Chicken Scavenging System: Update Jan 2013

 

Scavenging Chicken

Old English Game Cockerel

My Chicken Scavenging System is designed to feed my Chickens using insects living on the floor of a type of Forest Garden, to reduce the amount of wheat and other grains that I need to feed to them. I described this  Permaculture system of my own design, in my Chicken Scavenging System Design that was written up as one of the ten portfolio designs for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. The Scavenging System is designed to build up a deep litter of leaves and rotting wood, which is an ideal environment for insects, on which the chickens can feed.The problem is that this will take years to develop, so I am using another Permaculture technique called ‘Chop and Drop‘ to speed the process up.

Chop and Drop

I first came across the Chop and Drop technique in a Permaculture DVD by an Australian Permaculturalist, Geoff Lawton. The DVD was about ‘Establishing a Food Forest’, which is another name for a Forest Garden. In the DVD Geoff describes planting support trees which are there to help get the system established. The support trees are cut back hard (chopped) and then the branches are dropped to the floor where they become food for mycorrhizal fungi, which in turn feed the trees. It will take a few years before my support trees are able to do the same job for my Chicken Scavenging System, but I have adapted the technique, so that I use twigs and leaves from outside of the Scavenging area.

Permaculture Principles

We process quite a bit of our own firewood, and will be doing more as the trees in our Coppice, hedges, and Forest Garden develop. In the past we have kept most of the small, twiggy wood to use as kindling, but this is building up now, and taking up valuable storage space. I could burn it and use the wood ash as a soil amendment, but instead I am cutting it into small sections and ‘dropping’ it into the Chicken Scavenging area. This is a good example of the Permaculture Principle every element should perform more than one function. Here the twigs and leaves are being used to feed trees, and insects, and as a mulch to amend the soil, helping to turn it from a mixed bacterial/fungal dominated soil, to become fungal dominated in time. I am also linking the outputs from my coppice and firewood production to the inputs needed for the Chicken Scavenging System.

 

Building a Chicken Scavenging System

Twigs and Leaves in Chicken Scavenging Area

The picture on the right shows some of those twigs and leaves, dropped in the North East corner of the Chicken Scavenging Area. As there will not be enough woody material  to create a deep layer of leaves and twigs, I am concentrating what I have into ‘chunks’. Eventually these chunks will expand and join together. Jacke and Toensmeir call these ‘expanding nuclei’ in their books ‘Edible Forest Gardens‘, but I prefer the term ‘chunking’ described by Permaculture author Toby Hemenway, in his book ‘Gaia’s Garden‘.

The picture below gives another view of this space.

Wood in Chicken Scavenging System

Chicken Scavenging Area with woody material

When I wrote up the Scavenging System design I had not planted out the hardy bamboo that were part of the original Permaculture Design. Since then I have planted out the clumping bamboos, and the picture to the left shows one of them. It is Fargesia Robusta, and should grow above head height, and form a large clump. Providing shelter for the chickens,a  home for insects, colour in the Winter, and the leaves of the bamboo will add to the leaf litter, adding to the insects for the chickens to feed on.

Hardy Bamboo, Fargesia robusta

As the support trees in the Scavenging System grow, it should be possible to build up the ground litter layer using them alone. Eventually, the main production trees and Hardy Bamboo, designed as a productive Forest Garden, should do the job. In the meantime, I will need to keep adding woody material, and finish planting the running bamboo plants, and a few more support trees.

