· Media > Published Articles > North Country News >Chicken Pioneers
"Chicken Pioneers" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, August 2012
Six of our chickens are feeling quite lucky – without announcement they find themselves in a brand new enclosure full of grubs, bugs, lush vegetation, a variety of grasses, and a natural bouquet of wildflowers. Mulberry trees reign overhead, and rouge berries drop their way to the ground like edible confetti. Shade from the old apple trees keeps the area cool in the morning, while a breeze through the hazelnuts mellows the afternoon heat. Yes, these White Island Crosses may just be thinking they've reached poultry paradise.
From the human perspective, we've wanted to get these birds on new territory for a couple of reasons. The birds' existing pen is well eaten, with bare soil dominating the topography. In the name of chicken well-being, we want to offer them more verdant habitat. In the name of soil health, we don't want to exhaust the ecology of the existing paddock.
Too, with our farming interests in mind, we are already anticipating the transplanting of rootstock next spring…and we need weed-free areas in which to do so. By placing chickens on this grassy patch now, in the height of summer, these birds will have ample months (now through the fall freeze) to eat this meadow down to dirt. At that juncture, we will be able to prep the area for future planting, applying compost followed by a cardboard & woodchip sheet mulch. This winter we'll log some of the larger trees to the West, eliminating the heaviest of the shade. By spring we will be ready to transplant fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes, and medicinal groundcovers into the area.
So how did we go about this process of re-housing a portion of our chicken flock? Well, all told, it began with our oxen. See, the luxury suite in which these six chickens live is actually a wooden house atop wheels. We call this a "chicken tractor." After re-filling the limp tires, this mobile home was hitched to the awaiting oxen, then pulled into it's new location. A truck could do the same job…but the oxen are certainly more appreciative of the work.
From there, postholes were dug for stability and durability of the fence-to-be. Some reconnaissance in our "resource pile" yielded more chicken wire scraps then anticipated – a fence was rapidly patched together, a minimum of five feet tall. Lower than this, and the birds' sense of adventure may just impel them to fly beyond the enclosure on which we want them to focus. In the coming weeks, as they eat down the vegetation along the bottom edge of the fence, we will need to monitor the fence line for holes or uneven patches – the grass is always green enough on the outside to prompt the next great escape.
In short order the tractor house was filled with bedding, a watering dish and food trough were placed inside, and laying boxes were filled with hay. The chickens were officially moved in. They jumped to the work at hand with eager excitement; there was much for these chicken pioneers to do. Anthropomorphic as it may be, they sure do seem content. And that is a beautiful moment to witness.
Bethann Weick lives and works at D Acres Permaculture Farm & Education Center, a non-profit education organization. She first came to the farm in April 2008 and now focuses her work on gardening, animal husbandry, and writing. Check out her recent articles published in Small Farmer's Journal and Permaculture Activist. Learn more about the programs at D Acres by visiting www.dacres.org.