Chicken Planning

Almost all farms and homesteads would benefit from having chickens.  Once the decision to keep chickens is made, the first question a homesteader must decide is where exactly to put them.

When we first got our chickens, I didn’t give that much thought.  We bought a storage building, added nesting boxes and roosting poles, and set it up on the edge of the woods near our house. That location has turned out to have some advantages, but they are fortuitous.  When I selected the site I didn’t have foraging or shelter from predators in mind.  It just looked like a reasonable place to put a coop.

IMG_6656

For an example of how thoughtful intelligent homesteaders should plan the location of their coop, go check out this excellent post from our friends at Le Petit Canard Farm (HERE).  Using permaculture design principles (and plain old good sense), they’re planning for paddock rotation, foraging food sources (a chicken “food forest”), composting and all aspects of keeping chickens sustainably. That is how it should be done and I’d like to think that if we were starting now I’d be as thoughtful and deliberate as they are being.

We keep two flocks on our farm.  Our main flock free-ranges from their home-base coop. They spend a lot of time in the woods, which is great for them and for the woods, but isn’t benefiting the rest of the farm much.  They sometimes will go work in the compost piles, but they’re at the outer limits of their range. IMG_6662

It's certainly not a food forest, but there are blackberries growing by the coop.  They're wild. We did not plan or plant them.

It’s certainly not a food forest, but there are blackberries growing by the coop. They’re wild. We did not plan or plant them.

They do forage around these young fruit trees.

They do forage around these young fruit trees.

Our other flock roosts in a moveable coop and we keep them enclosed in specific areas using poultry net fencing.   This flock is assigned to work garden areas; tilling, fertilizing and eliminating pests during the off-season.  Right now they’re in a garden that has oats and crimson clover growing as a cover crop and that will be used for vegetables this fall.  Soon they’ll be moving to a new location, as we don’t allow them in a garden area within 120 days of it having a food crop on it.

Our secondary coop and smaller flock, assigned to help prepare garden areas.

Our secondary coop and smaller flock, assigned to help prepare garden areas.

They have plenty of work to do

They have plenty of work to do

Our set up works OK for us, but could definitely be improved.  For example, I’m considering relocating our compost piles next year, to make it easier for the chickens to work in them. I’m also hoping to plant a mulberry tree or two near the main coop, so they have can mulberries as a supplemental food source.

We built a permanent fence around our primary coop, and ran water and electricity to it.  Luckily for us the location worked out.  It would be difficult and expensive to move had it not.

With portable coops and fences you have a lot more flexibility and it’s easier to correct a mistake.

Just some things to keep in mind if planning for chickens.

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17 comments on “Chicken Planning

  1. It may not have been planned but it sure seems that way! You have a great system for your chickens. Nice coop set up and tiller chickens working the gardens – those are happy, healthy and gainfully employed chickens. Compost piles and mulberries will compliment your set up well.
    And many thanks for the plug!

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    • Bill says:

      But as I said, any advantages of the location of our permanent coop are purely fortuitous. I didn’t plan for them. What I should have done is what y’all are doing. 🙂

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, Chickens seems to be a mainstay for a budding and working homestead. I really didn’t have much love for chickens except fried on Sunday for dinner. Iowa is having a big outbreak of chicken flu which has infected some 17 million birds that have to be destroyed. Seventeen different farms have tested positive for the Avian flu. Mostly broilers but also some egg production and a couple turkey farms. Of course the government experts assure us that there’s no threat of humans being infected by the Avian flu. ?? Yeah, it makes me wonder if there’s any safe food to be had in a grocery store any more. I’m hoping for a good garden this year with the ability to store more than I have before.

    Have a great chicken raising day.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve been following the avian flu story there. What a disaster. But to be expected when that many animals are crowded into such a small space. It’s totally unnatural and an epidemic waiting to happen, notwithstanding all their “biosecurity.”

      Our county is considering hosting a poultry processing plant and 500 large chicken houses. Going after some quick bucks but inviting public health disasters.

      Honestly, I wouldn’t eat any meat from a grocery store–for lots of reasons. If we didn’t raise our own meat here I’d become a vegetarian. But it is possible to get safe clean meat from humanely-raised animals at a farmer’s market. Once the high-intensity confinement operations collapse, then we’ll go back to get naturally raised meat from people who understand and practice animal husbandry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. barnraised says:

    As always, I appreciate your chicken advice 🙂

    Like

  4. Joanna says:

    Thanks for the link, there are some interesting ideas in there.

    We have two groups of chickens too, the free range ones that are not allowed anywhere near the growing areas but are used to keep the bug population down for the alpacas. It sort of works 😀 And the others are in arks – a bit like a chicken tractor, but without the wheels and they have carry poles for moving them. Those ones will be moving around on next years garden too, to fertilise it in preparation. They will also be put on an area that the sheep have been on to work in the hay that is uneaten. It may or may not be re-seeded for a new alpaca paddock.

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    • Bill says:

      I like the ark idea. Our “portable” coop turned out to be not so portable, since it took 4 strong people to move it. We’ve replaced it with a smaller one that 2 people can move, but it’s still not as easy to move as what I had wanted. One of those “chicksaw” coops shown in their post would be nice. 🙂

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      • Joanna says:

        Yes ours is manageable with two, and I have been thinking about how to make something that is robust enough to deal with the critters and yet moveable enough for Ian when he is on his own.

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  5. farmerkhaiti says:

    mulberry eggs would be so gorgeously yolked I bet!!!

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  6. avwalters says:

    Not this year….but next. I’m already looking for good chicken locations.

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    • Bill says:

      I think it makes good sense to become settled into your place and to know it well before making any permanent or semi-permanent decisions about where to put them. When we set up our coop we didn’t have it near a water line. After hauling 5 gallon bucket of water to them every day I wished we had. Later when we added water lines to the gardens I had one dug to the chicken coop, because it didn’t add much to the cost and now we had a source. That’s something so basic I should have thought about it, but didn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • avwalters says:

        The year of delays has actually served us well. Watching the light has resulted in our completely revising what goes where. Now, as I’m digging to put in the orchard, I know that it is in the right place. (So much so that I cannot imagine what I was thinking before.)

        I still haven’t figured out where the chickens will go (but that’s because I am secretly thinking about a partially sunken and north-bermed greenhouse. I’ve found just the spot for it–if I do that, the chickens will go at the east end of it.)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I never thought about chicken farming beyond chicken dinner and eggs— a new perspective. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      In some ways chickens can take good care of themselves. But a lot of good planning should go into creating the best situation for them.

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