Grass and Chickens

Time to put the mower on the tractor. I have a 1957 Ford 640 tractor and a five-foot rotary mower.

The surest sign that it’s time to mow is that the electric fence starts shorting out against it. You’ve really gone too far when the chickens have little jungle paths through the tall grass to get from their houses to the outdoor feeders.

Chickens do best on short grass. They can’t digest grass unless it’s bright green, and tall grass is a serious barrier to them. I read some research done way back when that said that two inches is a good grass height for chickens. Six inches is too tall. Also, when tall grass starts providing seclusion, they start laying there instead of in the nest boxes.

Predators, on the other hand, prefer tall grass. It allows them to lie in wait, which works better for them than chasing chickens all over the yard.

It’s important to either be (a) the kind of person who always puts everything back where it belongs, not matter what, or (b) to start mowing the pasture before the grass gets high enough to obscure the stuff you’ve left lying around. Otherwise you discover your missing possessions by shredding them with the mower.

There are different kinds of tractor mowers. Like everyone else, I use a “bush hog,” (which I put in quotes because it’s really a generic rotary mower, not by Bush Hog) — a rotary mower with swinging blades that make it resistant to damaging itself or your tractor’s drive shaft if it whacks a stump or a big rock. Don’t forget to fill up the oil in the transmission and sharpen the blades if you can get at them.

Also, you really need to have an “overrunning clutch” between the bush hog and your PTO drive shaft. Otherwise, the inertia of the spinning blades will act like a flywheel, making your tractor hard to stop. (The power take-off is on the wrong side of the clutch, so stomping on the clutch has no effect on this. The ratcheting mechanism on the overrunning clutch does the trick.)

What about lawns, you ask? Oh, yeah. I mow them with a lawn mower, or, more often, Dan does. I don’t do lawn care besides that. I prefer working on a field scale, so a lawn seems too dainty to me. We don’t plant or fertilize it, we just mow whatever chooses to grow there. Grass and frisbees, mostly. And Oregon’s Coast Range plays this geological joke on us — it rains half the year, but that doesn’t mean your well produces much water. So we don’t water the lawn in the summer, either.

But take it easy on your first mowing session of the season. Tall wet grass is exhausting to deal with, except on a tractor or riding mower. The word “dainty” I used earlier doesn’t apply to the first cutting in the spring. My grandfather found this out the hard way back in the Seventies, duking it out his lawn and losing. Gave him a heart attack. That’s why he’s not the world’s oldest man today.

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

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