I have posted about raising chickens before. I want to say a couple of things before I get into the post.
First, I don’t have first hand experience with chicken paddock shifting, and probably will not since we live in an “unfriendly” area. We did, however, at one point have chickens. We basically had a coop and run, but always let the chickens out to graze on a half-acre area all day. I know it isn’t the best way of doing things, but at the time, that is what we did. How do I know that it wasn’t the best? Because we still had to go through feed. Not as much as some people, but more that we should have.
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Now that the housekeeping is done, I want to discuss chicken paddock shifting, what others say about it, and my opinions.
The biggest voice for chickens everywhere is Paul Weaton, and he is a huge advocate of paddock shifting. He feels that paddock shifting makes happy chickens. I tend to agree with him, but for different reasons, less hippy ones.
I think a four-paddock shift with resting area is the way to go. What we do is section off the chicken pasture area in five equal sections. Fence these areas off, so the chickens can’t really get into the other paddocks.
The rotation will go like so: The chickens will stay in an area (paddock) for a week each. We designate the paddocks as A1 (area 1), A2, A3, A4, and A5. First week, the chickens are in A1, and the next, in A2, then A3, then A4. A5 will remain unused for the first week.
Subsequent month will be A5, A2, A3, A4 with A1 getting rest. Then the next month looks like A1, A3, A4, A5 with A2 getting a rest, and so on.
After the growing season for us gardeners, we can add an extra week in there for our garden area, to allow the chickens to break the pest cycle and just shift everything over to account for that extra week.
Benefits of Paddock Shifting: Even with just 4 paddocks and no rotational resting like I have shown, shifting allows 3 weeks for the ground to recover after a chicken has tore down the area. The first 50% of the greenery of an area is fillet mignon to the chicken, high in nutrients and taste. The next 20% of greenery is hamburger meat, with nutrients and flavor, but not very much. The last 30% is potted meat, lacking in nutrients and flavor and actually diving into toxic food for them. We try to shift them prior to reaching the 30% point for the health of the chicken and therefor the health of our food. This method also works to substantially reduce the amount of feed the chickens will require.
Problems with Paul Weaton’s paddock shifting idea: I believe that they herd the chickens into the next paddock, and I don’t agree with this method because it is too much chasing of the chickens. I think a better method is a central coop or a mobile coop (which Weaton acknowledges as a proper method). I believe that his method typically involves a multi-coop setup as well, which I think is too expensive and labor intensive.
First, let’s visit the mobile coop idea, since Weaton agreed with the possibility. You will just move a mobile coop from paddock to paddock with the chickens. Actually, I like the idea of letting them go to sleep in the coop that night and move them while in the coop, so you don’t have to herd them. This is a feasible plan, but you will have to have a sizable gate between paddocks, which probably isn’t much of a problem anyways.
My favorite idea is a coop that acts like a hub where the fencing between paddocks is the spokes. There is a door for each paddock, so I just open the correct door for that day. This method also makes sense if I want to change up the grazing pattern or allow a couple days in a different spot based on how the land is recovering. The issues that some people have with this idea is that the ground around the coop will get beat down, just like in a run, but I don’t really think that this is as big a problem as they make it sound.
With all of the ideas around a paddock shift, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the info. Figure out what method you want and set it up prior to getting chickens and this will help you out. Remember, healthy happy livestock equals healthy food, but a chicken is a chicken, not a person. It will be happy enough, whatever you do.
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