How much pasture per chicken?

Meddipa

Chirping
Jan 10, 2019
17
34
54
Michigan
About how much pasture would you need per chicken to allow them to graze full time without destroying the vegetation completely? We are purchasing several acres and so we will have plenty of space for the chickens at our new homestead, however for a few reasons we can't allow them to fully free range without any fencing. I plan to build them a coop and run, and then allow them pretty much free access to a large fenced in pasture which we will till up and plant with hardy perennial cover crops that fit our region. I know that a rotating pasture is they best way to keep pasture healthy, but just for simplicity if I can avoid that I'd like to. So is there a general rule of thumb on how much space a chicken needs to have to not scratch it all to dirt? For example how many chickens could I keep on maybe a half or quarter acre pasture before the land can't maintain itself?
 

azygous

Enabler
11 Years
Dec 11, 2009
24,626
36,284
1,122
Colorado Rockies
There are many other factors involved such as type of cover crops, climate, and level of activity, not just number of chickens.

Cover crops that include native plants with sturdy, deep root systems will survive the activity of chickens far better than sod grasses and annuals. A warm, wet, humid climate is more conducive to your plan to free range as a main source of food for the flock, and individual behavior will play a role, as well since some breeds are much more intent on foraging than others.

The best plan is to plan on supplementing the flock nutritional needs with a commercial feed, planting sturdy perennials, and being prepared to block off over-grazed pastures as needed.
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,851
21,993
907
Southeast Louisiana
They probably won't have a decent answer but you might get lucky, I'd call the county extension agent and see if they can put you in touch with someone that maybe can help. This is dependent on a lot of local conditions such as weather and type of soil, plus the answer will change by season. They may have some suggestions on the cover crops though you might be better off with the native cover as it is already established. Some people post a certain square feet per bird number on this forum, but that is for their specific local conditions. Those numbers can vary tremendously.

In Arkansas I had an area about 45' x 60' inside electric netting for them to forage on. Over winter I might have one rooster and 6 to 8 hens, but in the heat of summer that number could grow to over 50, mostly younger birds reaching butcher age. When the weather broke in spring and green stuff started to sprout I'd leave them locked in a 12' x 32' main run for a week and a half or so to let the green stuff get a start, then turn them loose. The 12 x 32 run stayed bare but the netting area stayed green all summer, unless we had a ridiculous drought. Then I'd have to water.

Chickens prefer eating certain plants over others. Just because it as green doesn't mean they had a lot of good forage. They'd eat the good stuff and let the bad stuff grow. I'd have to mow it three or four times a year to keep the bad stuff from crowding out the good stuff. I left them on the netting area all winter and they did some damage from their scratching and eating dead vegetation. It was pretty bare by spring but grew back pretty well.

They did keep some areas scratched and bare. I had several fruit and nut trees in that netting area. They used the shade from a couple of those as a place to dig holes for dust bathing. The area right next to the coop and main run had some bare spots. Dad totally free ranged a flock when I was a kid. Even with no fences expect some bare spots, especially in shade near the coop.

I see Azygous posted while I was typing. I agree. But instead of how many can I squeeze in a certain area, think more of how many do I want and then figure out how much room you can reasonable give them in the coop, run, and forage area. Err on the side of more room than the minimum for each. Then it is going to be trial and error. Work out the system that works for you.
 

DobieLover

Easily distracted by chickens
Premium Feather Member
Jul 23, 2018
33,271
270,719
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NY Southern Tier
My Coop
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About how much pasture would you need per chicken to allow them to graze full time without destroying the vegetation completely? We are purchasing several acres and so we will have plenty of space for the chickens at our new homestead, however for a few reasons we can't allow them to fully free range without any fencing. I plan to build them a coop and run, and then allow them pretty much free access to a large fenced in pasture which we will till up and plant with hardy perennial cover crops that fit our region. I know that a rotating pasture is they best way to keep pasture healthy, but just for simplicity if I can avoid that I'd like to. So is there a general rule of thumb on how much space a chicken needs to have to not scratch it all to dirt? For example how many chickens could I keep on maybe a half or quarter acre pasture before the land can't maintain itself?
I have 29 in about a 1/3 acre pen.
IMG_20190920_164833237.jpg
IMG_20190725_145917320_HDR.jpg

I think it could handle at least a dozen or so more before starting to show suffering of grass growth.
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
11 Years
Nov 12, 2009
9,282
12,467
636
western South Dakota
It is not going to be even either unless you move them. They will have their favorite places, and places they don't like. When I let mine out, they can go anywhere they want to go for miles, but they don't. They tend to stay pretty close to the coop, and where they are, they scratch.

Michigan is north of SD, and really I have found that foraging offers little feed value most of the year. June and July are my best months, insects are coming out in full force. While in August, there are a lot of insects, they seem to be less protein at that adult stage in their life. My chickens return to the feed bowl.

Winter, and deep snow also will really deter this.

Mrs K
 

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