Thursday, November 10, 2011

Disturbance... A Good Thing?

Joel Salatin, the head guru in "beyond organic" sustainable farming, preaches many things, some of which I've been lucky enough to hear in person as my wife and I were fortunate enough to take a trip to Virginia last year and visit his farm and experience his famous lunatic farm tour. One of the principles he preaches of as a successful sustainable grass farmer (as he calls himself) is the importance of disturbances in the land, and how this is not only essential but the way nature intended.

So where is this coming from you wonder? Since I've moved my chickens closer to the house for the winter in an attempt to let their spring/summer pasture rest and allow me to reseed where necessary for the spring, I have been plagued with the dilemma of how to give the chickens the amount of free range they are used to and deserve... I probably have just shy of an acre of property in my back yard, 3/4 of which has been their turf for the better part of 7 months, and because their coop isn't easily moved (I am still working on a mobile coop) the weekly field rotation I had been adhering to always consists of ~25 square foot of common area. This area was the reason for me wanting to reseed and move the chickens and coop closer to the house, which has inevitably resulted in much less yard for them to forage from.

This is where I remembered some of Joel's preachings, mainly his 30 min rant on disturbance as a natural occurrence in the wild and crucial in sustainable farming. You see I have an Island, for lack of a better term, of wild overgrown yard that separates ours and that of one of our neighbors. Its about 50-100 feet at it's widest point, and runs the depth of our back yard. It's mainly a handful of trees in the center outlined with forsythia bushes which bloom beautifully in the spring and wild raspberry bushes that feed us in late summer, but unfortunately the lack of "disturbance" in this area has allowed wild grape vines to overtake, strangle, and eventually kill whatever hosts lie in their path. So I took some of my poultry fence, bared the harsh briar patch like terrain, and gave my chickens a fenced in area that I can only imagine provides a cornucopia of insects, mice, and garter snakes; better referred to as chicken heaven!

In one days' time they already had much of the overgrown mess turned over dug up and cleared out, leaving only the trees (of course) and bushes. And that's when it hit me, if I partition off this Island of vines and thorny brush prior to the spring adding it to my rotational chicken pasture, I can accomplish two things; give my chickens a healthy natural buffet of protein, and clear this uninhabitable land at the same time.

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