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Sunday, July 14, 2019

It's a wrap

Hens will do pasture good if they are not too concentrated on it. -- John Seymour

Some years ago, I came across the concept of a "chicken moat" and it fired my imagination. I was not much into having livestock myself, but, partnered with an enthusiast, knew poultry and other animals were going to be part of my life.

Chickens, ducks and their guard goose in the moat
I thought about the idea for years without implementing it, until the day I discovered deer had climbed onto the porch and eaten all the tomato seedlings in their pots. We counted up the costs of fencing the entire acre so as not to have this issue, and found we could do it.

This had the immediate benefit that we could extend the range of the poultry, but their effects in the garden were deleterious, even though they were no match for the deer in that regard. We could have them there in winter ...

... but in summer, once the slugs and bugs were under control, lettuce and chard would appear on the menu. So the obvious thing to do was to have an outer deer fence and inner poultry fence, defining the space between as pasture, and -- mirabile dictu -- a "moat" had been built.

We next placed the orchard in the moat, reasoning that even fallen fruit that was not eaten by the birds would produce bugs of various kinds that might be opportunely snapped up.

Chickens, however, are very hard on the root collars of young fruit trees, so we tried first caging the trees with prunings (the birds pulled them apart), hardware cloth (too many weeds) and then a rock mulch. We found we could spread fruit pulp (fertilizer) from cider making at the roots of the trees, and it could be explored at leisure by the birds, with the roots protected by the buried rocks. These must weigh at least three pounds or hens will root them out in order to make dust-bath pits. With ducks, this is really no issue.

We do think the garden shows signs of a reduction in slugs and veg-predacious bugs, though we have never been able to close the entire circle because of our predetermined layout, which can be an issue when buying a place already developed -- renters may encounter even more issues.

But almost every single-unit or cooperative housing place in arable temperate country, including in the suburbs could potentially benefit from such an arrangement, local codes and HOAs permitting (if they don't, now might be the time to go into politics!). I think it can be kept attractive. Of course, the more freedom you have, the more species of plants you may wish to encourage, so as to work toward a true permaculture forest garden.

Acre or even smaller lot: a) House b) garage c) wellhouse d) garden shed e) barn/poultry house f) garden beds g) fruit trees h) chicken moat i) optional goats/sheep j) truck access k) walkway l) shade trees such as mature cherry or walnut. m) place for humans to zone out.  Not shown: plantings of tea, herbs, berries, grapes, lavender, etc.
In our case, it's impossible to tell from the road that there is a moat, as we have shrubbery along the road and apple trees along the inside of the fence there. Ten feet from the road is the location of the fence, to account for county right-of-way. The poultry zone stretches from there all along the east side of the property and, as the neighbors have their own chickens, there are no diplomatic concerns. You can see from this that the idea of a moat can be very flexible indeed.

This is shaped more like a pipe wrench than two concentric circles. But for us it's a wrap.

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