Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Overwintering Hens This Year

One of the lessons I learned last year was that, over the winter, the laying hens have to be pulled off of the pasture. The pitter-patter of dozens of chicken feet over biologically dormant soil is a great way to trample a pasture into erosion and loose what little soil we have or have built up. The hens compact the soil, especially when it's wet.The other big problem is the hens need their greens in the winter and there's not much green out there. They'll keep nipping at any growth that does occur, and will kill the hardiest grass clumps - even the normally cast iron tough fescue grass. Rest is a necessity whether you're a person, family, chicken, or patch of ground.

So this year, I've got the hens housed in the training pen Carla and I built this past late spring. It's very secure, the flock has plenty of room, and once they ate all the grass that had been stored there, a friend and I covered the area with hay pretty thick to compost the chicken poop and keep the area from becoming a mud hole. The area is solid shale in some places, and so by mid spring, when the hens are put back on pasture, there'll be a real layer of fertility there to scatter clover and grass seed on.The hens are seem to be really happy with things. Shelter, no mud, safety from predators. This set up's good for around 150 hens comfortably. In the future, I'd like to overwinter the hens in a hoop house, but this'll do us for now and probably next year with flock cullings.


  1. Why not get them some good quality alfalfa hay?

  2. Alfalfa isn't really grown around us, and it's pretty high dollar stuff. I can get two round bales of hay for what I could get a squarebale of alfalfa for. Since we're using the hay for bedding to compost and build soil, alfalfa wouldn't be cost effective.

  3. any experience overwintering the heritage turkeys; shelter requirements etc?