Episode-1066- Paul Wheaton on Paddock Shift Chicken Management — 59 Comments

  1. Nope don’t like totally free range. Too much poop on the deck and to many chicken foot prints in the butter. LOL Loved the show feeds the spring fever very well.

  2. I learned a lot about chicken tractors / management of resources. “WoodyBed,” almost sounds like one word, lol – but that explains it better to ‘mericans.

  3. The assumption that a chicken tractor must be used in one spot until all the greenery is used is not correct. That is one extreme of use at the far end of the spectrum. Ideally you move the tractor at a frequency and animal density to maximize availability of forage and manage the impact of its waste.
    Proponents of Managed Intensive Grazing claim that doing as much disturbance as you can to an area in as short a time as possible then giving a long as needed rest period actually maximizes you total growth in that area. It s not just about the welfare of the animal but the welfare of the pasture/paddock as they both promote the end goal of the producer.
    Animals that have been domesticated for thousands of years should not be assumed to have identical needs to their progenitor species.
    I feel Paul’s approach is too black and white. Each situation contains dynamics pertaining to the forage available, labor availability, other animals sharing the environment, etc., etc.

    • I can argue with Paul as I did on air, I can’t argue with your points made above though.

    • Well stated. I agree. Still, it’s always good to hear other points of view. I enjoy Paul’s shows. I tractor chickens on 3/4 acre up here in NH. I do it because keeping Cornish X in a confinement sucks, and all out free ranging is not an option (zoning). I put 15 Red Freedom Rangers (great foragers, strong legs) in a 8’X6′ A-Frame half protected style movable tractor. I move it when about 50% of the vegetation is gone. It’s about 2 days in the beginning, and twice a day in the end. It works great. I feed about 30% feed. And, I throw in kitchen scraps. My soil was crap when I bought this plce (used to be a mechanics car graveyard). It’s improved greatly in just 3 years. Salatin is a genious.

  4. Maybe I’m the not the only listener who doesn’t even know what a chicken “padock” is?? Loved the show. So much to learn for this country girl at heart!

    • A paddock isn’t unique to chickens it is simply an area of management for livestock. Cross fencing is one way to do this, take 5 acres and cross fence it into 4 1.25 acre paddocks and move animals from one area to the next in rotation so no area becomes over grazed.

      This makes animals an asset vs. a liability in developing land.

  5. How do you do a paddock system to prevent ducks from flying out of it? I have 8 acres, but most of it is trees. The chicken run has a net over the top of it, but that is unmanageable if I have bigger paddocks or have to have 4 or 5 large paddocks with nets over the top.


    • You don’t worry about it, they have no desire to go anywhere and domestic breeds don’t have the ability for sustained flight. Ben Falk in VT doesn’t even have a fence and his ducks stay on his 10 acre property because it simply is where they grew up and provides for their needs.

      • i used to let my ducks free range. They ate my garden down to nothing. Duck might not leave, but they sure as heck eat stuff that I didnt want ate.

        I have 11 muscoveys, and 5 chickens. The muscoveys flew over the garden fence and ate everything. This was in Nov/Dec. There wasnt much else for them to eat but commercial food as the winter had covered most everything else in leaves.

      • its not a paddock system for ducks if the duck just flies over the fence and goes wherever it wants. That is free range for the ducks.

        • Scov’s will do that, they are basically the same as their wild brethren. Rouens, Pekins, Canvas Backs, etc are not much on flight.

        • I think I heard you were wanting Muscoveys. Are you just going to free range them if you get them? If not what is your plan?

        • Well we will deal with it as it comes. Some people have flight issues, others do not, if we do wing clipping is pretty simple. Hens won’t leave their young and it takes them a while to fly as well so it helps a lot if you let your hens raise up a flock each year and it provides meat as well.

    • Domestic ducks are lucky if they can fly 3′ in the air. For the most part they can hop about 1 foot into a kiddy pool, and some have trouble with that. With ducks it’s not about keeping them in as much as it is about keeping weasels, raccoons, fox, coyotes, and the locsal pets out. I don’t know where the phrase “sitting duck” came from, but after raising ducks most of my life, I can figure it out.

