Tuesday, February 17, 2009

EntropyPawsed Chickens

Chickens are great Permaculture animals. They require very little energy and time input, and they can convert unpalatable biomass to highly palatable and nutritious eggs and meat. Furthermore, with the utilization of chicken tractors, chickens can convert unproductive weedy areas to high quality pasture within one year through rotation, or can clean, fertilize and cultivate a garden bed within days.

Permaculture has been defined in many ways. The definition I like best is “a design system for creating sustainable human settlements.” One Permaculture technique is known as “Needs and Yields Analysis”. In this type of analysis, chickens are found to be overwhelmingly useful. See “Permaculture, A Designers' Manual” by Bill Mollison for more information.

Our daily routine at EntropyPawsed includes a brief visit to the chickens each morning. We make sure the birds have enough fresh water and food for the day, and open their door to the chicken yard. We often throw some two grain scratch (corn and wheat) and/or winter hay on the ground.

The parade out the chicken door starts with Red, the rooster, followed by most of his ten hens, clucking a bit excitedly at the adventure of the great outdoors. When the ground is snow covered, the birds will not venture forth. So often we do not bother to open their door on snowy days. Each evening, we close the door, thus making the chicken house totally predator proof.

Back in Ohio, when we were first considering chickens, we learned by talking to others a big mistake often made is to house the chickens in a place inescapable to them, but not tight enough against predators. We lost two of our hens to raccoons in the first couple months because they were outside their accommodations in evening. Since then, we have not had any further predator losses.

On most days, we require less than five minutes committed to attending to the chickens. In return, they provide us with eggs. During most seasons, the eggs number in excess of what Bonnie and I can eat. In the winter months, we sometimes have to supplement by buying a dozen local eggs at the market now and then.

We first had chickens back in Ohio in 1998. We purchased ten hens from a hatchery. The poor ladies were featherless on their backs from too many roosters. We learned after the one year old hens are finished supplying chicks for the season, unless the are sold as one year old slightly used layers like ours , they are destroyed.

Our hens and rooster were boxed up for the 100 mile drive back home. In the evening, we put them in their new accommodations, a chicken tractor built to the specifications provided in “The Chicken Tractor Handbook” by Andy Lee and Pat Foreman.

Over the next several days I watched them quietly for extended periods of time. I was practicing the “fox walk” during this era. I was able to successfully disappear from the chickens perceptions. What I noticed was remarkable. The chickens behaved almost exactly like groups of humans behave. Quiet talk(clucking) for a time, then uproar. Then quiet, cycling over and over.

The chickens lived in the chicken tractor except for winter when we moved them into the straw bail chicken house, also designed from the “Chicken Tractor Handbook”. We rotated them through 20 year old abandoned pasture, filled with poison ivy. Not only did we stop getting poison ivy after eating their eggs, but we noticed the land behind where the tractor had been was returning to high quality pasture.

After a two or three years, the chickens started to die of old age. We did not try to replace them, as we were by this time thinking of making a move. The result of that move is to what has now become EntropyPawsed.

Last summer, we received a phone call from someone in a neighboring town, inquiring as to if we were seeking chickens. We had pretty well resigned ourselves to waiting until Spring to raise some chicks, but did have the chicken house in place already and had put out the “word”. So within days we were once again with chickens.

Our land here in West Virginia is not as flat, and our area is wilder than back in Hocking County, Ohio. We are concerned about being able to keep chickens safe from predators in a chicken tractor. So we have adapted a well built, tight shed with a chicken door to our chicken house.

We still have not figured out how to pasture them around, but hope to come up with a solution this spring. Our ultimate goal is to have them pasture behind goats starting in 2010. In the meantime, we enjoy their eggs and their company. They are really demonstrative of their pleasure at the small things we do for them; feeding, bringing fresh water, and cleaning their house.

Gene Logsdon is a good source of information about chickens. He writes prolifically, having published many books. “The Contrary Farmer” is a good starter. Here is an interview with him, http://henandharvest.com/?p=51 and here is his blog, http://organictobe.org/index.php/category/gene-logsdon-blog/ .

Chickens are a good addition to any home that has some space to accommodate them. Not only do they convert unusable biomass to palatable eggs and meat, but they can also help with soil building. And they can be entertaining, too!

Visit our website http://entropypawsed.org

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