Scratching the Pasture Again

I was thinking of Gene Autry as I titled this post. The problem is, chickens don’t get in the saddle…usually.

We work pretty hard to keep the greenhouse pleasant smelling and warm and to provide the chickens with the things they need to thrive in the winter. This comes in the form of scraps of meat from butchered hogs, fresh greens and anything else we can come up with to help our chickens thrive in semi-confinement (“semi” because they have complete access to the outdoors during the day).

Today was the first day out on pasture and the chickens were clearly glad to be there. Obviously I don’t meet the chickens’ needs as well as the pasture does.

ChickensOnPasture1The photo above was taken within 5 minutes of the chickens being allowed out. Late in the afternoon I took the rest of the pictures in this post. The exposure on the photos leaves something to be desired but they illustrate what was happening well.


There is a Ralph Moody book The Fields of Home Ralph writes about an uncle who comes to visit his grandfather’s farm where Ralph is staying. He has a trick to show Ralph which chickens are laying eggs and which ones aren’t. He grabs a broomstick, throws down a handful of chicken scratch, waits a few seconds and swings the stick. Chickens with their head up get whacked. If their head isn’t in the game, they aren’t worth keeping. There is only one chicken with her head up in the picture above. She was disturbed by my presence. Everybody was working hard all day long. (If you are not familiar with Ralph Moody pick up the book Little Britches and find some children to read it to. Then discuss what you all learned.)

ChickensOnPasture3Hard at work. The pasture was torn up. Some of the cow pies were too dry to scratch through but most of the cow pies were destroyed.

ChickensOnPasture4Everywhere I looked I saw chickens happy to be out working in the sunshine.

ChickensOnPasture5The ducks too, though they tend to be cynical. They always laugh when they hear my voice.

ChickensOnPasture6In about a week the egg yolks will become a vibrant orange color. We had a few pale yolks in January but have worked to keep enough nutritional variety in front of the chickens to give them some color. Now it will really start to happen. I’m excited!

Chickens will be laying better eggs, they are adding fertility to my pastures and cutting down on the bug population already. I love March. I hope it’s going as well for you as it is for my birds.

14 thoughts on “Scratching the Pasture Again

  1. Thanks for the explanations. I wish I had some cattle so my chickens could scratch through their manure. Someday. As I was looking through your pictures a thought popped into my head. You use the electrified mesh fence quite a bit. Can you estimate how many feet you have and use in different places on the farm?

    • Yup. I can tell you without looking.

      We bought 12 lengths of 100′ Premier One Permanet and four lengths of 100′ Pig QuikFence.

      Old laying hens don’t get a fence anymore. They just run and get closed up at night. We run four lengths of fence in a big square around the young laying flock. When we move chickens one length stays put and three other lengths make the new pasture. So the laying flock “owns” 7 lengths. The broilers are surrounded by another four lengths. When it’s time to move we just move it all as the birds are contained. That leaves one spare…the one that got hit by a mower last year. It is still functional but needs a little work.

      We keep the pigs by rotating pairs of netting while they are small. When they get to around 150 pounds they can be kept in with a single wire. We usually use the netting anyway though. I have used permanet to hold pigs smaller than 40 pounds as little pigs can squeak right through the quikfence (and they do squeak as they go).

      We kept goats with the permanet and it worked well until it didn’t. Go ahead and dehorn your goat kids. We lost a wether who got his horns tangled in the netting. Just broke our hearts.

      I suspect we’ll move toward sheep this year. Those, too, will be kept in with permanet.

      • Do you use the single or double spike? What is the life expectancy of these (without lawnmover, predator and other mishaps)? How many yrs have you owned yours? Do you think a person can expect 5 or 10 yrs of use of these or how many yrs?

        • We have double spike but I would recommend single spike…easier when the earth turns to stone in August.

          I have had most of ours for 5 years. The only issue we have with them is the second spike breaking off…and that’s really a blessing. One thing to watch for is the end loop tends to fall off of the fiberglass and onto the metal spike, shorting out the fence.