Take care

Deano

12 thoughts on “Chicken Scavenging System: Update Jan 2013

  1. Pingback: New Chicken Scavenging Post « The Sustainable Smallholding

  2. Alex

    A very interesting post, thank you. I like the idea of creating this forest floor ecosystem- totally suited to chickens. Our mission this year is to reduce our reliance on imported grain for animal feed. Have you any experience of growing forage crops specifically for animal feeding? Any tips would be appreciated.
    Alex

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Alex
      I haven’t grown crops specifically for my chickens, but they eat the seeds from Bladder Senna, and really love eating chicory, which is also a wormer. Mine eat comfrey, and similar plants like borage. The key to keeping the chickens laying is a high protein content, so any seeds, or leaves with a high protein content, will do that. The secret is managing the chickens in such a way as to allow them restricted access, or to cut and throw the food to them.
      Hope that helps, but if you have any other questions just ask
      Deano

      Reply
      1. alex

        Thanks Deano, very grateful for the tips. I had noticed that ours like comfrey when I cut it for adding to the compost, they are all over it! I hadn’t made the connection about keeping protien content high for laying, I will address that as the laying is patchy over winter. I’m heading over to read up your sustainable grains posts now.
        Alex

        Reply
        1. Deano Martin Post author

          Hi Alex
          Glad that it helped. Dried nettles are also good, and they will eat them wilted too.
          Deano

          Reply
  3. Alex

    Hi Deano,
    I’m wanting to pick your brains again, hope you don’t mind. I have been reading your posts on grain growing, really useful to me as I want to trial growing some animal feed this year (for chickens and pigs) the cost of feed + GM issue and difficulty of finding local grain, has made me think that I need to come up with a more sustainable way of keeping animals. I was planning to grow grain with an undercrop of clover in my resting pig pen and looking at your experience, chicory may be a good one to try too. I am having trouble finding where to buy grain seed from, if you have any ideas, I’d be very grateful!
    Best wishes,
    Alex

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Alex. That all depends on how professional you want to be about it. Just to grow standard grains, you can use the same wheat that you would buy for giving to your chickens. Same goes for the health food packages of grains, which would allow you to buy spelt, einkorn, etc. too.
      Brown Envelope seeds were selling Maris Wigeon wheat, and there are a couple of American sites selling grains of all types. You could also try any of the grains sold for sprouting, as wheat and other grains are sold that way too.
      The chicory that I use is the green manure version, so your normal seed suppliers should be able to help.
      If you buy something that i normally animal feed, you can do a germinaton test by soaking the seeds overnight, and then sprouting them on damp kitchen roll/toilet paper.
      Hope that helps
      Deano

      Reply
  4. Patrick Whitefield

    Brilliant, Deano.

    I hope you’re going to keep a record of how much feeding the chickens need per head as the system develops. The way this quantity goes down will be an accurate measure of the yield of the scavenging system.

    btw I really don’t like this term ‘scavenging’ – ‘chicken forage’ sounds much better and doesn’t have that diparaging ring to it.

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Patrick
      Lovely to hear from you.
      The chickens get a set amount of feed per day, but how much they eat varies depending on the available forage, and the weather. As they also forage outside of this space, it will only contribute a proportion of their food
      The term ‘Chicken Scavenging’ or ‘Improved Chicken Scavenging System’ is the one used by researchers in the developing world looking to help small scale farmers improve the profitablility of their poultry. If you do a search for those terms you get to see some really interesting stuff published.
      Chicken forage is almost exclusively a permaculture term, and I don’t see anybody doing any meaningful research for this. Just a few people copying others. As it seems to depend on growing food that can be fed to humans, to feed chickens, it doesn’t seem to meet our ethics.
      So for now I’m going to stick to this term for now, despite the way that it sounds.
      I’ve added a facebook share button at the bottom of the individual posts, for anybody who wants to share them, but I’ve not tried it myself, so I’m not sure how they work.
      Take Care
      Deano

      Reply
  5. Patrick Whitefield

    Yes, I see your point about scavenging. It means that other serious researchers are likely to find you.

    I’ve been searching your blog, trying to find the original post about your chicken scavenging system but without success. Can you point me towards it?

    Cheers, Patrick

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Patrick
      The original design is in a drop down menu under the ‘Permaculture Diploma’ Tab. This is in the Navbar above the picture.
      Maybe it’s time for a follow up visit, so that you can see how things are progressing?
      Take Care
      Deano

      Reply

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