I am very fortunate to own a small plot of land surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest. I can let my chickens free-range without too much worry. The point is that they make themselves at home on property other than my own, and nobody cares. There will come a time soon when a neighbor will put their foot down, and tell me to keep my chickens at home! At that point, I will have to implement rotational grazing. Rotational grazing for chickens is pretty simple.
What is Rotational Grazing For Chickens?
Rotational grazing is a method of managing a pasture so that chickens can access fresh forage and a varying environment. It is used for other livestock as well, but I’m talking about chickens.
The idea is to allow your chickens to hang out in a certain area for a while, and when they have worn out the area, or depleted its resources, It is time to move them to greener pastures.
Some resources I’m referring to are plants, bugs, and worms. The tendency to scratch and peck that chickens have will reduce an area to dust in a short time. Don’t get me wrong – chickens love their dust, but it doesn’t make for a very pretty yard.
It is a good idea to pay attention to the area that you have your chickens grazing in. When it starts to get worn, simply pick up your fencing, or move your tractor to the next location. What? Fencing? What’s a tractor? Don’t worry–I’ve got this.
There are a couple of fencing requirements to consider when setting up your rotational grazing system. They are permanent and movable.
Permanent fencing is used to keep your chickens away from places where they are never allowed. Places like your neighbor’s garden, or just your neighbors in general. How about the road? I lost a Bantam rooster to traffic last year. I liked that little feller.
It would be helpful to permanently fence off, or in, areas around your house that neither your chickens, nor you need to get to.
Movable fencing is typically an electrified wide-webbed fence that comes attached to posts that have a metal rod on the bottom that you stick in the lawn, or field to keep your chickens contained in a specific grazing area according to your layout plan. The fencing doesn’t have to be electrified, but it helps to keep other critters from getting near your chickens.
The fences and pastures should be inspected regularly for damage and wear and tear.
What is a Chicken Tractor?
A chicken tractor is a movable enclosure that is used to house and protect chickens. It is typically a lightweight structure made of wood or PVC pipes. Chicken wire usually surrounds it to keep the chickens safe from predators. The design allows the chickens to be moved around a yard or field, allowing them access to fresh grass while also fertilizing the ground with their droppings.
The tractor can be used to overnight your chickens in a current rotational area, or it can be used to transport chickens in the morning to a fenced-in area away from the coop.
There are different types of chicken tractors. Some are primarily geared for mobility while others have more of a permanent nature about them. Keep in mind that the more equipment that there is in a tractor, the heavier it will be to move.
I do not think that I would ever use a chicken tractor for overnighting laying hens for a couple of reasons.
- They are used to sleeping on their respective roosts in their respective orders in their nice, cozy, safe chicken coop with nesting boxes, food, water, and soft bedding.
- I believe the strangeness of a new sleeping arrangement would stress the chickens, thus reducing their output of eggs.
Overnighting meat birds in a tractor would be fine, however.
Establishing Grazing Areas
If you don’t have a lot of land area, you will want to move your pasture more often than if you had acres to play with. Each grazing area should be large enough to provide the chickens with enough forage to meet their nutritional needs.
I have a lawn on all four sides of my house so that each side would give me a rotation area. The front lawn has enough room for two rotations.
The size of any area is dictated by the number of chickens being housed in it. Keeping the rule of thumb in mind that each chicken needs at least 4 square feet of room to move around to free-range, you would need 80 square feet for 20 chickens. Considering that a roll of fencing can be well over a hundred feet long, there should be no problem housing any small flock.
Feeding and Watering
In addition to foraging for food in the pasture, your chickens should have a feeder placed in the pasture area with them. After all, if you keep an eye on your free-range chickens, and you should, you will notice that they go back to the coop for a drink and a nibble several times a day. It will be no different in your rotational grazing setup.
More importantly, they will need fresh water throughout the day. Water is more important than food for a chicken, just as it is for people, so fresh water is always a must for your chickens, no matter where they are.
It is important to consider several things when placing your fencing for your rotational grazing areas. Firstly, there must be shade available for your chickens. It might be easier to place your fencing in an open area because there are few if any obstructions in the way, but if your chickens can’t get out of the blazing sun, that could cause them to overheat.
If you do place the pasture in an open area, you will need to provide shade in the form of tarps or some other cover for your birds.
Next, you must be aware of any dangers there might be when holding your chickens in one area. Are there any dead branches overhead that you need to be concerned about? Can your chickens duck for cover if a hawk decides to pay a visit? Are they going to be exposed to torrential rain with a scant cover?
Rotational grazing is an option that is available as a substitute for free-ranging chickens. It may not be ideal, but it’s better than upsetting your neighbors.
Thanks for reading. As always, I’d appreciate a comment if the spirit moves you to do so. Take care.