  6. I have 2 acres, half of which is lawn and the other is overgrown milkweeds and other tall weeds. I’m hoping to get chickens this spring, for eggs, and I was expecting to use a chicken tractor and move it around enough that they don’t eat bare any one particular spot. I’m wondering if paddock system could be a better option or not. Is there a cheap/good way to fence them in so they don’t get out, preferably a fencing system that I can move around easily? My yard has no fences now (other than around the garden), and I don’t really care to divide the yard up into permanently installed fences. Note that I live in NH so it gets cold here, with plenty of predators. A mobile coop sounds interesting; I was expecting to make a stationary one and then somehow stick the chickens into the tractor (carry chicken and stick them in?) wherever I have it placed.

    • The most effective movable fence is light weight electro fencing with a simple small solar panel and a car battery. It provides some protection as well. A mobile coup could be made to carry all the required items.

      Know this if you want to hammer the area with lots of weeds harder then Paul is comfortable with it would NOT bother me for a micro second.

      I bring on guests to say their piece and give them views, that doesn’t mean I 100% agree unless I say that.

  7. I did Paul’s thought on the tractor concept. We have a 4×15 tractor that is open all day long so my dozen gals can roam and forage over 10 acres of pasture, woods, and lakeside to their bellies content. They only time they are secured are sunset to sunrise to protect them from nighttime predators.

  8. I don’t have a large dog so I have to totally fence my chickens in (including the chicken wire buried under the ground) to keep predators (coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, hawks, etc) away. How would this be addressed using Wheaton’s method?

  9. I have been free hanging RR chickens for a year in half in AR Ozark Mountains.
    Kept 1 roaster (ate others) and he runs with 20 hens. They roast in the trees at night. NO shelter needed. Feed them chicken scratch/lay ration for about 2 months. They forage the rest of the year. They reproduce and offset the losses. Working great.

  10. Not my favorite show. No disrespect intended. It’s chickens I think this guy is worrying about it too much. I’ve raised chicken most of my life. I keep them in a coop with a yard. I let them out to free range when I’m home and can keep an eye on them. It’s not a difficult thing….. Again no disrespect to Jack or guest intended. I still love the show though!

    • @Jack none taken by this Jack if you heard my intro I pretty much agree with you I just let Paul say his piece. Personally I do think when raising say 100 meat birds a year or something like that Paul is right.

      When it comes to an egg flock though, geez people have been doing it this way forever with happy chickens and lot of eggs.

    • I think I may try a “hyrbid” approach this year for my broilers. Last year I tractored them and moved them every day. It worked fine. Anxious to see the grass in that area this spring. I currently have layers that are free-ranging. They explore some, but do tend to hang in the same 3-4 areas. I can see evidence that they are hitting some areas of the yard (and garden) too hard. Plus, they’ll destroy my spring plantings if I let them. SO, I plan to get a moveable electric fence, make a paddock, and retrofit last years too heavy tractor as a “movable coop” instead. I’ll move it every few days or so (vs. daily), and shift the entire paddock as necessary. If that goes well for broilers, I may add nesting boxes to it and use it for my layers. But I also plan to build a second, lighter tractor as well. I see tractors as a toolbox, and my chickens as tools, for fertilizing or debugging specfic areas of my choosing.

    • @RationalHusker

      I have had great luck with both Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers. I am going to try to breed 3 hold over Freedom Rangers this year. We’ll see how much of a cross they really are.

  11. RE: Geoff Lawton’s method and Paul talking about more “texture” for the food forest. The site that is in Geoff’s new video is directly below one of the swales that is featured in the his first Food Forest dvd. He is extending the system below the swale which is what he says to do in the first dvd.

    • Definitely on extending below swale features, and interesting to know this work was being done on the same landscape.

  12. “Pulsing” as Paul puts it sounds similar to the intermediate disturbance theory – where a moderate amount of disturbance leads to better long term growth than severe or chronic disturbance AND better growth than environments that lack enough stimulus. It operates in many areas, from building muscle to growing more diversity by culling out the sick ones. I think there’s a Native American saying, something like:
    “Strong wind blow fire out, light wind make fire grow.”

