Sq Ft of "Run" per Chicken, to be near-free-ranging

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by davemonkey, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Okay, so I know hypotheticals are a poor measure for reality...but as I"m still in the pre-design designing stage of my chicken experience...I'm looking for a best guess on how many sq ft per bird I'd be looking at if my goal is to be near-free-range to free-range (feeding minimal amounts of bird feed). I'm kinda guessing at 150 sq ft per adult laying-hen.

    Can anyone chime in who has a flock that they only have to minimally feed...how many chickens and how large an area they range within?

    Thanks,
    Dave
     
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    Way more. Spring/Early Summer or the tropics aside, chickens will wipe out bigger areas than that.
    The EU recommends one hen per 50 square feet to be considered free range but you are talking about the birds feeding themselves. That requires a huge amount of pristine pasture in mild climate.
    Chickens will first consume most of the insects, invertebrates and small vertibrates. Then they'll eat most of the seed. All the while nibbling at the greenery. Eventually they'll dig up or eat all the palatable herbaceous growth. The result with 150 sq. ft. per bird is a barren moonscape.
    The best plan for small space is to rotate pasture and let the others recover.
     
  3. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Ooh...kinda like prescribed grazing for cattle! Probably doable...but not ideal with chickens. Let's assume I have endless space. If I wanted the birds to be efficient feeders...only taking feed from me in minimal amounts...about how much space would the birds need. If it helps, I'll say the plan is for 6 laying hens, with room to add another and a possible rooster in the future. (My goal is to decide how much yard to dedicate specifically to the chickens...and we can assume I have ample available, hypothetically....warm climate, coastal area, year-round greenery, yada-yada-yada.))
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2012
  4. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm BACK! Okay, it's been a very long while and I have finally begun building a coop. The coop is 8x9' and 8' tall (so I can walk into it) but more on that later. Back to management. My backyard space that I can devote is roughly 25,000 sq.ft. and is fenced. Now that the coop is nearly complete (need to just put on the "skin"), I am prepping to cross fence. What I'll have is 10,000 sq.ft. for free-ranging and I plan on having a dozen birds. That comes to about 833 sq ft each.

    But here's another thing...in my part of the world, the typical acre can support 1/3 of an Animal Unit (3 ac per 1,000 lb "AU"). Roughly that means that I can support 200 lbs in my whole back yard...100 lbs on each side of what will fenced.

    So, if my goal is to not have to mow much, I figure I can support about 12 birds and 1 pygmy goat on the back side, OR 16 birds and 3-4 pygmy goats overall (rotating them between the "fields"). With the size of my coop, I don't think I could go over 16 chickens (and realistically won't go over 12) because I need the freedom to leave them cooped for a weekend now and then.

    Does that sound about right? My brother has got a whole heard of birds right now (30+) and he feeds very little, and they have barely made a dent in his yard area...though I think he runs them on a couple acres or more...however far they are willing to venture form the coop.
     
  5. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    You might be on the right track. Experience in your environs will be the answer.
    The area right around the chicken door is what gets wiped out first.
    In some of my coops I have multiple doors so they have to exit in new space so I can intensively plant that area.
    By the way, chickens don't like grass much so broadleaf things like buckwheat, alfalfa, clover, radish, turnip, beet etc. [for my area] works well. Your climate might require different plants.
    Keep in mind that chickens only get a small amount of sustenance from greens. Most comes from seeds and animal/protein sources. One of the main reasons they wipe out vegetation is while scratching for bugs and seeds.
    A fertile heavily vegetated area in a warmer climate may be able to provide the insects they need for protein.
    Around here that is only half the year or less.
     
  6. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sounds like you're going about this intentionally and with research. I'm fascinated to hear more, especially the critical missing detail of your climate.

    In my part of the world we experience full grazing opportunity from about May thru Oct. Partial grazing (inadequate foliage, limited bug supply) for an additional 2-3 months on either side of summer. And, full winter (no grazing) for at least 2 months.

    I have a flock of one rooster and from 4 to 7 hens. Each summer I allow one clutch of 3-10 chicks to hatch, keeping the best and selling the rest. All birds are full size. They have about 3/4 of an acre to range on, though that is limited down to 1/2 an acre in spring/fall when the garden has been just planted or is being harvested.

    Their consumption of purchased feed never goes down to zero in summer but it nearly does. Example: they go through a 50 lb bag every 2 weeks in deep winter but it takes about 4-5 weeks to go through that same amount in summer.

    There are several things you can do to provide more natural feeding sites for your flock.
    1. lay down boards or tarps on bare ground for a week or so; when you lift the boards call your flock for the smorgasboard of bugs that will be available. You can also place a bale of hay on the ground for a more long-term situation--several months later that patch will be the most fertile area around.

