Category Archives: Raising chickens on pasture

New series of short workshops

We would like to announce that we are now running a whole heap of short workshops focussing on the essential skills of food gardening. Topics include making compost, caring for chooks and a whole heap of other fun things!

Dates and details are in the link below. We hope to see more of you here soon!
https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/permaculturecourses/food-garden-favourites/

From plan to reality- a mobile chicken coop that works!

We finally have a mobile chicken coop that is appropriate for our needs and that suits the landscape of the property!

I have kept chickens for coming on three years and would consider myself an over-protective parent. I still haven’t lost a chook to predators even though we have lived adjoining bush land the entire time and our neighbours have suffered losses. I also think I have made all the mistakes in coop design possible in the past and hopefully have remedied them all in my new design!

Old coop

The temporary barracks

The problem:

After we moved here, I had no chicken coop. I stumbled upon an old trampoline frame which I quickly converted using materials that I brought with me from the old house. Unfortunately, it was a bad design for the chickens, me, and the land. Access was poor for egg collection and it could only be placed in a couple of spots on the land that were flat enough. When the ground was too steep, the chickens wouldn’t use their roosts and they would slide around in the nesting boxes. We ended up with lots of broken eggs and egg eating became a bad habit for a couple of the younger chooks. At least 1-2 eggs were being lost each day. We had looked around for manufactured chicken coops that were suitable but we were unable to find any. It seemed all the coops were designed to sit on flat ground. Great, except that we have little to no flat ground!

The solution:

I came up with a concept of a coop that would suit everybody and was designed for our hilly, uneven landscape.  This new design is specifically planned to suit our needs. It is an exclusively free-ranging coop and is not a chicken tractor. The chickens roam outside during the day but are free to come in and out of the coop to lay at will. The chickens have no access to the soil whilst in the coop, but since they’re either laying or roosting most of the time that they’re in there it’s not really an issue. The floor is made of wood which I can easily fill with grass, straw and other treats, and just as easily empty out onto the garden or compost after they are finished with it.

Original design

Planning the palace

To work out how my dream coop would be, I needed to consider both the requirements of the chickens and the requirements of the humans using it.

The requirements of a chicken in the coop:

  • protection from weather and predators
  • access to food and clean water
  • enough space to nest and roost

Our requirements:

  • Access, access, access – it had to be easy to clean and change food/water, as well as good access to tend to brooding chooks (a big one most people don’t think about). If you are planning on raising chicks you need to be able to separate the brooding hen with the fertilised eggs from the rest of the group. If you don’t it can turn it to utter chaos. We have a separate small cage that has its own food and water and it can be placed inside the main coop. The brooding chook is placed in there for the gestation period and no other chickens can get in. If you try and take the broody chook away from the rest of the flock, she can stop being broody and then you lose the fertilised eggs.
  • Easy to move – although the new coop is quite large, I can move it alone by wheeling it around the property (though it’s much easier with 2 people).
  • Able to sit flat on a hillsideThe 2 front legs can be adjusted to different heights depending on the slope and there are wheels on the back. This also creates a shady space under the coop for chooks to rest on hot days or in rainy weather if they don’t want to go inside.

    dan and coop

    Almost ready

Cost and materials:

The coop cost about $200 in materials as I was able to use some recycled materials. The roof and sides were all tin (recycled) and the wheels came from a retired BMX from our local “Freecycle” network. If everything had been bought new, it would have been more like $400-500. (This cost excludes labour. This is not something a beginner can make. I had to get a fellow Permie friend, carpenter and all-round builder who was able to weld this up for me. I was lucky that he taught me to weld in the process so I can now make these sorts of things myself.)

New digs and area to scratch

A room with a view

NEW WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED: Organic Gardening for the Backyard Farmer

Saturday & Sunday 8th & 9th December

Springwood, Blue Mountains

9am-5pm

Workshop structure

Morning: Theory The morning will consist of a 1.5 hour theory lesson which will include time for questions and answers.

Rest of the day: Practical experience. The rest of the day focuses on practical implementation of some of the things discussed.

Morning Tea: We will break at 10.30am for half an hour. We will provide tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

Lunch: We will break for lunch at 12.30pm for 1 hour to share a meal and lively conversation together. Please bring a plate of food to share for lunch.

Afternoon Tea: We will break at 3pm for half an hour. We will provide teas, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

What you’ll learn

Learn how to make real compost

I will show you how to make a compost superior to ANYTHING you can purchase from a shop. You’ll also learn how to make it on a small or large scale. Far too many weeds end up in land fill but are full of minerals that need to be returned to your soil. I will show you how to kill the weed seeds and make great compost from garden waste. You will also learn about the nutritional requirements of your plants and how to keep your soil (and your plants) in good shape.

