Ideal Flock Size?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by HiddenHills, May 2, 2017.

  1. HiddenHills

    HiddenHills Just Hatched

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    Hi all,

    Looking fr some guidance from anyone who has used chickens as a means of vector control on horse farms. We care for 5 horses on our 5 acres and I'm starting an experiment in the ideal number of chickens to control pests that are usually associated with horses/manure. Currently I've got 2 hens free ranging, 8 pullets in the "chicken mansion" learning where home is before we set them out to free range, and 9 more in the brooder. We live in Northern California. Horses all live full time in pasture with run in sheds. Has anyone found the right balance between enough to help with manure management but not too many that they will degrade the pasture quality?

    I'm anticipating losses due to predators (hawks) and although I don't like it, have come to terms with it.

    Thanks for your thoughts in advance!
     
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Lots of Chickens Premium Member

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    Chickens don't degrade the pasture unless it densely stocked. We mow our pasture 2-3 Times during the summer to keep it lower. If your horses are cropping your pasture short you have too many horses on it. It's recommended 3 acres per horse.

    You will still get flies with chickens, just not as many. You can keep a lot of chickens on 5 acres, but you will need a large building to house them and the chicken poop will attract it's own flies. I would start with about 25 and see how it goes. More chickens become more work.
     
  3. HiddenHills

    HiddenHills Just Hatched

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    Thanks for your reply. Seems like we are on track then, should have about 20 once everyone has been moved outside. We converted a 12x12 run in shed that's not suitable for the horses as the chicken coop. Will they range all over the 5 acres? I've also heard chickens like to be within line of sight of "home"- have you found any validity to this? The two that are out and about now certainly seem to like to stay in the same area.. they hang out near one of our older boarder horses picking up alfalfa and senior feed bits. Not a bad life!
     
  4. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Lots of Chickens Premium Member

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    Having roosters can help with them ranging farther as well as there being places to hide. Mine follow the tree line along our fence, and we also have 2 old trucks they hang out under.

    My youngest batch from last year range very far from the shed and don't seem to care about sight lines, but there's always trees or shrubs nearby for cover.

    My older birds range within sight of the shed, but in the open areas, as to see predators coming, I think. Mine go approximately 300-400 feet away from the shed at their furthest.

    My chickens get right under foot of my donkeys, I currently have no horses anymore, and they do a great job of clean up, and the donkeys provide protection from many predators. My horse used to be a bit more skiddish about flying chickens, but she was getting old and probably losing her sight.

    If you provide some cover, your birds will range a bit farther. In the summer our hay wagon gets parked out there as well for additional coverage, as well as shade, when we aren't using it.

    Different breeds will range farther than others in my experiences, lighter breeds like andalusian will range farther than most buff Orpingtons, as well as younger birds will go out further. Another factor can be if any predators have sighted. Mine will always stick close to shed than, and it can a long time for them to venture out again. So the safer they feel the farther they will go.
     
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  5. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Have you looked into Black Soldier Flies to deal with the horse manure? They excel at this type of thing and as an added bonus, are exceptional food for chickens.

    As for how far chickens roam... I agree that different breeds behave differently in this. My cochins stay close to home, but the rest of my birds range about 350 ft from home. Line of sight and coverage don't appear to be an issue.
     
  6. HiddenHills

    HiddenHills Just Hatched

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    I've looked into the fly predators that you release monthly. My concern was that I'd be buying expensive bugs for the chickens! Do you find that your chickens eat too many of the fly predators for them to be effective?

    Also, I'm toying with the idea of relocating my manure pile (gets off hauled occasionally when too big) so that it's closer to chicken coop. Will the chickens "process" some of the manure pile?
     
  7. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Lots of Chickens Premium Member

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    My chickens work any manure piles looking for bugs, which helps break it down faster. They also work the flat areas like around hay feeders, and by summers end everything is broken down into compost. We take our big pile out by the woods so I don't know how fast that would break down. My husband won't leave it, or pile it closer, so I can't experiment.
     
  8. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

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    The last time I went to the Mennonite area of Tennessee I had the pleasure to wait on my harness maker while he waited on one of his neighbors. This neighbors horse and buggy was picketed under a hack-berry tree. From my perch on the harness makers back porch I had a good view of the neither region of the horse. Shortly the horse deposited a large pile of green horse biscuits in the harness maker's grass. The harness makers chickens went berserk.

    In no time they had reduced the pile of horse manure to pieces no bigger than a kidney bean, and had spread it over at least a 150 square foot area.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2017
  9. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Black Soldier Flies aren't predators. They are harmless to people, animals, and other insects. They are easy to obtain with a simple bin set-up with food scraps. If you live in a cooler climate where they are not abundant, you can buy the larvae online for about $20 for 1000 or so, including shipping. There's an overview of the insect here: http://blacksoldierflyblog.com/bsf-basics/ but any google search will return a bunch of websites that offer even more information. Building a bin to house them in can be as simple as a rubbermaid tote with a scrap piece of lumber for a ramp, or it can be very elaborate. YouTube has a lot of videos showing different designs. One of the nice features of many of the bins is that they can be used as 'auto-feeders' for chickens. Of course, using BSF to process horse manure means you'd have to bring the manure to the bin and that may be more work than you are looking at doing. In any case, it's worth a look to see if it would work for you.

    That said, I have to agree with others here...my chickens love to dig in horse poop. They make quick work of a pile.
     
  10. Eckielady

    Eckielady Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm also in Tennessee and was curious where this Mennonite area is located? We had an Amish community next to us a few years ago when we lived in Missouri. I still miss their nurseries and bakery. Keep hoping to find another area like that here.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2017

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