Pasture Raised Makes A Difference

We harp on the fact that our chickens are moved to fresh grass and often discuss what this means for the chickens.

But ever wonder what this means for the land itself?

I decided to take some pictures of pastures over time to show what happens when we graze our pasture raised chickens across our fields. What follows is a time lapse survey of our pastures showing the grass growth cycles. Let’s look at the adjacent areas that had chickens move through two weeks before, then four, and then six weeks earlier.

Day One After Chickens Move Across the Pasture

The grass on the left had chickens on it yesterday. It was grazed, trampled, and plastered over with manure. It looks utterly forlorn compared to the fresh grass next to it. It looks like a mess, but keep scrolling to see landscape regeneration at work.

Two Weeks After Chickens on Pasture

The grass has filled in completely, some leaves are six inches long. Note how dense the fill is at the ground level.

Four Weeks After Chickens on Pasture

This area was grazed by chickens four weeks ago. It is getting hard to see my boots through all the grass. The regrowth is spectacular.

Six Weeks After Chickens on Pasture

After six weeks, the pasture that had chickens on it has grown back to the same height as the nearby pasture that was mown for hay at the same time, but the areas the chickens covered has grown back with much higher plant density than the hay ground. I love seeing the diversity here, with two tiers of grasses and lots of clover in the understory. Also note the dandelion and plantain leaves, both of which provide nutritious grazing for cattle.

What It All Means

When we graze the chickens across a pasture, we’ll only let them cover a patch of ground one time in each year. We can see from the sequence of photos above that the chicken manure plus all their grazing and trampling are effective in stimulating more grass growth. But we want to be careful not to overdo it. We know from agronomy that too much manure can burn out the plants with too much nitrogen. Excess phosphorus and potassium can lock up calcium and sulfur.

What I find especially interesting are the ways that the short duration chicken grazing cycles effect fields in the long term. We have another pasture that hasn’t had any chickens on it this year, but it has had them for several previous years. Since our soils tend to be deficient in calcium, sulfur, and selenium, we provide our cattle dry powdered salt and minerals for them to lick as needed. When the cattle are in fields that have never had chickens, they lick the minerals at a pretty consistent rate. But when they are on a field that has had chickens in past years, they don’t eat any minerals.

This indicates to me that the added fertility from the pasture raised chickens is jumpstarting the entire biological web. I suspect what is happening is that the fertility from pasture raised chickens leads to healthier plants These plants grow better root systems. And these roots can tunnel down to deeper soil levels and retrieve minerals that are otherwise missing in our topsoil. The transfer of deep soil minerals to plant roots is a fascinating subject, as it involves a dance of cooperation between plants, bacteria, and fungi to extract each component, transfer it through the soil, and present it in a form compatible with the plant that is requesting it.

We can talk about regenerative agriculture from a lot of perspectives, but to my thinking this is one of the most solid evidences that our system of pastured poultry farming at Wrong Direction Farm is truly creating regenerative results. The grazing, trampling, and manuring action of the chicken flocks kicks off an entire ecosystem change that drives better plant growth and restores soils to fuller health. I’ve got to think that eating food grown in these conditions is better for all of us too!

6 thoughts on “Pasture Raised Makes A Difference”

  1. Dave, You’ve been knocking it out of the park with your posts! Your writing is better than most in the farm magazines. Would you be interested in writing for Stockman Grass Farmer? I don’t have an in, but I’ve been disappointed with most of the articles in there and would love to see some more good articles like you’ve been writing, in there.

    1. Hi Matthew, I agree about Stockman. I subscribed to it long before I started farming, but a couple of years ago I let my subscription lapse. I didn’t feel like I was getting much out of it anymore. I have been thinking more about writing recently. I’ve volunteered to write a short series of articles for our land grant, Cornell, in their quarterly about raising turkeys on pasture. It is hard to think about writing commitments during the summer. Maybe when the snow is on the ground and there’s a little more time I can consider other writing. Dave

      1. Two words: “content reuse”. You’ve created such excellent content over the year already. Your work is half done! There’s no shame in revisiting a topic you’ve already written about. Polish up any of your newsletter posts and you’ve got a great article. You can probably even prepare a few over the winter and submit them during the year.

        By the way, yours is one of the very few newsletters I actually get around to reading – you’re really talented at bringing your work to life in a way that even a lifelong suburbanite can connect with.

  2. Eileen McInerney

    I do enjoy reading your writings about your farm. Interesting and everything is explained well for us laypersons. Thanks!

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