Use chickens as part of your vegetable growing system

Chickens are a valuable part of an organic gardener’s tool kit. Chickens eat all your bugs and weeds, scratch and till the soil and give you free fertiliser. Learn how to use chickens efficiently and constructively (not destructively) as part of your garden system. We will be moving my chickens from their current home into another area. You can find out more about a similar growing system in this article. Bring along your best chicken-rustling boots!

Learn to sow seeds and propagate plants

Learning to sow seeds and propagate plants can be one of the largest cost savers in your self sufficient food gardening system. Learn the basic techniques and tools to sow seeds and take cuttings. We will also reveal the recipe for potting mix which is often the difference between success and failure.

Build a raised bed garden on contour

This will be the main part of the workshop and lots of fun. This type of garden can be built almost ANYWHERE irrespective of slope or the quality of your soil (it can even be built on a concrete slab). In some areas where we will be building, we don’t even have soil. It’s bedrock.

Contour gardens also catch virtually all  run off water and store it for later use. The bed is constructed using a similar technique to “No dig” or “Lasagne” gardens. We will be building the garden on contour almost from scratch. You will learn how to survey your land using simple, easy to make tools (from scrap wood or tree branches).

What to bring

Please bring:

Note pad, pen and something stable to write on (clipboard etc)

gardening gloves

a hat

sturdy boots/ (gum boots if it’s wet)

Secateurs (if you own them)

a Spade (if you own one)

A wheelbarrow (again if you own one and only if you have a ute or van. Please don’t try getting one in a Barina or on the train!)

sunscreen

water-bottle

a plate of healthy food to share at lunch

About the teacher

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What others have said about our workshops:

Great fun and a good way to learn

good, very resourceful, learned a lot, true permie style – just thrown together and used what you have, got everyone involved

awesome stuff!! so inspired and knowledge hungry for more!! THANKYOU

it was informative and fun – you explained it all in a language to newbies could understand easily. Look forward to more workshops!

Absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having us at your home. I hope you benefit greatly as much as we have attending. I am inspired!  🙂 good job!

we loved the workshop and learnt alot

Length was perfect. Split between theory and practical was great. The lunch was brilliant.

Thanks Daniel. It is always great to see how people manage their own blocks. The reinforcement of good planning before execution of a (great) idea is always appreciated.

Excellent – more, more!

Cost

The 2 day practical workshop costs $75 per person (Early bird) and $100 after Friday 30th November. The price includes morning and afternoon tea.

Safety Note: Although your skill level is not important, my block is steep in areas and you will need to be able to walk easily on grassy slopes which may be slippery. These workshops are unfortunately unsuitable for people with any walking related issues or disabilities.

Please fill in the form below to reserve your place.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form  to register your interest.

Payment is available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516


What chickens want: a question of chook-food

Blog reader Janneia asks:

Hi Dan.
I’m about to pick up my first ever hens :) and want to know about feeding them grains. I have lots of weeds, scraps etc and would rather buy only what they need instead of simply getting a commercial mix.
Thanks!

Here’s my answer:

Hi Janneia,

What a great question. Chickens are omnivorous animals and require a diverse diet to live well. Like us, they need an amount of vegetation, protein and carbs. Chickens in their natural environment of the jungle roam from place to place scratching as they go. Their main interest is eating meat in the form of bugs, worms, and lizards (just to name a few preferences) and greens and seeds along the way. In an enclosed environment, chickens lose that ability to move on when the bug population is low.

It’s important to decide how you will house the chickens and therefore what level of attention you need to give to their dietary requirements. Chickens that free range totally will clean up the bug population quite quickly and although people often think that letting them wander anywhere is the best thing for the chickens, I would disagree. I prefer to see the garden sectioned off into smaller areas and allow the chickens into one of those areas for a couple of weeks before moving them on to the new area and allow the scratched up area to rest for a few months during growing season. A mobile chook house design is very helpful for this. This way, the chickens naturally disturb the ground and fertilise it at the same time so it is a positive use of the land. Allowing the chickens constant access to the same piece of land will see it overgrazed and scratched up, never allowing it to recover, and has a very negative effect on the land.

So, to answer your question, it is very hard to feed chickens well without bringing in any supplementary feed. You should give them weeds and scraps anyway but this accounts for very little of their dietary requirements. It certainly adds to the quality of their life and entertainment! In order to reduce the amount of grain required, you need to increase the protein you feed them. You could start a large worm farm (feeding it with scraps from other sources such as neighbours or restaurants) and feed the worms to the chickens or you could try Black Soldier fly composting and feed the larvae to the chooks. I have a friend that gets scrap meat from the butcher to feed to the girls once per week (just don’t feed them any chicken meat!). I have started growing eating fish in an aquaponics system and will feed the offal to the chickens.

