free. I also use food grade DE in the coop and run to keep flies and parasites down. It also dries the droppings really well. I only have 9 chickens (so far.... [​IMG], and my run is 8 x 20 something (if I include the space under the coop which I don't clean daily). Also, my flock free ranges most days for a couple of hours at various times of the day when I can watch them....(red-tailed hawks are in my area). Best wishes with whatever you decide. [​IMG]
     
  5. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    What is the particular reason for wanting to prevent them "totally denuding and poisoning the soil"? That may sound like a stupid question for me to ask [​IMG] but actually the answer is not obvious to me, and I'm asking because IMHO your chickens AND YOU will probably be much happier with a fixed run than if they live in a tractor.

    The thing with a tractor is that you are committed to moving it frequently unless you want to be leaving a string of bare pooey spots that will take some while to regrow; and it is hard to give chickens as much room in a tractor as they could have in a run, especially if you have more than like 3 chickens.

    Mind, I *have* a tractor myself, I'm not anti-tractor... BUT, in order to leave only mildly-chewed-up spots on the lawn it has to be moved daily or at absolute most every other day, and this tractor is 4x7 (*plus* a 4x2.5' "upstairs") with only TWO chickens in it. The biggest you can make a wood-framed tractor is something like 10x12 (and that will be rather unstable and not at all predator-proof - the biggest you can make one really predator-proof is probably closer to 4x8 or not much longer than that). Hoop style tractors can be a little larger, but are harder to predator-proof, not good for a windy site, and require really really flat ground to predator-proof at all. Whereas you can make a run whatever size you like.

    Totally denuding the soil happens extremely fast around chickens, period [​IMG] Compacting and 'poisoning' the soil happen slower. They are however correctible if you really care -- you can go into a permanent run and till and lime, or even remove the top layer of soil altogether and toss it in the compost pile where Very Good Things will happen, and replace it with new soil or with sand or roadbase (sand-dirt-gravel mix). Nothing the chickens do to the soil will be permanent and unfixable.

    Just a thought,

    Pat
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2008
  6. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

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    Personally I confess to liking the way calee thinks. Pat is right in that chickens do best when they are in a controlled environment
    Well, that is to say they serve us best when kept that way.
    And chickens don't need a lot of fuss on the part of the keeper - they seem to do just fine without it, rather - and this includes the attention required to scoop, rake and in other ways move poop around. Far bettter is it to have a place large enough to handle their waste, where that isn't needed.

    But for most people, the reality of animals is about waste management. This is especially so for chickens reared in confinement. WE simply cannot afford to allow them the space they REALLY need, so we have to deal with their waste. Many inventive schemes have been designed for this, most outdoor ones coming down to layering organic material on the ground in an enclosure to absorb the droppings until such time as it can be removed and replaced.

    Somewhere between 100 sq ft of luscious green grass per bird and the small backyard enclosure is where most people find themselves. Regardless, the filth resulting from chicken droppings will always be a battle. Better to enlist the aid of the soil itself to help you, if you can.

    Calee, a way to deal with the hawks is called range enclosures or shelters. Hawks don't saunter up with a "How do you do?" to grab your birds. Rather, they fly in at a low angle of attack to smash their prey on the wing. Ideally you would ring your chicken enclosure with wire, netting or other impediment to prevent this attack run at the outset. When that isn't possible, you stop it at the end point of the run with shelters.

    These are simple structures you place in the enclosure where chickens are to be kept, and into which they can retreat during the heat of the day and to escape flying predators like hawks. They can be anything from tepees of brush wood and shrubs planted in the raptors flight path(s), to elaborate structures of wood and wire.
    The choice is yours.

    Chickens in-flock keep a close watch on the sky and are alert to aerial attack, but there is no guarantee that these shelters will eliminate all aerial predation; only top cover netting can do that. There is bound to be some "chicken dummy" who wanders off too far and gets nailed, or is slow to run inside.

    But if you'll recall that chickens are descended from gallinaceous jungle fowl and NOT open range birds, then these shelters can go a long way to giving them the cover they need and spare yourself a lot of cost and effort in the bargain. They certainly are a step in the right direction and better than nothing.
     
  7. calee

    calee Out Of The Brooder

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    What is the particular reason for wanting to prevent them "totally denuding and poisoning the soil"?

    When we started thinking of getting a few chickens for fresh eggs, we knew we didn't want to muck out a coop & yard daily or weekly. We didn't want a pronounced coop smell, and we didn't want the birds so crazy bored in a bare dirt pen that they'd start pecking themselves during the winter when we won't be home before dark to let them run around for a bit.

    Originally, we planned on having 3 chickens in a tractor and moving them over just a little bit every day, so that eventually, they would have moved from one side of our 50' x 150' fenced-in yard to other. If we didn't have problems with predators, we thought we might move them outside of the fence to the meadow area next to the trees at the back of our property before starting all over again.

