poultry yard

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i am just getting started in the poultry arena..we purchased our farm one year ago and are now ready to start raising our own meat and eggs..ihave read several books and special features in countryside magazine..and the more i read the more confused i get. we have a orchard apprx 150 by 150 with a old chicken house located next to it.. should i fence in the orchard and allow the chickens to free range this area or should i confine them to the coop which is 10x14 or just fence off a small area of the orchard.. any advise would help me ..

-- gregg (gobbler963@aol.com), December 15, 2001


Hi Gregg, I would fence in as much as you can afford. I have had a big chicken yerd, a small chicken yard, and kept the chickens locked in the coop.

I have found that the bigger the yard the happier the chicken. Those that are on the bottom of the pecking order have room to get away from those who are higher up on the pecking order. Since I live on a small piece of property now my chicken run is smaller but then again so is the number of chickens I keep. 100% of my hens are laying now.

I did not have good luck keeping my chickens inside the chicken coop only. There was always feathers flying and several dead chickens even though the coop was large enough for the number of chickens. I feel that chickens are happiest if they are able to go outside during the day when they want to. I do lock all chickens in the coop at night. I wait for them to all go in then I shut the door and lock it (chicken sized door).

I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and have learned from them.

If you are going to put up wire put up the best that you can afford. It has to be strong and high. Some people put boards along the bottoms and top of the wire. I weave heavy wire into the chiken wire on both the top and bottom. I feel that this helps on the top as it is harder for the chickens to see so they will not be trying to get to the top of the fence to roost like they would with a board. Also I take tent stakes and pound them into the ground all around the bottom of the fence making sure that the tent stake hook catches the wire that has been woven in. I make sure that I use enough tent stakes so that the wire is pulled as tight to the ground as possible. This works very well for me. I have not lost a chicken since I started doing the fencing this way.

I feed my chickens layer pellets and table scraps. They also get fresh water morning and night. I keep a water dish outside in the run and one inside the coop.

Also keep it as clean as possible. You'll enjoy going in the pen more and your chickens will be healthier..

Good luck.

-- george (bngcrview@aol.com), December 15, 2001.

Hello Gregg,

Each large chicken needs about 2 square feet of space. Smaller ones need 1 square foot of space. My chicken coup is 32 square feet in size or 4'by 8'. I built a chicken moat at the back end of the coup so the chickens can come and go as they please. I like the chicken moat because it allows the chickens for run the whole perimeter of my garden without them getting inside of it. The chicken moat is about 150' long by 75' wide. This and the chicken coup can comfortably accomadate a dozen chickens with room for a few more.

This is the closest to free range that I can do, due to the critters that live around my remote homestead. I incorporated a few trees along the chicken moat and near the coup so that in the summer time the chickens have a shady place to stand. The trees need to have all of their lower branches trimmed back so that the chickens can not jump onto them and eventually jump over the five foot fence. Even after clipping their wings they still have the ability to jump a couple of feet without much effort.

If you surround your orchard with the chicken yard you will have to trim the branches back at least enough to keep the chickens from roosting in the trees or escaping. Also, I think you will be frustrated with getting in and out of the yard during harvest time of your fruits, since you will be dodging chickens while working. My suggestion is to make the chicken moat around your orchard. That way your chickens can benefit from the shade and your orchard can benefit by having the bugs and worms devoured by the chickens.

The gate to the chicken moat can be left open so that you can move in and out of the orchard without worrying about chickens escaping. My moat has a tunnel running under the gate that the chickens walk through. The gate can be left open as the entrance sides are both closed in with fence wire. If you want to see some pictures of chicken moats feel free to check out my webpage.

Sincerely, Ernest

-- http://communities.msn.com/livingoffthelandintheozarks (espresso42@hotmail.com), December 15, 2001.

I believe Don from Australia posted an interesting item about permaculture lately which discussed using a fenced in orchard for poultry. The idea being that they would eat the fallen fruit and keep the nasty bug population down. Sounds good to me, but how would you keep them safe from predators? I guess you would have to put them in the coop at night and hope for the best during the day. Have some roosters to protect the girls.

-- Ann Markson (tngreenacres@hotmail.com), December 17, 2001.

Thanks, Ann. Yes, or at least they'd help. So can running pigs into the orchard for an hour or so each morning (if you have the pigs) - say before the poultry are out. I'd think to the future as well. If you plan to have larger stock - cattle or goats or pigs or sheep - then you're going to need to control their access to the orchard anyway (i.e. fence it, but with a big enough area poultry will more or less respect an ordinary fence). Just keep an eye on the predator situation and keep count of your poultry. I'd say keep the chickens in the coop and a small poultry-yard attached to it until 10 or 11 - they'll get a lot of their laying done by then, and late-staying mammalian predators should have got out of the way. This small yard can be roofed with netting if necessary to keep bird or climbing predators out until you can control them. Let them find their own food until after lunch, then give them a bucket of kitchen scraps, maybe supplemented with grain. In the evening, say an hour or half an hour before dark, feed them grain or crumbles in the small poultry yard, do a head count, and lock them in. Leave yourself enough daylight to look for stragglers if necessary.

Always call them when you feed them - even before it's necessary - as chicks while you've still got them confined in their small yard. Gets them used to coming when you call.

Geese or a couple of sheep are good in the orchard as well to keep it mowed, but the sheep will browse the trees as high as they can reach. Not necessarily a bad thing - tidies them up and gives easy access in to the trunks - just be aware it will happen. Put wire-netting tree guards around young trees - almost everything will either eat them or scratch them out given a chance.

-- Don Armstrong (from Australia) (darmst@yahoo.com.au), December 17, 2001.

Build your fence 8 feet tall and clip the wings of the chickens. Cut about an inch of feathers of from ONE side,right or left,doesn't matter,but only one side. Keeps them off balance.Only take about an inch,you don't want the meat. I keep mine in a 12by20 area. Works great. But the ground is bare from them scratching.I throw in green grass,I just pull it up.Hay works too. Anything to keep them busy. I grew pumpkins zuchins for them. just split in half and they eat them up. Did have trouble with some pecking,too. A set of toe nails clippers on the UPPER beak did wonders. Only a little bit. I said A LITTLE BIT. Just enough to take the pinch out,and ONLY on the UPPER beak.They can still eat fine. They're lower beak acts like a spoon.You don't want to get them bleeding. You will be in a mess if this happens. They do make electric de-beakers,but I had no trouble.Just like the wings,not to much. Merry Christmas Ray- The Farm Chesterville, Me

-- Ray Chesterville,Me (thecfarm@midmaine.com), December 20, 2001.

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