You can also recycle the used eggshells by drying them in the sun then crushing them into tiny pieces (you don’t want them learning to eat the eggs so need to disguise them) and adding it to their grain mix. This gives them back some minerals such as calcium that they would otherwise replenish through eating small stones as they graze so is extra helpful if you don’t let them free-range.

If you are doing all the right things, you can get away with feeding the girls about a handful of grain each per day but I would highly recommend you start with more and reduce as you see how they go. If you are not feeding them enough they will tell you by crying and not laying.

Happy chicken-raising, it’s great fun and very rewarding!

Daniel

Here’s a few useful resources for the chicken-conscious:

http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/nutrient-requirements/ (all-round great site for all sorts of chook info)

http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1317/ (nutrition for backyard chicken flocks with some good information tables)

Book – Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (a comprehensive guide to raising chooks, highly recommended for those who want to know a bit more)

What tricks have you found to make your chickens happy and healthy? We’d love to hear about them!

NEW WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED: Organic Gardening for the Backyard Farmer

Saturday & Sunday 13th & 14th October,

Springwood, Blue Mountains

9am-5pm

Workshop structure

Morning: Theory The morning will consist of a 1.5 hour theory lesson which will include time for questions and answers.

Rest of the day: Practical experience. The rest of the day focuses on practical implementation of some of the things discussed.

Morning Tea: We will break at 10.30am for half an hour. We will provide tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

Lunch: We will break for lunch at 12.30pm for 1 hour to share a meal and lively conversation together. Please bring a plate of food to share for lunch.

Afternoon Tea: We will break at 3pm for half an hour. We will provide teas, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

What you’ll learn

Learn how to make real compost

I will show you how to make a compost superior to ANYTHING you can purchase from a shop. You’ll also learn how to make it on a small or large scale. Far too many weeds end up in land fill but are full of minerals that need to be returned to your soil. I will show you how to kill the weed seeds and make great compost from garden waste. You will also learn about the nutritional requirements of your plants and how to keep your soil (and your plants) in good shape.

Use chickens as part of your vegetable growing system

Chickens are a valuable part of an organic gardener’s tool kit. Chickens eat all your bugs and weeds, scratch and till the soil and give you free fertiliser. Learn how to use chickens efficiently and constructively (not destructively) as part of your garden system. We will be moving my chickens from their current home into another area. You can find out more about a similar growing system in this article. Bring along your best chicken-rustling boots!

Learn to sow seeds and propagate plants

Learning to sow seeds and propagate plants can be one of the largest cost savers in your self sufficient food gardening system. Learn the basic techniques and tools to sow seeds and take cuttings. We will also reveal the recipe for potting mix which is often the difference between success and failure.

Build a raised bed garden on contour

This will be the main part of the workshop and lots of fun. This type of garden can be built almost ANYWHERE irrespective of slope or the quality of your soil (it can even be built on a concrete slab). In some areas where we will be building, we don’t even have soil. It’s bedrock.

Contour gardens also catch virtually all  run off water and store it for later use. The bed is constructed using a similar technique to “No dig” or “Lasagne” gardens. We will be building the garden on contour almost from scratch. You will learn how to survey your land using simple, easy to make tools (from scrap wood or tree branches).

What to bring

Please bring:

Note pad, pen and something stable to write on (clipboard etc)

gardening gloves

a hat

sturdy boots/ (gum boots if it’s wet)

Secateurs (if you own them)

a Spade (if you own one)

A wheelbarrow (again if you own one and only if you have a ute or van. Please don’t try getting one in a Barina or on the train!)

sunscreen

water-bottle

a plate of healthy food to share at lunch

About the teacher

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What others have said about our workshops:

Great fun and a good way to learn

good, very resourceful, learned a lot, true permie style – just thrown together and used what you have, got everyone involved

awesome stuff!! so inspired and knowledge hungry for more!! THANKYOU

it was informative and fun – you explained it all in a language to newbies could understand easily. Look forward to more workshops!

Absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having us at your home. I hope you benefit greatly as much as we have attending. I am inspired!  🙂 good job!

we loved the workshop and learnt alot

Length was perfect. Split between theory and practical was great. The lunch was brilliant.

Thanks Daniel. It is always great to see how people manage their own blocks. The reinforcement of good planning before execution of a (great) idea is always appreciated.

Excellent – more, more!

Cost

The 2 day practical workshop costs $75 per person and includes morning and afternoon tea, and a shared lunch

Safety Note: Although your skill level is not important, my block is steep in areas and you will need to be able to walk easily on grassy slopes which may be slippery. These workshops are unfortunately unsuitable for people with any walking related issues or disabilities.

Please fill in the form below to reserve your place.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form  to register your interest.

