Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poop Circles

Forget crop circles, chicken poop circles are the mystery of the day. In this case, the mystery isn't how or what creates them but instead, how to prevent them. We have a round feeder under the covered half of the pasture pen and the chickens rarely stray far from it, although they will venture out into the uncovered area a few at a time to forage. As a result, a firmly packed down poop ring develops around the feeder within an hour or two of moving the chickens.

I know I seem obsessed with poop but I can't BELIEVE the amount of waste these birds produce. Originally we were only moving the pen once a day but we've taken to moving it morning and evening because otherwise they just lounge around on the poop ring. I have no idea how other folks who raise pastured poultry get away with moving the pen only once a day, especially since many of them house three to four times more birds in a space less than twice the size the one we're using. I kind of felt bad about keeping 20 chickens in a 6 ft x 8 ft pen but now I'm confident that we could house 40 in our current pen without a problem, since running and frolicking isn't really their thing. Gorging and resting is definitely the name of the game here.

I think the easiest way to prevent the ring from developing is to just get a second feeder. The birds will split up and that will help distribute the poop more evenly. And if we keep moving the pen twice a day then there won't be time for the poop to build up.

And why do I care about the poop rings, you ask?

Two reasons. First, the chickens don't care what they're lying on as long as they're near the food. Instead of moving to the cleaner areas when they're done eating, a lot of them will just relax right on top of all the crap. It cakes on their feet and feathers and is just generally nasty.

The second is because these critters are helping fertilize the field where my horse grazes. These poop rings are taking a while to break down and since chicken poop is so high in nitrogen, having it so concentrated in such small areas can burn the grass instead of nourishing it. I doubt that they're on each section of pasture long enough to do any damage but I would like it if things were spread out a bit more. Nonetheless, I'm very excited to see what the pasture looks like after a season with birds on it.

This is the area under the pasture pen right after we moved it. The chickens haven't yet visited the grass beyond the poop ring.

Same patch of grass from the other side. You can see the remains of a poop ring from about a week earlier up by the dog's legs.

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