Food Forest for Chickens

During our Automne 2018 food forest course we designed and planted a food forest for Chickens. This is a food forest with perennial plants and trees that chickens can fodder for fruit, berries, leaves and insects. However without plants that chickens will quickly destroy through overeating or scratching. Leaving the rest for us to harvest.

 

Food Forest For Chickens
Drawing of the final planting of half of the Chicken Food Forest (Showing sizes of plants in 10 years)

The food forest was designed with these requirements for the food forest:

  1. The food forest must provide wind protection to our new community house
  2. The system must be designed thinking about the succession of trees over time, i.e. first design a canopy later that will be present in 150 years, then design in shorter lived trees to live under this canopy and even shorter lived shrubs closer to the main canopy tree.
  3. The food forest must stay true to the plan if left unmanaged through a natural succession of plants
  4. The food forest must stay true to the design if someone takes over the land who isn’t interested in food forests – we must give them a reason not to chop it down for grains or monoulture, i.e. high yields and beauty.
  5. Shrubs and trees should be planted in with adequate spacing so that they can grow to full size without competing with other plants
  6. All layers of the food forest must be included, the fencing will be used for climbers such as passion fruit
  7. The polyculture of trees and shrubs should be designed and planted to give a forest feel and not individual beds or guilds of plants.
  8. The path for humans which goes through the food forest must have trees and shrubs on either side that can provide regular forage for humans, i.e. berries or fruits that are harvested regularly and can be eaten there and then (such as apples and blueberries).
  9. Fruit and berry plants that humans would harvest as a one off and would need to process to eat such as quince and olive should be planted further away from the path (e.g. olives, elderberry and quince)
  10. Chickens should enjoy to eat something from every plant, like the fallen fruit or low hanging fruit or leaves.
  11. The wild lavender growing all over this are not to be disturbed.
  12. All plants should provide a yield for us (the humans), like berries, fruit, medicine, timber etc
  13. As many medicinal plants for chickens should be included (such as wormwood as a dewormer) as animals are known to self medicate.
  14. Ground covers of herbs and spreading fruit like mock strawberry should be used to cover the ground.
  15. Open areas should be included to give the chickens and insects both grass and weed fodder
  16. An area must be included for a chicken powered compost generating system
  17. Areas must be devoted to growing grains to be saved for sprouting for additional chicken food
  18. Access to chicken house, compost generating system must be easy for humans, wheelbarrows and a car must be able to access the output of the compost system
  19. The food forest should be split into three areas so the chickens can be rotated through them.
    1. One area more densely planted and closed to chickens for 1-2 years
    2. One area with larger trees more spaced out and less understory plants and space for growing grains. This area will be open to chickens within 1 year and later sheep as well.
    3. One area for the chicken powered compost system where the chickens will have access to from the very start (they will be introduced in 6 months when we introduce the chickens)

In Automne 2018 we planned and planted half of the first area (See photos)

Compost for food forest
Making hot compost piles to use to amend the soil in the new food forest

Preparing for the food forest

  • We created a lot of bio car (activated charcoal to add into the ground for better drainage and water retention)
  • A friend and I mucked out a huge stable full of sheep manure and brought 9 cubic meters of sheep manure which we turned into many hot compost piles mixed with bio char, food scraps, weeds and hay
  • I listed all the trees and shrubs that I knew chickens eat, from this list i purchased additional plants that I had not already propagated
  • Over the previous two years we have been propagating plants by seed and cuttings for the food forest
  • I bought materials such as large paper for designing
  • We put fence posts up around the planned food forest last winter when the soil was wet and installed the fence in the summer when the ground was hard.
  • We harvested one large bucket of worm castings for the food forest
  • We spent 20 man days wood chipping mimosa for the food forest

Photos of the area we planted in October 2018 after planting, for more photo of the process click here

Chicken food forest Area 1. 1071 square meters (51 meters by 21 meters)

First we designed the canopy layer in 100 years and then included plants in the space in time based on the growth of the trees in 25, 50 and 100 years. This included:

  1. Existing native holm oak and cork oak seedlings. The oaks are only a meter or so high at the moment and are extremely slow growing. Although they don’t directly provide fodder for the chickens, they attracts a lot of life which the chickens can eat and as they are growing shorter lived trees under their future canopy, we have included Red Elderberry, Quince, Loquat, Medicinal shrubs and a Goji Hedge in this space in time. They could also be pruned back in 100 years for firewood if desired. The planted understory here is mock strawberry.
  2. A nitrogen fixing Carob tree grown from collect seed. This is the slowest growing tree in the design but with the biggest canopy, giving us a large area to plant fruit trees that live or produce for less than 100 years. The tree will in the future shade the pond that we dug to get clay to build the chicken coop. It will fix nitrogen for the other canopy trees around it, provide fodder for chickens and the edible carob pods provide a chocolate substitute for us. In and around the future canopy we have planted 8 Jostaberries (cross between black current and gooseberry), two different varieties of Nectarine trees, chickens favorite nitrogen fixer the siberian pea shrub, Sea Buckthorn, two Pomegranates, Common Juniper, four Black Chokeberries and Asparagus.  This area has many herbs including Rui, Oregano ground cover, Wormwood and Marjurum. We also included many edible flowers (including holly hock, borage, calendula) and nitrogen fixing cover crops such as clover and alfalfa.
  3. A black mulberry tree grown from a bought seed. This tree is faster growing and the berries are loved by chickens. As it is faster growing, there is less time available for us to grow trees under the canopy but we have planted shrubs and trees at the edge of the future canopy such as two Apricots, three red chokeberries, many Artichokes, 3 Black elderberries and a variety of herbs with the main groundcovers of Oregano, Mock strawberry and Comfrey Bocking 14.
  4. Dogwood Cherry tree bought. Another slow growing tree giving us space in time to play. The cherries and flower are beautiful and chickens will adore the fallen fruit.  Under here we have planted two nitrogen fixing Myrtle shrubs and two Black Lace Elderberries, herbs such as sage and rosemary. This shrub layer will join into the Carob guilt. Around here we have propagated in a variety a running strawberry and calendulas to cover this area.

The plantings have been broken up into:

  1. the back hedge which includes all of the elderberries, pomegranates, Gojis, Loquat and Common Juniper with the whole back having the mock strawberry groundcover.
  2. One side of the path which includes food we can browse as we walk past including Chokeberries, strawberries, apricots, a Plum and nectarines. This will be continues on the other side of the path next year.
  3. An additional hedge row that separates our main food forest from the chicken food forest which includes Hazels, Loquat, Figs and various berries.

In our next food forest courses we will be designing and planting the other parts of this Chicken Food Forest.

natural plastering
This is the large chicken house that we are building for the Chicken food forest. Eggs can be collected from the outside, all of the inside is high enough for us to walk in, its beautiful and spacious. The foundation is from stone, the walls are wattle and dorb (mud and wood from our land)

Want to join one of our food forest courses? For more info click here


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