Kirsten
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Meanwhile, in the Gravity Chicken Run…

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The Gravity Chicken Run is now entering its second winter as one of the gravity-powered (and chicken powered) composting experiments at Milkwood Farm. We’ve made some modifications since last winter, and things are looking good.

As with all on-farm experiments, we’re learning as we go. But egg production is good and, as we continue to tweak things, all-round chicken happiness is high.

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Gravity Chicken Run in Winter 2011… going well, but could use some terracing logs and heaps more mulch.

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The run in Winter 2012 – log terraces in place to slow the progress of materials and deep litter at about 20cm average depth that is constantly being renewed…

The Rawbale Chicken House is working well – keeping the chickens warm and snug while allowing for good airflow. And the sloping run seems to be working well too – especially now that we’ve made bush-terraces in it to slow the flow of mulch downhill!

The idea with this chicken run (or straw yard, as it’s become known) is that weekly we dump a wheelbarrow full of straw in at the very top of the run, which over time the chickens scratch down the hill.

The whole hill becomes a great slumping mass of mulch, and by the time it creeps to the bottom, it’s somewhat composted and ready to be taken away via the bottom door, to be used elsewhere on the farm.

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Adding the weekly wheelbarrow of straw at the top of the run

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Here come the chooks to help out…

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And a scatter of corn to get everyone scratching…

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And they’re into it…

The run itself now has horizontal bush logs every 2-3 meters or so. This is helping to prevent erosion and, more importantly, means that all the mulch we constantly put in the top takes a fair while to make it to the bottom. The chickens love this. Oh how they love it.

Because the chickens are scratching throughout the yard constantly, they’re essentially moving the whole mass of mulch (with incrementally more and more chicken poo as it descends) all the way down the hill.

But the mulch also moves slowly enough for weed seeds to sprout (and then get eaten by chickens), for worms and grubs to venture into (and then get eaten by chickens), and creates a magnificently aerated, deep litter, which is about 20cm thick all the way down the run (and up to 30cm on the upsides of the log terraces).

By the time the mulch reaches the bottom level of the yard it looks like… well, finely chopped straw with benefits – half broken down carbon material, laced with aged chicken manure. It’s certainly not completed compost, but that is ok. There are many systems waiting for its goodness!

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Deep litter, all the way to the bottom of the run

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Deep litter in constant motion means happy chooks and healthy, composting mulch. It even smells great.

We’ve also added a black mulberry in the middle of the yard, which the chickens are loving for both the extra shade and also its mulberries and the leaves, both of which they eat with gusto. This winter we’re also planting pockets of chicken forage within the run, which we’ll periodically protect from the chickens, then let them loose on.

All in all, this is certainly a system that seems to be working. It won’t be the only chicken system on Milkwood Farm come Spring (we have plans for egg mobiles and broilers), but it will remain as a central chicken straw yard, being as it is right next to the food forest and the tinyhouse.

In other news, after 6 months of use I can say that the Grandpas Chicken Feeders are a success, and of great benefit for preventing the rats and mice and antechinus and possums and currawongs and parrots and everything else from eating the chooks’ feed.

Apart from the currawongs that is, who gang up and stand 3 abreast to make the lever mechanism work and take it in turns to feed. But they seem to have tired of that trick, so we’ve not activated the money-back guarantee on these none too cheap feeders. They’re working well and will likely outlast us all.

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Dollar the Blue Langshan rooster modelling the feeders, during the training phase, where we were sprinkling the lever plates with feed to get the chickens to figure out how to use the feeders

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Excitingly (for me, anyway) we’re still getting eggs through the winter despite sub-zero nights and long frosty mornings, which I take as a good sign that the chickens are generally happy. The blue langshans that Nick bred last Autumn for egg laying in the spring have been integrated into the flock for winter, and all seems to be well in the chicken run…

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Straw yard in April, during the Field day. Photo by Cathy Xiao Chen

>> More about chicken systems, portable, mobile and otherwise, at Milkwood Farm

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