          I don’t see any reason why these fences wouldn’t last 10 years if cared for and there are plenty of farmers who are still using them 12 years later. Ours see year-round use so I doubt I’ll get 12 years. At some point they’ll get brittle and start falling apart.

          • Thanks for all this great info – 10 yrs makes it worth the investment for sure. I believe you have 4 seperate systems going – boilers, layers, pigs and cows throughout different areas on your farm. Can you tell me what you use for a charger (s) (model/size)? Thanks.

          • Most everything ties into the perimeter fencing. I have an IntelliShock 506 that will make you scream at our place and will use a Stafix X6i for the perimeter at the other place.

            Where I can’t or don’t want to tie into perimeter fencing I have a PRS 100 solar charger and a couple of cheap 1 joule chargers. This gives me sufficient flexibility for our operation. We used the solar charger to keep the cows in all winter but it doesn’t have enough charge to protect chickens on short days.

            Look for a post about fencing coming up. Things are going to change on the farm.

          • We’ve had our single spike poultry nets (Premier) since 1999…still using them. Electronet for the sheep didn’t last 5 years. In my experience snow is much harder on them anything, even hog mowers and pickups 😦

          • Thanks for this…. Looking into these investments and VERY helpful to hear this. Look forward to reading more..

  2. Thrilled to hear you have read the Ralph Moody books – I love these (you don’t need kids to read them with) and recall that broomstick lesson. I think about these books many times when I read your posts as a Steward and what you are leaving for the next gen. Like in Fields of Home Uncle Levi determines Grandpa is cantakerous all the time as he has not kept up the fertile land his father left him. Grandpa talks about loving the feel of the land in his hands, and talking about soil fertility . . . “Tain’t been easy to watch it a-slipping back. Ain’t been able to keep enough stock to dress the fields. Hated awful to see ’em petering out, but now we’ll save ’em.” And what happens next as you know reminds me of the story you told last wk of your family retiring the horse power for tractor power – an investment in the farm. I “calc’late” Grandpa Thomas (from the book) would smile upon your farm with the cows and chickens all out dressing your fields of home without the wasteful effort of hauling and spreading manure as they did!

    • LOL Great comment Kari. No, you don’t need kids to enjoy the books. But I find that reading to my kids forces me to answer questions I would normally gloss over. My kids make me think. And Ralph Moody gives us a lot to think about. Though the tales grow pretty tall in some of the later books.

      It has been several years since we have read those books and we’re due to read them again.

  3. I look forward to your upcoming post on fencing. It seems like you have a good sized investment in it but when I think of post and barb fencing contractors charging $2,500/mile in my area, electric netting doesn’t really seem that bad as not only do you get fence but predator protection and portability to target your grazing/fertlizing. In your upcoming Fencing Blog I would appreciatie it if you could include a rough aerial diagram of your farm showing the perimeters with position of yard/barn/water/power/processing area and outline of the areas you roll your livestock thru. Or is this already posted somewhere you can point me to? I am still in 2012 reading my way thru. All your photos are great but this would help me visualize your operation from 20 hrs away!

    I also would look forward to hearing your thoughts and possible plans for sheep. People have told me that if you have sheep you will never have dandelions (which I have in abundance) and I was hooked! I looked at the katahdin meat sheep – low maintenance, hardy to harsh Canadian winters, they shed and don’t need shearing. I wonder how sheep would fit in your operation – if the chickens follow the cows where would the sheep fit in the program – seperate circuit?

    I enjoy the old songs and clips in your posts – classics never get old with me – thanks!

    • The kids want sheep. From talking to Matron and others, it appears I’ll have to try a few until I find some that are intelligent enough to keep from tangling themselves in the fencing.

      Sheep would be a welcome addition to the farm. I would stock them as equal weight to cattle (4-5 ewes per cow) but I’ll have to change my cattle fencing. And it’s something else to learn from the ground up.

      Thanks for the ideas for posts. I have a map post planned and mostly written from the perspective of what I plan to change on the farm. I’ll add a little detail to it.

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