Fowl maths

I was really intrigued by an image I saw recently that stated a “free-range” chicken needs at least 2sq feet, while a “pasture-raised” hen needs more than 108sq feet of space. This made me do some investigation and apply some maths to gauge the sanity of our setup. David Holmgren calls this permaculture principle “Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.”

In the photo above, one of the Scot Grey roosters and a Wyandotte hen share a ground bath they made in one of our “neat” little paths. That’s the price you pay for freedom! The photo is a bit grainy, as I had to zoom from afar, not wanting to disturb their cosy little setup.

FR - happy hen

Anyway, on to the maths. Firstly, I must comment that in my mind it is absolutely ludicrous to call 2sq feet “free-range”. There is no freedom, nor can any ranging take place in 2sq feet! A poor chicken can hardly peck between its toes in 2sq feet, never mind how long any natural green growth would last.

In order to call your setup “pasture-raised”, you need to have more than 108sq feet per chicken. That roughly translates to 10sq meters per chicken. That’s pretty decent I thought, slightly concerned that we may not make the cut. Not that we need the label for anything, but with animals it’s always good to check that they are treated fairly and humanely.

So what do we have? Google Earth reckons we have 2 272sq m at Dreamland where we currently let the chooks and ducks roam.

FR - GE map

Of course, the chickens can’t use every square millimetre of it – they hardly come near the pond (although the ducks do), there are some deadish work areas and there are some areas that are temporarily fenced off at times when we grow new stuff there. Besides, they can’t really feed on a 10cm diameter fruit tree trunk either, although they do give it a good peck or three to see if any bugs live there. So let’s work with a conservative 2000sq m.

The ducks enjoying foraging for snails and slugs

Before we even move the Sussex tribes to Homeland (more about that in a following post), it translates to 83.3sq m per fowl – that is for each of the 20 chickens and the 4 ducks. If we move all the Sussexes to Homeland, and only leave the Scot Greys and the Cayuga ducks at Dreamland, it will result in 153.8sq m per fowl at Dreamland.

FR - Barry

Barry exploring

Now, what do we call our setup? They are definitely not pasture-raised, as there is very little pasture, apart from the fescue grass and mixed clover paths. They mostly hang out among and below the fruit trees and at times they venture out into the open spaces to scratch in the mulch between the herbs a bit and forage for whatever they can get there – bugs, grass, clover, fallen fruits, dandelion, herb seeds – that kind of stuff. It’s not really “forest-raised” either, as ours is more of a savannah-style garden than a dense forest. But it’s not “savannah-raised” either – it’s a savannah styled forest garden, not a grassy savannah field.

FR - Scott grey

A Scott Grey hen enjoying freedom on the paths

Oh well, I guess the label is not that important. Whoever wants to buy our eggs or chicks one day can come and look at the setup for themselves. It’s not as if we’re catering for the masses. I’m satisfied that it’s super healthy and organic, and pretty fair on the animals too. They look so happy when they’re out there! But I needed to do the maths in order to have a measure whether we are doing the right thing. Especially on an acreage, you can very easily try to squeeze too much into too small a space.

Earth care, fair share – good fundamental permaculture ethics.

FR - Fluffball

Fluffball foraging in an apple tree guild

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

1 Comment on Fowl maths

  1. I am just a bit cynical about lablels! Your chooks and ducks seem to be thriving and well provided for, so that is the most important thing! As you said yourself, anyone can come and see your set up, when they make a purchase of eggs from you and that, is what sets you apart from the other more official labels!

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