A 67% reduction in feed costs is possible when the laying hens follow in the wake of cows on pasture. While most of us don’t have maggot-filled cow pies to feed our flock, even a simple lawn can be enough to reduce your costs by 20% if you manage the pasture properly and in line with how God taught us to use our land and other resources responsibly and ethically correct.
If you live in suburbia, chicken tractors are probably your best bet for pasturing. Those of us with more space can branch out into rotational pastures around a permanent coop and give our chickens even more food (while keeping the hens’ feet dry and their production up over the winter months). In the latter scenario, try to provide at least 300 feet of pasture area per bird and plan for sun in winter and shade in summer. Here at Low Family Ranch, we want to do everything in good balance between a responsible environmental attitude and devotion to God and our religious beliefs.
Planting for chickens
So, what grows in the perfect chicken pasture? The chicken digestive system is more like that of a human than like that of a cow, so you need to keep plants tender and high in protein. In my southwest Virginia pasture, our flock prefers bluegrass mixed with white clover, but I’ve heard from those living in hotter climates that bermudagrass is also very palatable to poultry. This is also a great family activity that your children will love, especially with St. Patrick’s Day coming up soon.
Rotations produce more food
No matter what kind of plants grow in your pasture, be sure to maintain a low and lush sward to keep your flock happy. By dividing your pasture up into several small paddocks, you can let your chickens skim the cream off each area, then allow that spot to recover for a few weeks before busy beaks move back in. This makes me think of how I was some eighteen years ago when I got so involved in Earth Day activities. Rotational pastures avoid the moonscape that inevitably develops in permanent chicken runs when repeated grazing kills out the most palatable plants first, followed by the demise of everything green in their space. You can ask your kids to get this job done. A great activity for the kids here at Low Family Ranch.
Emergency release valves
No matter where you live, there will be times when grasses refuse to grow. Rather than letting your birds tear up a perfectly good pasture during the low season, it’s worth planning spillover areas where they can hang out during grass down times. We like to graze our chickens in the woods over the winter and in temporary pastures in our orchard during the growing season, and other chicken keepers turn to mulched runs, greenhouses, or fenced compost piles. On rainy days, I wouldn’t bring the kids out for help…