rotating meat chickens as a garden "crop"

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by TJs chicklets, Nov 24, 2016.

  1. TJs chicklets

    TJs chicklets Out Of The Brooder

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    Looking for ideas/tips/advice

    For my veggies, I currently have an area that is 6 strips of garden that are each 4x20 feet, with a lawnmower width of grass between them. I do a lasagna style garden, more or less (in that they've never been dug, and I regularly dump layers of whatever I have- leaves, seaweed, compost, wood chips, whatever comes out of the coop/run etc). Each year, I rotate the crops down one strip. I've had this running for the 2 years we've been living here, and am enchanted with this method - except for the fact that I positioned my garden at the very top of a steep hill :/ So, as I was lugging wheelbarrow load after load of stuff up the hill I was cursing not just having the chickens by the garden... When it occurred to me that I've been considering meat chickens, and what if I didn't have to move their manure or a tractor around at all?

    So, I'm thinking, what if I made another strip of garden (or maybe 2) and put the meat chickens in it? I would rotate them to a new strip each year, and obviously not grow any plants in that strip that year, giving that strip of garden a fallow refreshing year. If I did 2 rows of chickens, I'd put them on strips 1&5, then 2&6 the following year, etc.

    So, my questions: if I did a 4x20 tractor style area (which includes both coop and run) how many meat chickens do you think would be able to live happily in there, given that I would not move the tractor or really want to clean it out, as the manure is where I want it- I would, however, throw in lots of straw, leaves etc and rake around the worst of the mess to keep it as clean as possible. I'm not sure if I want Cornish cross or our local version of a freedom ranger type meat bird- I will probably do some of each the first year to decide. Ate a few australorpes this year, not as impressed as I hoped to be :)

    Would you build up the strip of garden area this year, layered style, or just let them start on the grass strip next year? I have enough materials here it wouldn't be a big deal, other than another dozen or so trips UP the hill (haven't gone to the gym once since I moved here :lol: )

    Do you think I could do 2 batches on the same garden strip in a year, or would it need time to mellow in between for the health of the second batch?

    Anything I'm missing?
     
  2. Trish1974

    Trish1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    That is a great plan you have! I don't know how many chickens you could sustain with that method - but I'm sure a more seasoned member who is good at chicken math will be along to answer that for you. I would go ahead and make new strips for them this year. That way they can go through it and clean out the weed seeds and bugs for you and will give the manure a chance to break down in the soil for next year.

    By "batches" do you mean chickens or planting that area with vegetables twice? If you mean chickens I think you could run two sets of flocks through there IF the weather is allowing growth of grass and weeds and they aren't struggling to find food. If you mean planting it twice in the same year, no, I would not do that.

    I love gardening with chickens! I have a 4x8 portable tractor/pen I put my girls in to take them out in the garden and put them to work exactly where I need them. Here is a recent thread you may enjoy: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1141520/topic-of-the-week-gardening-with-chickens
     
  3. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

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    Nice plan. You might want to run a soil test after your first year on that new strip to see if you are getting too much nutrient build up. I would not bother to work on making a lasagna on that strip this season. Simply start them on the lawn in the spring, and give them hay, straw, garden debris when they've denuded the strip. Keep tossing on more bedding, and you really shouldn't need to do any "cleaning". Studies have shown that raising successive batches of chicks on old bedding left behind by the previous batch (as long as you've not had disease issues) do better and have a better feed conversion rate than the previous group. This is b/c the used litter has a much higher concentration of beneficial bacteria and fungi to "seed" the guts of the following broods. Depending on how soon you start that first brood and what your season looks like, you might be able to get 2 batches of meaties. Keep in mind: CXR = around 8 weeks start to process. Rangers = around 12 weeks to process. So, if you did a bit of overlap, even with Rangers, starting the second batch in a large brooder on heat as the first batch is finishing up, you should do fine. Check out heating pad brooding.

    Do you have any option to free range? Do you have extra space around your garden strips that you could use? You will have to play with the numbers. While each set up is different, an often cited minimum recommendation for a back yard flock is 4 s.f. in coop and 10 s.f. in run per bird. With your plan, if you allowed a total of 14 s.f./bird you would be maxed out at 6 birds on that space. IMO, it's more of a manure accumulation issue for meaties on that space than it is an actual "space or crowding" issue.

    You might get a charge out of this dude. He makes me smile all the way to my toes when ever I watch him.

    http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/clever-tunnel-system-makes-chickens-do-the-gardening-video.html
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. TJs chicklets

    TJs chicklets Out Of The Brooder

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    Mar 3, 2015
    Ontario, Canada


    Good thought on the soil test. It's one of those things I know I should start doing. Growing up, we always had a big veggie garden, but the plan was to run a rototiller through in the spring, throw in some seeds and hope for the best. My parents simply accepted that some things wouldn't grow, and stopped planting them:/ This is the first house that I've really had room to play, so I'm learning. I'm in south eastern Ontario- between Toronto and Ottawa- frost free dates from about mid-late May to some time in September, so I probably could squeeze in two batches weather wise. I did the heating pad on my chicks this spring, and am converted.

    In terms of free ranging, I have a hawk that circles all the time, and the neighbours 5 dogs that want to eat my chickens, etc. so I don't let my layers out much. I do have portable pens that I use (I can cover 1/4-1 whole garden strip with them, and let them work it, or I also put them on the lawn- I have 5 acres, about 1.5 clear (rest is woods and a massive pond.) So I could put the meat chickens out a bit, but not all the time.

    I'm thinking I'll try 10 meat chickens, see how that goes (5 of each).

    Btw, I have seen that video before, but loved watching it again. I'd like to be him when I grow up! Having said that, I've also read many or your posts, and find what you do quite inspiring as well, so I was pretty tickled when you replied :D
     
  5. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

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    Thank you. You might look into using cattle panels to make a nice big tractor if you have the room, and flat space to work with. they can be heavy, but are an easy construct, and can be moved fairly easy by adding some tires. Look for used lawnmower wheels from the dump or cast off lawnmowers to do it on the cheap, and here, in US, Tractor Supply has real nice ones for less than $10/ea. Or you can go even cheaper, and use some lengths of PVC as rollers. You'd have to be careful in that case to not flatten any birds, as you roll your tractor!!!
     
  6. MasAhora

    MasAhora Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I love this information!!!!!

    ETA: I have a very hot, wet, humid climate in the summer. So I removed and replenished the pen bedding regularly (short grass cuttings) once my meaties wore out the grass and it got too poopy (not cornish x so they were slower growing). I never thought of beneficial bacteria and fungi, something I can consider next spring when I try my second batch of meaties.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  7. Arielle

    Arielle Chicken Obsessed

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    Suggestion.. if not already suggested, include grazing on the strips for greens. Not permenant access as they will destroy the grasses. Good as supplement.

    As the broilers age, they don't move much when their size is a big round bowling ball. I do like to keep a few til that size which is about 12 weeks old.

    Love your idea---- you have me thinking!!!!!
     

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