Planting forage for free-range poultry

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by crperdue, Nov 7, 2008.

  1. crperdue

    crperdue Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Does anyone have any experience with planting forage crops for your free rangers? I have about 10 acres that I'm renting starting in January. It's currently growing soybeans, but next year I'd like to plant myself a large garden and use the rest as forage.

    I've seen forage mixtures for deer and turkey that hunters use. They usually have clover, rape, alfalfa, and chickory. Sometimes buckwheat or oats.

    Would I be better of just using one of these mixtures or just buying it seperate from the seed store and doing different sections with different crops?

    Does anyone have any experince with somthing like this?
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2008
  2. greyfields

    greyfields Overrun With Chickens

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    small grains and field peas will be a treat for them. If allowed to ripen the birds will harvest the crop themselves. My chickens liked field peas more than anything, which of course are also leguminous.

    The other two good options are buckwheat and rye grain. Both are effective at supressing weed growth, which you'll need a lot of if you're turning the pasture over for the first time.
     
  3. RoyalHillsLLC

    RoyalHillsLLC Chillin' With My Peeps

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    depends on the birds. Grass does good for some, peas, beans, etc for others. geese need short, well-maintained grass. Chickens eat limited amounts of grass, mainly eat the bugs in them. I would utilize the fields for something you like, like garden vegetables, and let the chickens have the bugs.
     
  4. WoodlandWoman

    WoodlandWoman Overrun With Chickens

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    I would also grow some leafy greens for your chickens. Spinach and kale have commonly been grown for chickens. Kale is extremely cold tolerant at the end of the year. There are a lot of different types of greens that you can grow.

    I like chard, because it takes the hot summers here, as well as the cold. It doesn't bolt like spinach. It's also pretty, is very tasty and the chickens love it. It's one of their favorites. For your own, you can harvest by cutting the outer leaves and letting the rest of the plant continue to grow. The chickens just eat the whole thing to the ground. [​IMG]

    I'd also plant some extra fruits and veggies for the chickens. They seem to like just about everything. A cherry tomato makes a great game of chicken football! Are you planning to fence the chickens out of your part of the garden? Or just planting a hundred times more than you need? Chickens can be savages in the garden...
     
  5. crperdue

    crperdue Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm trying to get everything planning out and ready for spring.

    I've got a system designed where I use 110' of the 7' high plastice deer netting strung up on tall posts made from rebarb. I plan to plant about a dozen or so forage plots that I can surround with these temporary fences. They would be about 950 square ft each so I'm thinking it could handle a good size flock of chickens or a few turkeys.

    I've made a prototype of the mobile coop I have in mind. My current flock of australorps seem to like it. Its a 4x8 frame with a sheet of OSB on each side leaning in to make a A frame. I put pair of roosts down the center 12" apart. I put chicken wire under the entire bottom so they can't get into their own droppings. I plan to close the ends, cut a small door at one end and put some nest boxes in the other. It's not cold enough to need that yet and they are still a bit young to start laying so I'm not in a hurry.

    The big plan is to pull this coop into the forage plot and erect the temporary fence around it. I might mount a solar fence charger on the coop and place a strand of wire on the outside of the fence near the ground. But the only real predator problem I have is hawks so thats no help.

    We plan to have a large garden next year so I hope to have tons of scraps for them. I will use some of the suggestions above when planting the garden. Buckwheat and kale both sound like good ideas for the garden or for the forage plots.

    Here's a question: should I do each of my forage plots with a different crop (one clover, one buckwheat, etc.) or just make each one a mixture so they can pick what they want?
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  6. digitS'

    digitS' Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm unsure if you are thinking of some permanent forage or just going with annual crops.

    Ten acres is a good deal larger than most people's garden. Let's say the average family backyard garden is 1,000 square feet. Ten acres is 435,600 square feet. So, it is the size of over 400 family gardens.

    Back on the farm, I've planted fields larger than this, of course. But, that is using a tractor and drill. Cultivation and harvest was all mechanized.

    Seeding rates might be 100 pounds per acre for grain or field peas, 5 pounds per acre kale.

    Seeding rates for a permanent pasture mix might be about 30 pounds per acre. You may not be able to put your birds on it the first year or for many weeks the first year. But, it will be a quality forage and last for many years.

    How many birds are you thinking about?

    Steve
     
  7. crperdue

    crperdue Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I currently have a flock of 17 but will cull down to an even dozen by spring (australorp hens and dark cornish roosters). I would like to add a second flock of about 25 (delaware hens and new hampshire roosters) and possibly some turkeys (a half dozen maybe).

    I was thinking the circular plots would be permanent forage. Thats why I really want to get it right the first time! The rest of the land and the garden I could do whatever really. Maybe an alfalfa pasture on part?
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  8. scgamecock

    scgamecock Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 18, 2008
    Conway SC
    Has anybody ever just planted some winter rye grass on the backyard for the chickens to eat during winter?
     
  9. digitS'

    digitS' Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have planted Winter rye as a cover crop for the garden - gotta get it started early while it's still Summer for a real good stand in my neck of the woods.

    I planted a pasture mix around my house years ago rather than a lawn mix. There's not too much difference, mostly, it's just that lawn grasses tend to be very low-growing. The pasture mix was greatly appreciated by my chickens. I mowed it a little high but other than that - it was very nice for a country yard.

    Crperdue, let's say you are growing cereal grain and field peas. I'd plant them separately just because they haven't grown that well for me when planted together. You have 1 acre of grain and harvest 40 bushels. You also have 1/2 acre of peas and harvest 12 bushels off that ground. A bushel of either weighs 60 pounds so you have,

    2,400 pounds of grain and,
    720 pounds of peas

    That would be a total of about 3,000 pounds of feed in (maybe) about the right ratio for feed. You shouldn't feed the peas without heat treatment but there you go . . .

    Your 3,000 pounds of cereal grain and peas would feed 30 - 35 chickens (at .25 lb daily each) for 365 days.

    It would be hard to say what laying hens gain from a grass/legume pasture. Maybe a 30% reduction in their feed from pasturing is a reasonable number, part of the year. But, size of the pasture would depend on a lot of factors. That would be the "carrying capacity" of the pasture. I guess I could say an established irrigated hay field could produce 6,000 pounds of hay per acre. So, grain and pea acreage could be reduced by a third.

    I hope all this doesn't sound too convoluted. Yield would vary from place to place but 2 acres would probably be more than enuf for harvesting a year's feed for that number of chickens. IMO - It would be way more than enuf if the crops are only being used as forage for a few months each year.

    Steve
     

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