    The soil here is clay and slightly uneven. We've been wanting to amend it and even it out slightly, so the idea we had was to use the chickens to till & fertilize it for a day, then move them. We figured that we'd put a little pile of DE/peat moss/sand/topsoil in the tractor run for them to dust bathe in, and at the end of each week, we'd lightly rake over the top of the areas they had worked to smooth it out.

    This way, we'd have about a dozen fresh eggs per week from chickens with access to fresh greens (we are lucky to have lots of chickweed, dandelions, clover, & burdock in our "lawn") that are supposed to make for extra delicious & nutritious eggs, and they'd have also done the work of tilling in some amendments for us.

    Then we found y'all and caught chicken fever. [​IMG]

    So now we're trying to figure out how many chickens (up to 12) we can keep without the chickens stripping their regular areas bare. A bare run means that we would have to go forage for them... which is a lot less fun for all of us.

    We've thought about just keeping a few flocks in different tractors, but it seemed like keeping all of them together would mean more socializing & regular running around space for them and less work for us. So we're considering more chickens with a permanent coop & run IF we can figure out a way to keep the smell down and the run healthy enough to support a lot of green.​
     
  8. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Well sure, me too, except that it is not possible for most people (depends on your site) to do that AND give really effective predator protection. And it sounded to me like effective predator protection was important?

    Pat
     
  9. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Quote:Well, there is no reason for a run to be a boring bare dirt pen. You can chuck whatever you weed out of your garden in there and they will have a ball scratching through it, pretty much like they do out on your lawn when they're loose. Bugs, tasty plant bits, etc. You can also put in stuff for them to get up on, and rearrange or switch it out periodically to give them Something To Think About.

    The run won't smell particularly if you keep it dry and well-drained.

    Originally, we planned on having 3 chickens in a tractor and moving them over just a little bit every day, so that eventually, they would have moved from one side of our 50' x 150' fenced-in yard to other.

    That seems like a reasonable plan, as long as you only want 3 chickens and don't mind them not having a lot of room to move around. I've got my 2-chicken tractor going around my front yard right now, trying to dethatch and lightly fertilize the grass. I would also like to think I'm discouraging some of the weeds that the chickens like, but dunno whether the bare soil they expose will just cause more weed seeds to sprout - have to wait and see.

    If your soil is real clayey (mine is), they're not going to till the amendments in much (not more than the top half-inch or so) -- but that is not necessarily an issue, since earthworms etc will do the job for you over time anyhow [​IMG]

    Then we found y'all and caught chicken fever. [​IMG]

    Me too... this is why I now have several large coop-style pens inside an outbuilding, with fixed runs [​IMG]

    So now we're trying to figure out how many chickens (up to 12) we can keep without the chickens stripping their regular areas bare.

    Realize that even if you give chickens full access to your 50x150 yard, there WILL be bare spots (cratered bare spots in particular!) in their favorite spots. Even elderoo's figures on how much land can support how many chickens do not involve all the area getting equally, uh, chickened... some spots will get stomped and scratched real good, others will be more ignored. This is just sort of how chickens are. Like horses (who are rather patchy grazers) only worse [​IMG] If that is ok with you in your yard, great - but in case a homogeneous-looking yard is important to you, it's good to know what you're getting into.

    A bare run means that we would have to go forage for them... which is a lot less fun for all of us.

    That is a good point, I had not thought about that. I produce enough 'weedings' to keep chickens pretty happy, but if you would be doing that JUST for the chickens and for no other reason, then yes that would be a bit of extra work. OTOH so would moving all them tractors around [​IMG]

    So we're considering more chickens with a permanent coop & run IF we can figure out a way to keep the smell down and the run healthy enough to support a lot of green.

    Dry and well-drained takes care of smell. A lot of green is probably not realistic in a run, however. I suppose you could make 2 runs, one for all-the-time access and another to let them into for a few hrs per day -- but I'm not sure that's what you're looking for.

    Good luck and have fun,

    Pat​
     
  10. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

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    Well sure, me too, except that it is not possible for most people (depends on your site) to do that AND give really effective predator protection. And it sounded to me like effective predator protection was important?

    Yeah, I addressed that, too. Most people dont have acres and acres of pred-proof chicken land. But you'd likely agree that many have MORE chickens that they should on the land they do have.

    I have a small, urban backyard. I have added a 40 x 40 pen to it for chickens. If you go with the 500/acre concept, that means I can have 18.36 and not tax the soil. I keep less, more like 10. I occasionally get rid of them, too, so the soil can rest. I dont have to manage poo at all this way.

    That really is the crux of the issue - overcrowding. Sure, you can do a lot of things and you give good advice on managing chickens in confinement. It is also safe to say there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. For most backyarders, keeping fewer birds would likely serve better than shoehorning in as many as possible, don't you agree?.​
     

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