    • Salatin talks about htis. He teaches it by explaining that if you keep the pasture in it’s “teenage” state, it will keep growing like one.

  13. A show on Electro Net Fencing would be awesome! Any input from people currently using it would be great too.

    Or i’d even take a link to a discussion on it.

    I am hopping to do some pig followed by chicken paddock shift this spring and I need to buy a system at some point.

    Lastly – Excellent show. Having Jack and Paul “argue” the finer points of chicken permaculture is a win/win situation. I met Paul durring his presentations at Ludeman’s in Beaverton, Oregon. He is a fine man and we should do all we can to support him. I will also add that he has way more ass then his nay-sayers have teeth.


  14. Interesting ideas, but I think I will just free range when I get my acre and a half. I grew up around my aunt and uncles chickens and I don’t see any problems doing it that way. Wake up in the AM and open the coop and collect the eggs. They wander around the yard, the house, the adjacent orchard, etc. Put some chicken wire where you don’t want them to go, but other than that, leave them alone. They go to a different spot every day, and, in the evening, you go out to the coop and they’re all waiting there for you to close the door.

    Can’t imagine a better way, really.

    • That’s what I currently do with my layers. And for simplicity’s sake, I may let them keep doing that. But they don’t “go to a new spot” everyday. They frequent the same 2-3 general locations. In some places, they’ve scratched the earth bare, while leaving grass/weeds untouched 30 feet away. I think they’re drive more by where the feel safe than where the best buffet in town is located. They’re still young, so perhaps that will change in the spring as they continue to get braver and explore. Again, the advantages of a tractor and/or paddock system is that you can make the birds work for you. Where do you want fertilizer? Where do you want bare earth?

    • My chickens also frequent the same couple spots when turned loose, especially under a certain large bush. Sure, they make the rounds and scratch every which-where, but they always retreat back under that bush. They’ve made a couple bare spots in there and that’s where they like to do their dust bath thing. I toss cracked corn around in the garden area to focus their efforts; it seems to be working.

    • I live on a small suburban lot and I do this with my chickens, they seems fairly content. But I did loose one to a bird of prey recently. Not a happy moment.

      Just had and egg that was less than 5 minutes old. Very tasty!

    • That’s interesting. If you look at what songbird people do, they make sure the birds feel “safe” around their feeders. I wonder if the chickens have the same instinct of not going where they feel it’s safe. Maybe you could clear a buffer and they would go there.

      • My birds appear to feel safest in two locations: (1) under and among the row of very old lilac bushes, and (2) in the windbreak, which is two rows of evergreens – Norway Spruce, I believe. If they’re not in one of those locations, they’re scratching in the garden or the feedlot. Unfortunately, lately they’ve developed a liking to the rickety shed we use as a garage. Probably another safe zone that protects them from wind, too.

  15. I let my chickens free range from their sizable yard when I’m at the farm here in north central Texas. The other day, one of my roosters was snagged, by a hawk, while he was free ranging. It helps one to understand operation of the food chain. I haven’t researched how to prevent hawks killing chickens yet.

    I used to have deer netting over the chicken yard, but snowfall knocks it down.

    The German word hugel means hill, raised area of land, hummock, knoll, mound

    • Sorry about your rooster. Something like that is bound to happen at some point. I had to cull one chick last year. I’m sure I’ll loose birds to predators at some point. I just hope I find the carnage first, and not my wife. My boys really don’t seem to be bothered by that kind of thing. They happily eat our chicken, knowing full well Daddy butchered them. They seem to appreciate the food chain at an early age 🙂

    • I had the same issue. Was just thinking maybe if I was able to have a rooster it may have fought off the predator.

  16. Hi All,

    I’m feeling really lucky non of my chickens are interested in walking around on the deck. Anyway we allow our chickens free range of the yard but one afternoon a falcon got one of good layers and since then we’ve aquired more hens to replace her.

    Question 1 – Is there a good way to keep birds of prey away from my chickens? I live on a 1/10 of an acre suburban lot so I may be limited here.