    2. Intentionally grow/harvest meal worms or plain old earthworms. I have a tub (sunk in the ground, with drainage holes in the bottom) that I initially filled with horse manure and about 20 earthworms I happened across while gardening. Every few months I scoop out half the tub to harvest the worm castings for my garden, let the flock find earthworms to eat, refill with manure and leave the remaining worms to repopulate the tub and convert the manure for me. Some people run multiple tubs at a time to provide protein on a more reliable scale throughout the winter.

    3. Sprout wheat or rye seed. Super easy to do, requires a small space and little work if you set it up right, provides a good quality food source for pennies (research using the term 'fodder' to learn more).

    Good luck! Would love to hear more about your process.
     
  7. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for the feedabck, ChickenCanoe and Daisy8s! I guess I need to update my profile so folks can see where I'm at.

    I'm in southeastern Texas, just about 30 miles from the Gulf Coast. (If you can find Houston, TX on a map, I'm 1-hr East of there.) Our "growing season" is 11 months...winters being very mild with about a 2-4week window with freezing temps (at night). Avg. rainfall in the area is 40-55 inches per year.

    My yard is a mix-n-match of various forbs, grasses and grass-like plants. It used to be a forested area about 20 years ago, and then a series of storms + people living here prior cut down alot of trees, turned it into mostly mixed vegetation with a few large trees. We let the back grow up quite a bit before mowing, so there is always something seeding out and lots of bugs that can pick their favorite variety of plants to infest.

    The plants you mentioned, ChickenCanoe, are considered winter annuals here...used in organic gardens as a winter cover-crop (or winter crop in the case of turnips/beets). But I think planting those in fall would be a good way to treat the chickens.

    Daisy8s, that's funny you should mention laying something down to bring the bugs up. As I finished up the coop frame, I picked up the random bits of scrap wood from off teh ground and there were tons of bugs under it. I have an old shelving unit (rotted and tattered) that I can leave in place for this purpose...that's a great idea. There are also a couple old tree stumps that are beginning to rot out as well that should prove bountiful. I do also have some wildrye and wild oats (among various other large seeded plants, like elderberry and blackberry, gammagrass) around the house...mostly outside the fenced yard...that I can harvest.
     
  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    If this works, I would be quite interested in the egg production part. I think your birds might be stressed, living only on free range, and therefore produce less eggs and have shorter life spans. But I might be wrong. Egg production will be the first sign that there nutritional needs are not being met, if it is considerably lower than the average for the breed, you might need more feed.

    Another point is that there is a lot of natural variance from year to year. Last three years, we have had terrible plagues of grasshoppers, my baby chicks were eating grasshoppers before they were a week old. My feed consumption dropped dramatically. This year we had a very wet, very cold, very late summer warm up. We hardly have any bugs at all, except for flies. We have yet to be over 100. So what I am saying is, some years you might get by without any supplement, and other years you might have to add more.

    However, this does remind me of an old story that I was told as a girl. There was this man, who decided that hay was costing too much for his horse, but he knew the horse was used to getting hay each day.... so he decided to reduce the bale by one strand of hay each day.,,,,,, the old man stopped talking, and I of course asked, "Did it work?" Well..... they don't know if it would or not, the horse died.

    [​IMG]Mrs K
     
  9. Daisy8s

    Daisy8s Chillin' With My Peeps

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    That'd be great if you could harvest your own rye and oat seeds to sprout into fodder. It's ridiculously easy to do. At one point last winter I was so lazy, and the birds were eating it so fast, that I laid three flats in the spare bathroom bathtub, watered them twice a day, and then took the whole flat out to the coop for them to munch on when it was ready. I didn't even bother with sunlight. At that point I had 8 birds and it would take them 4-5 days to eat a flat of wheat sprouts/grass. They definitely liked the seeds best. The grass was okay but not what they were targeting.

    I would start a new flat every week so I always had one in some stage of growth. The whole process can be as little as 2 days or as long as 7 depending on if you want to feed just sprouts or go all the way to grass.

    I bought a 50 lb bag of wheat seed (plain old stuff from the local mill, nothing fancy) for $14.00. Did all the math and figured it was costing me about 5 cents per flat. FIVE CENTS for 4-5 days of supplemental feed (they still had their layer crumble available). Can't get much cheaper than that.
     
  10. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I FINALLY finished the coop. These pics are not to show it off (not much to look at...and a bit hard on the eyes), but to give an idea of what my yard looks like. The trees you see are Pecan, and the fenced in yard is about 0.6 ac, which will be split in half (230 x 104'). Grass is just a varied mix and part of the yard has a hydric soil (in the edges of a semi-annual wetland), while other parts are high and dry. The coop rests on a high spot, while the Pecans are at the edges, and then sedges/etc... in the lows. The other pic is up toward the house where my shed is. I've got a few stumps like this, and this particular one has Gammagrass recently planted around it.

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