Payment is available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516


Simple raised bed readiness trial and proof of chicken power!

The vegie garden beds in my backyard (currently 3 with 2 more to construct……do I hear a workshop calling?) are part of a rotation grazing/manuring system which also provides housing and a run for chickens. One bed has the chickens while the other two are used for growing or resting (you can find out more information about this system in 2 previous posts here and here).

  • Raised bed 1 was home to the chickens for about 6 months and is now waiting to be planted out.
  • Raised bed 2 is currently housing the chickens.
  • Raised bed 3 is waiting for chickens.

To test whether the two empty beds are ready to plant out with vegies, I ran a very simple trial to assess the soil quality. I planted the 2 empty beds with a green manure crop (lupin, chickory, red and white clover) and waited for the results.

What’s in the beds:

Each bed has been treated differently as they are in different stages of the rotation system.

Bed 1: This was the chooks’ original home bed. It has been filled over a very long time with weeds, which have been converted mostly into soil by gradual decomposition, and manure from the chickens. This bed was also top dressed with manure.

Bed 3: This bed has not yet housed the chickens and contains a lot of old sticks (to fill the bottom) and then was dressed with very, very broken down mulch followed by a thick layer of cow manure.

Results:

Unsurprisingly, the Bed 1 was a great success. Almost everything germinated and looked incredibly healthy despite no supplementary watering. Clearly the chooks are working their magic!

I celebrated by digging in the green manure crop and let the chooks have a worm-hunting party in the bed (but you could also let the green manure rot down).

Bed 1: chooks demolishing the green manure crop (under careful supervision by the guardcat)

The next step is to supplement this bed with a little extra compost (just because the bed is not quite deep enough yet), and then I’ll be planting out my first crops of winter vegetables (carrots, beetroots, cauliflower, broccoli) for the year.

Bed 3 struggled with germination and only the lupins survived in the end. The lupins are still growing now but look pretty yellow and unwell.

3: Not ready for planting as hardly any clover and lupins are yellowed

Clearly this bed will not grow vegies well at the moment, so the chooks will be moved on to this bed for a few months.The nitrogen, phosphorous and minerals from foraging greens will pass into the manure and the beds making the soil fertile, just like Bed 1!

So, by having chickens who are fed good quality grains and a varied diet of forage crops from your kitchen and garden, they will provide almost all the minerals you really need for fantastic soil…not to mention beautiful eggs!

Undersowing, rotational grazing, and a mobile chook house (all in one raised bed)

We have finally completed the first raised bed. Here’s a quick recap on the design (you can see earlier articles here and here). The bed is 1 of 5. Four of the beds will have vegies growing at any one time, whilst the fifth will house my ‘gang’ of chickens. The bed’s wire cover and hoops are mobile, and will be moved from bed to bed after harvest as each one becomes available.

Alongside the vegies growing in each bed, I will be sowing a variety of green manures (if you have never heard of green manuring please see this link). This technique is called ‘undersowing’ and was popularised and adapted for vegetable growing by the US farmer, Eliot Coleman. The technique involves planting seeds or seedlings of your chosen vegie crop, followed by a subsequent planting (4-6 weeks after) of a green manure crop alongside the main crop.

The idea is that the main crop will always be larger than the green manure crop so the green manure crop does not overtake and affect the growth of the main crop. This system allows the ground to be protected by a living mulch (thus removing the need for expensive straw or lucerne mulch). After harvesting the main crop, the green manure can be dug into the soil.

I will be adding another element to that system by introducing chickens into the rotation. Instead of digging the green manure crop in myself, I will leave it for the chickens to graze on and scratch up leaving a clean (weed free), tilled and manured bed for the next crop. This idea took two years of planning and revisions and was originally inspired by a visit to a number of small scale farms which use similar designs to move chickens from bed to bed. I adapted these designs to to suit my own landscape and needs.

As you’ll see in the picture, the bed has been filled up with a large amount of wandering dew (trad) which was taken from my neighbour, an amateur wandering dew farmer. I tried to explain that there is no money in farming this crop but he is not prepared to listen to reason at this point. So far, I’ve managed to score 15 wheelbarrows of wandering dew. This is fortunate for me, since I’ve calculated that I will need 6-8 cubic metres of soil to fill the bed. This would cost approximately $300-400 delivered. Instead, the wandering dew, grass clippings, straw, cow manure and other vegie scraps will provide fodder and entertainment for the chooks, and will become compost in a relatively short time, and all for free!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A quick description of the pictures.

As you will see there are 2 doors. The larger door is man size and is used to access the drinking water and food for the chooks. This door is also used to add straw etc. The second small door on the end is purely used to access eggs in the nesting boxes. Both of the doors are part of the metal wire construction and move along with the coop.

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