When people think about backyard chickens, usually they imagine keeping them in a coop and run enclosure. There can be a lot of benefits to that set up, such as meeting code requirements, or protecting your birds against predators. However, there are some real benefits to letting your hens graze on their own private urban pasture (AKA your lawn).
Chickens that are allowed to graze and forage on grass or pasture are healthier and happier. Their eggs are more nutritious too! Pastured eggs have higher levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin D, beta carotene, and omega 3s.
I think pastured raised birds are also happier when they are allowed to hunt bugs and eat grass. They certainly require fewer enrichment activities than birds in a small run!
Related Post: Are Backyard Chickens Right For You?
Let Chickens Mow Your Lawn
Mowing the lawn is not the most entertaining activity ever. Thankfully the chickens and goats are perfectly happy to mow the lawn for me. Well, the chickens like the lawn, the goats like to eat everything I don’t want them to eat and THEN the lawn. When you’re raising animals in a small space doubling up on uses for the resources you have is invaluable. Not only is a lawn a great place to play and pretty to look at, it can also serve as an urban pasture.
Letting your grass stay slightly long is healthier for the grass. Tall grass produces deeper roots and is more drought resistant and is better at choking out any weeds. I do like a legume mix in my lawn/urban pasture so the clovers get to stay. Not only is it good protein for the animals, but the bees love it when the clover flowers. The kids know to watch their step while there are blooms.
We don’t use any pesticides in the lawn so I pull the dandelions by hand and feed them to the bunnies, use them in infusions, or use them as a mulch. Dandelions are dynamic accumulators which means they pull nutrients deep out of the ground and into their leaves where they can be utilized. I LOVE dandelions.
How Many Chickens Should You Keep on Your Urban Pasture?
If you want to free range your chickens on your lawn without them rooting it all up you’ll need about 200 square feet per bird. A Nigerian Dwarf goat will need about 1/10th of an acre. Obviously I do not have this much space as my entire lot is 1/10th of an acre. As we’ve added animals we’ve switched from completely free ranging to a dedicated animal yard and supervised pasture time. This is more labor intensive, but ultimately better for my husband’s sanity (he HATES stepping in “surprises”) and the amount of animals we have right now.
If you have more space and can rotate your birds from one area of your yard to the other, you can use less space, closer to 100 square feet per bird. And even if you can’t keep your birds out all the time, don’t think you can’t get some of the awesome benefits of an urban pasture. Maybe just try letting your birds out of their coop for an hour or two before you lock them up for the day. Or, try making a portable chicken tractor that you move around your backyard!
Would you let your chickens eat your lawn?
Free lawn mowing, reduced feed costs, and food for the bees? Bring on the chickens!
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Monday 10th of March 2014
What do you do with the dandelions after you pull them? I toss them to my chickens, and I saw an article about using the leaves for a salad and the flowers for a jelly. Just curious about it.
I am trying to "farm" on 1/3 acre here in the Escambia County of Florida, so am looking forward to reading your adventures and maybe learning some tips from you.
Thursday 18th of July 2013
Hi, I love your site! Quick question... I would like to raise a few goats and chickens by my zoning rules prevent me from having livestock. Did you face similar challenges or did you just simply buy a house in a location that had the zoning laws you needed?
Saturday 31st of August 2013
Hi Josh, that is an awesome question. My city allows livestock with a permit if you have more than three animals. If your city doesn't allow animals you have three choices, move, bend the code and keep them as "pets", or petition to have the code changed. Many people keep animals under the radar even here in Portland because they don't want to bother getting permitted or do not believe in the permitting process. Usually this is with chickens, bees, and rabbits. It's harder to keep an undercover goat.
The Backyard Chickens site has an entire forum section devoted to how to get your local ordinances changed. I've never personally worked with a city to change the code but I know that it has been successfully done in some cities.
Kathy, The Chicken Chick
Friday 26th of October 2012
Don't forget the free fertilizer! LOL I’d like to invite you to join us at the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week! http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/clever-chicks-blog-hop-5-happy-hen.html
I hope to see you there! Cheers! Kathy The Chicken Chick
Saturday 27th of October 2012