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20141110_091640

Chickens head out into Paddock One

Chicken paddocks is a great idea.  I have mentioned it before, and I am sure I will mention it again.   For years we’ve allowed our chickens half the day in our back yard, for their health, for better eggs, because I am soft hearted — because they seemed to get into it no matter what I did anyway to stop them!…

But we really have had enough.  We wanted our yard back, our lawn back.  Our patio without poops on it, our flower gardens nicely covered in mulch, our straw mulched veggie beds mulched in straw.  Instead of the lawn being covered in straw, the plants bare and broken by searching claws and beaks. An old classmate chatted with me at our last reunion and told me she thought of me every time she let her chickens out in the yard.  And what she thought was “Yuck! how can she stand this??”   Well, she can’t stand it any more.

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“Can I make it over?”

I was already heading in the direction of somehow containing and rotating my girls after reading Harvey Ussery’s recent article (Organic Gardening Magazine, Sept. 2014) about creating debris piles for his Icelandic chickens – “Icies” –  who love to forage in debris.  Ussery is all about sustainability –  helping chickens access fresh natural foods rather than expensive,  likely rancid, processed pellet.  Chickens naturally prefer it.  Then I came across Paul Wheaton’s blog about Chicken Paddocks – and that clinched it.  Paddocks combines all the things we want from and for our chickens.  The point is to create a rotation for them, so they can be in a space with bugs, new actively decomposing debris piles, hopefully grass, and then be moved on to the next fresh one, before they are standing on a bare patch of mud.  No animal wants to stand around all day on mud.  Ok, earthworms. They can’t stay healthy in that setting.

I am not willing to move my chicken coop and run around the yard – ours is permanent, at the center of gardens.  So our paddocks will encircle the run – and maybe we will get more creative in the summer.  For now, they have three.

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Edward and our 16 year old son Oskar, motivated by the idea of no more chickens mucking up the lawn, got right to it and have now fenced off Paddock One attaching tall 2x2s to existing fence and stapling plastic mesh to that.  It’s about 10 feet high so the girls don’t just fly over it (ha-ha see ya sucker!) as they have tended to do.  At least they always come back at night to roost.  Our very patient neighbors are also relieved.  In a month, we’ll send them out into Paddock Two, which is our kitchen garden.  No grass, but they LOVE to dig in the soft soil (any plants that are still active I’ll have wired over).  I am going to cover all the pathways with heavy straw, and they love to kick straw around.  Paddock Three will be the garden beds to the front.  Any of these areas could be subdivided..we’ll see how it goes.

I can’t complete this post without admiring the new roof Edward has put over the run, so the hens will be dry as the winter weather starts in.  Corrugated metal interspersed with corrugated plastic that will let the light through. Last winter I spread layers of plastic sheeting over the top, and that was ok – until melting days, when a hundred tiny holes let all the drips through.  I have a plan to collect that water into a drum, but let’s get it roofed first.  Winter Vortex, we’re ready!!

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Going to search for any birdseed I might have thrown to encourage foraging activity