We kept our first set of chickens in three small coops we could drag to fresh ground every day. Some folks call this a chicken tractor while other use the term chicken ark. It worked okay and felt better than a stationary coop, but we eventually noticed how badly a chicken wants to forage and came to the realization that our few square feet of space was not good enough.
The solution was more space, but we didn't want chickens scratching up our garden or pooping on the porch, so we decided to try rotational chicken pastures. We tried both temporary and permanent fences and settled on a combination of the two.
Temporary fences work good for the chickens we are planning to eat because they just need around a month of fresh ground and the green plastic material was easy to set up and move. A temporary corral around a fruit tree will have the added benefit of fertilizing the ground or what some people refer to as top dressing.
Putting up permanent chicken fences is not as hard as it sounds if you choose the right material. I settled on 5 foot high chicken fencing that sells for just over 20 dollars for a 50 foot roll. The low price was the main deciding factor, but ease of handling was a nice bonus. Metal fence posts are what we used for support, and they can be found in the 3 to 5 dollar range.
Once you have the enclosures in place you can start putting in plants chickens like to eat. Mulberries can feed a flock of chickens for a few months in the summer with very little effort. Cherry plants are another crop we've been experimenting with on these lines but have not seen any fruit so far. Maybe next year.
In my opinion rotational chicken pastures are the best way to go if you have the space and time. Once you have a system in place the work should get easier and fun and your chickens will be healthier by allowing them to live a more natural chicken life.
Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton are enthusiastic about chickens. They've been making a new type of chicken waterer for several years now that keeps water clean and poop free like the industrial poultry operations use. They support their homesteading habit by making and selling these waterers over at AvianAquaMiser.com