    Question 2 – The hen we got started laying giant slightly brown eggs, probably because of the food she was getting at the other place. Now she is laying darker smaller eggs. We do organic feed and fresh kitchen scraps and let them free range the backyard. Is the larger less colorful egg better or worse than the ones we are getting now?


  17. Great show, Jack. I would love to do a show about Ducks some day but I haven’t grown the farm to a size where I can pasture them all. I grew up doing it the old school way with a pen and I m slowly coming up with solutions. Right now I just grow crops for them and bring them to the birds. Sort of like what Rise and Shine Rabbitry is doing. We have 3/4 of an acre now up here in NH.

  18. Fwiw, the last time we raised chickens, ducks and turkeys – we let them free range during the day and cooped ’em at night. Loss to predators ran to about 25% and “herding” them in plus the hassle of finding the eggs for the day got to be too much. 🙁
    This time I plan to tractor them and shift it depending on the amount of graze, I’ve only got 3 hens at the present (Silver Laced Wyandottes) so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
    While Paul touched on winter I didn’t see any mention of it in his article. I live in North Idaho (roughly parallel to Missoula, MT) where 2-3′ of snow is common as well as teen temps w/frequent single digits. I’ve been keeping them cooped in the greenhouse w/ a infrared heat lamp so they get what light is available during the day – but I’d be curious to hear what other northern folks do during the 5 month long “attack of the albino brain eaters”. ???

  19. From what I’ve researched “hugel” equates to “mound” so a literal translation would be “mound culture” ie the practice of growing in mounded beds. It’s also ironic that the German for “wood” is “holz”! That Sepp has developed them into the steep & high versions of Nature’s wooded core wonder he has, would probably be better termed “hochhugelen von holzern” = “high mounds from wood”.

    But American adaptation/ bastardization of German (& other foreign terms) is nothing new, like “wienerschnitzel” which does not mean “hot dog”.

    • Here is the thing if you watch the old videos of his work form the 80s he just called them raised beds, nothing more.

      The wood also ironically is likely a total accident, in his book he basically states he had all these trees lying around after clearing the area, they were buried in the beds mostly just to get rid of them.

  20. Wow…can you stand one more comment??? LOVE Paul…so funny, what a hoot! I love my four hens. They are such typical women. All trying to out talk one another. I’ll have to clap my hands and yell LADIES! (don’t want complaints from neighbors) and they’ll freeze and then ruffle and fluff themselves and walk around with accusing looks at one another. They fight, they bicker, they make up and get along. Typical women. Loved the show today, learned a LOT and thank you both very much for a great show.

  21. Jack: I’ve heard you mention a Ben Cook a few times lately (including this episode, I believe). Based upon context, I think you mean Ben Falk, but I thought I would ask just to be sure.

    • Yep Cook is a firearms trainer that makes holsters, I mix those two up all the damn time.

  22. Love to hear you guys disagreeing and hearing two opinions! I usually lean towards your opinion more than Paul’s, but it’s awesome to hear him regardless.

  23. Great Show, Again! Got an idea for the duck question.
    Build circular elevated hugelkultur ponds! (Roof run off)
    Then you have duck ponds, and pressurized drip irrigation water

  24. I just wanted to chime in on the duck system as I am using something like what you were asking about. I actually have an excess of water on my property that I needed to reduce in my new orchard area. With a water table depth of only a few feet, swaling doesn’t have much benefit at this stage. though it does fit in to the ultimate plan later on. Rather I am digging water diversion ditches around the area to help dry the center a bit. I dig the ditches 4′ in width, about 18″ in depth and in 20′ sections of length. With each section dug about a month apart, I go a bit deeper, ultimately there will be a pond about 1,000 feet away.
    Every time I dig a new section a couple of inches deeper, the standing water moves, and the free-ranged duck move with it all on their own.
    The muck they make through their droppings and the mud from their feet effectively destroys the grass on the banks for about 5′ on either side. It comes back soon, but there is enough of a window in time between each new section to plant it without the native 2-3′ grasses choking the saplings I’m planting. Eventually the trenches will be irrigation channels for wind-break trees.

  25. I use the “scorched earth policy” only when i am working on my garden. The chickens scorch then i mulch and plant strait it. Any other tjme they free range.