Monday, July 03, 2006

Freedom to roam or “why did the chicken cross the road?” We have let the chicks have their freedom during the daytime and their confidence has grown quickly. It wasn’t long before they ventured further than our own garden. They wander along the verge, and so Gabrielle has made up a sign to warn motorists, they also wander into neighbour’s gardens and one got detached from the others this week and was found climbing a neighbours stairs. Thankfully, none of the neighbours are bothered by this but we must monitor the situation to make sure their foraging doesn’t damage the gardens. And their ranging is taking them closer to the fields where the foxes approach from. We do wonder whether some kind of enclosure might be a good idea.

This made me wonder what “free range” actually means. The DEFRA website makes distinctions between
“Free Range”, “Traditional Free Range” and “Free Range - Total Freedom” for poultry. I think ours are in the “Free Range – Perhaps a bit too much Freedom” category. I didn’t manage to sort out a similar definition for the French terms: “Poulets Fermiers”,“elevées en plein air” and “élevées en liberté”.

A permaculture solution is a “chicken forage system” perhaps combined with a “chicken tractor”. Read more about the ideas in Patrick Whitefield’s The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and other Temperate Climates and I also found Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual useful. Basically the idea is to fence off a sufficiently large area for the birds well-being and then plant it with trees, shrubs and other vegetation which will provide food naturally for the chickens. If fruit trees are added, the chickens will do much to reduce disease by eating bugs and larvae, and weed and fertilise the soil at the same time (The ECM pp 246-53). Designing such a system on our site will go on the list of things to do, and planting it will have to wait until winter now. In the meantime, has anybody seen our chickens recently?