Three important points determine the design of the pasture:
First of all, you should know how many chickens you will keep in the pasture.
In the table below you see the approximate size of the pasture. As a rule it is better to keep less rather than too many animals. If you keep bantams you can have 30 per cent more animals on the same area than with large races. Basically, you should have a pasture close to nature and not a concrete are, but that goes without saying.
For the chickens, an unlimited pasture would of course be the best, but only very few owners could offer it. For breeding stock the pasture should be somewhat larger there should be 20 square meters per animal.
First, you should know where exactly you want to lay out the pasture in your garden. This may also depend on the nature of the different areas in your garden. For instance, if you have a lawn and an orchard, it is better to keep chickens in the orchard, but I will deal with this point below.
So, when you know where you want to have the chickens pasture, you start with putting up a fence. Its height depends on the races you will keep it should be approx. 2 meters for lightweight races, 1.50 meters for medium-weight races and 1 meter for heavyweight races. For silkies and Wyandottes even 80 cm should be enough. The fence should best consist of plastic-coated wire netting. This make is very durable and also stable. The mesh width should be approx. 70 millimeters. Furthermore, you should dig it approx. 20 cm into the ground in order to prevent the chickens from digging their way underneath the fence.
Putting up the fence:
You should start with leveling the ground, because this is a precondition for an even and stable fence. If you want to put up a fence as straight as a die it is advisable to determine the location of the corner posts and to connect them by means of a string to obtain a straight line. Then you should dig a trench of approx. 20 cm depth along the string. Set the posts that serve to hold the fence upright at a distance of 2 3 meters. If you want to have this done really professionally, you should dig deep holes, fill them with concrete and place metal posts in the concrete as long as it is still soft. But I think its worth doing this only if you are sure about keeping the chickens for a very long time. Above all, you should be sure about leaving the fence where it is and never changing its location. Therefore, I recommend putting up the metal posts only on the border of your piece of land, as it might prove necessary to expand the pasture due to a lager number of animals.
Once the posts are put up, you roll out the fence and work it into the trench. Fasten the fence on the posts before filling up the trench. This is best done by means of rivets, which are available in every DIY market. When the fence stands firmly, you can fill up the trench and tread down the earth. It is also advisable to sow grass seeds on the earth at least one week before you let the chickens go into the pasture. If you happen to live near a stream, brook a lake no need not put up a fence there as chickens cannot swim.
If you want to keep very airworthy bantams you should either have an unlimited pasture or stretch netting over the whole pasture, which means hard work. With a pasture of 400 square meters, for instance, it is difficult to find a net of 20 x 20 meters. Therefore, it is advisable either to keep a limited number of bantams only on a small pasture or otherwise better buy another chicken race. If the bantams fly on your neighbors balcony, you might get into trouble.
Do not forget to build a door for you to enter the pasture. It should be at least 80 cm wide to get through a pushcart. If you want to drive on the pasture with a motor vehicle, you best build a removable piece of fence with a width of approx. 3 meters.
With a large number of chickens it is advisable to have alternating pastures, i.e. the chickens will graze one week on the left and the next week on the right side of the pasture. This makes it possible for the sod to recover and continue growing during the time when there are no chickens on one side. The two halves of the pasture are separated by a fence which needs not reach the height of the border fence and needs not be as stable, since it will often only be a provisional solution. In this case, you should provide the chicken house with two shutters, for both parts of the alternating pasture.
I recommend that you build the hen house on one border of the pasture so that you can easily enter the hen house from outside. The shutter should, however, be directed towards the pasture. So you need not go over the pasture which is often muddy in order to collect eggs, for example. Normally, the pasture should not be muddy; however, this can not be avoided because the chickens and you will often be in the area around the entrance.
First of all, you should determine an appropriate area for the pasture in your garden. For instance, if you have an old orchard, this would be an ideal condition. Chickens do not really like an open pasture they prefer to have an area where they can withdraw under bushes. So, they will be glad to find bushes or even trees. However, you should only decide to plant trees if the pasture is large enough, but even then, bushes are indispensable. With regard to trees, it is best to have coniferous trees in one corner of the pasture and deciduous trees in the other. Coniferous trees have the advantage that they ward off the wind while deciduous trees give shade in summer and let through some sunrays in winter. You can plant several kinds of bushes. Chickens like most bushes that bear fruit. I recommend planting elder since these shrubs grow fast and give shade within one year already. Besides, trees and bushes protect your chickens from hawks and other birds of prey, since these cannot invade the undergrowth and bushes because of their wide wings.
On the border of the pasture, along the fence, you should plant hedges to keep off harmful wind. In the summertime, chickens will find shade there. On a large pasture you can plant bushes such as redcurrants and blackcurrants in many places. The chickens will eat most of the berries, but with some luck you will also get some berries.
Up to now I only dealt with trees and bushes, but grass is as important for your chickens, because they find much more to eat on a meadow than under bushes. Of course, it would be best to have a natural meadow with many different kinds of plants rather than an English lawn. On a natural meadow the chickens will find many small animals such as insects, snails, spiders, and worms that contain the protein needed by the chickens.
If the pasture is too small for planting bushes and/or trees or if there are other obstacles to planting them, e.g. you have no piece of land of your own, you may put up rush mats and boards for the chickens to find shade in summer. There you can also offer drinking water, which will remain cool and fresh in the shade.
There are, actually, no fixed rules of how to design the pasture. For example, I saw a pasture that could be reached by the chickens only through a tunnel made of wire netting. To my experience, chickens like to find a small roof in the pasture under which they can go when it rains or when the sun is scorching hot. The roof should best be made of an awning near the hen house, which is stable enough that it will not be broken down by snow.
Here you see a suggestion for a pasture. The chickens find coniferous and deciduous trees, bushes and hedges in addition to a large area for grazing. Slate plates are laid for people to walk on, which can, however, dispensed with. This type of pasture is very variable, but on principle, most pastures are similar to this design.
|© 2001-2002 Lukas Kiefer, Schönau