Location: Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA
Featuring: Joel Salatin
Egg mobiles, or portable hen houses, are moved every one to two days, preferably behind herbivores, like cows. This allows chickens to have access to unimpeded pasturage.
Chickens are biological pasture sanitizers. They scratch through cow patties and spread them out, reducing the overload of nutrients in one spot and destroying the incubation environment conducive to parasite development. By eating fly larvae out of cow patties, chickens reduce irritation to the herd, increasing their comfort, health and performance. Chickens eat newly exposed grasshoppers, crickets and other herbivorous critters which compete with the cows for available forage. The chickens scratching pulls up duff and moldy leaves, aerating the soil surface and freshening the plant structure.
Pastures don’t just happen. They are like all biological systems, always in a state of flux between degeneration or regeneration. Chickens are extremely hard on forage and dump hot manure with a carbon/nitrogen ratio of 7 to 1. As a result, stationary henhouses soon develop bare spots where the forage is tilled out and killed. The soil is overloaded with nitrogen toxicity which leaches into the groundwater and over stimulates grass clumps with bitter forage repugnant to the chickens. If you want a regenerating pasture, you have to manage it for that successional improvement or it will deteriorate.