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Thorny Croft Ducks and Chickens

We’ve just planted another 200 trees in our future poultry/pig forage paddock…. We’re creating perennial polyculture a la Mark Shepard in Restoration Agriculture and the Forest Garden design model we have developed in our Design Your Own Forest Garden Booklet

We’re planting

  • Nitrogen Fixers: as follows to support the rest of the forest
  • Maakia amurensis: coppices, ground durable posts
  • Alders: lots of kinds; Coppices, firewood, Biochar,
  • Tagasaste: seeds for poultry , coppices for mulch and animal feed
  • Robinia pseudocacia: coppices, seed for poultry, ground durable posts
  • Acacias: firewood, seeds for poultry
  • Eleagnus augustifolia: berries for poultry
  • And more…

And the rest of the forest consists mainly of:

  • Mulberry fruit and leaves: pig and poultry feed
  • Figs: fruit, pigs and poultry
  • Oaks: all kinds for ducks ad pigs specifically
  • Chestnuts: pigs
  • Hazelnuts: pigs
  • Cider and other apples: pigs and poultry (and us)
  • Pears: pigs/ poultry
  • Sorbus torminalis: berries poultry/pig  food
  • Cornus ammomum, capitata, and mas: pig and poultry food
  • Edible large fruiting hawthorn: poultry/pig food
  • And more all the time!!!

No doubt it will be a few years before this forest comes into it’s own and we get eggs and pork from it, as well as all the other side benefits: biochar, fenceposts, firewood, mushrooms berries/nuts  and fruit for processing/selling, but it is a great feeling putting the trees in.

fawn and white Indian runner baby
fawn and white Indian runner baby


In the meantime we have our special breeds of ducks and chickens that we have held for many years now and taken great care of in terms of breeding and maintaining strong lines. We have been specifically breeding these ducks and chickens for egg production under organic, free range systems for 30 years now. Our breeding stock all originally came from Ken Vincent who has been a great mentor for our family over the years. And I still remember his advice: “if you keep them waiting for food they will keep you waiting for eggs!!”

While we wait for the chicken forest to begin bearing seeds, nuts and berries we are doing our best to provide them with high quality food. The chickens in the Koanga Urban Garden, the Legbars, are on a compost heap and get to turn that over constantly eating the microbes and bugs in it as well as being fed worms daily from the worm farm under the rabbits, as well as daily armload of greens, as well as nixtamalised whole grain. Nixtamalising the grain makes the grain swell and changes the nutritional profile and it literally goes three times as far as feeding poultry straight whole grain. They will also be getting soldier fly larvae shortly, we have built a flash home for them to breed and live and grow in (we’ll do a blog about that soon).

mother legbar teaching her young to eat curds and comfrey
mother legbar teaching her young to eat curds and comfrey


Our Legbars and Brown leghorns that are in our free range systems get nixtamalised grain , high quality pasture and curds as well as poultry minerals daily.

Taiamai chose to maintain the Legbars above all other potential heritage breeds because he saw them as the best utility breed, with super high egg production and great weight as table birds too. They are beautiful, birds, laying white eggs, and some of his birds are 7 years old and still laying well. They are not a recently bred up line of Legbars but the original version from Ken Vincents breeding stock years ago. They are originally a cross between Brown Leghorns and Barred Rocks but it is a very long process from first cross to a stable line. They are also good foragers and  have done very well in our urban garden chicken coop on compost as well as free range on pasture.

Fawn and white indian runner ducks
Fawn and white indian runner ducks


I choose Brown Leghorns as my favourite breed because they are beautiful and because they are the best egg layers of the heritage breeds as well as being very efficient converters of feed to eggs and meat (like the Dexters are if you’re talking cows).

Our ducks are Fawn and White Indian Runners. Indian Runners used to be the birds that provided our commercial egg production because they lay so many eggs. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs and are around twice as nutritious. They are a very good deal. If you have enough area to keep ducks on free range they are cheaper to feed as well because they forage voraciously over large areas of pasture and damp ground. They lay huge numbers of eggs, as high at least, as Leghorn chickens. Ducks prefer wetlands and chickens prefer dry lands or even better forest edges. Match your poultry to the environment you can provide them.

legbar hens and rooster
legbar hens and rooster


We have fertile eggs available this spring NOW, for all three of these breeds. If you are buying them let us know on the order form when you would like them sent. We will contact you when we get your order to confirm dates and availability.

Our East Freisian Sheep have almost all lambed now, most having triplets and many of them having triplets that are all ewes!!! We will have at least twice as many females in our flock this season even if the rest are rams! The Wiltshires have not begun lambing yet neither have the Dexters, the Geurnsey cows or the Jerseys. We’ll write the next blog about the East Freisian (milking) sheep.

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Thorny Croft – March update

bob_corker_portraitBob Corker is an experienced permaculture designer, who has specialised in large scale landscaping projects as well developing intentional communities, using appropriate technologies. He manages Thorny Croft farm with his son Taiamai. Both will be tutoring on our upcoming four week animal internship.

Grazing Management and Transitioning into Multi-tiered Production – continuing on from Bob’sfirst blog, The Thorny Croft Vision

The inspiring vision of the multi-tiered perennial solar production system is somewhat tempered by the reality of a flat grassed paddock and a few weeds (thistles).  Our challenge is the transition, which in terms of reaching ‘full production’ will take maybe up to twenty years before the canopy trees are dropping nuts to their full potential.

First Stage  – Grazing rotations and pasture renovation
Our main aims are to:
·    Never graze for periods of more 1 or 2 days on the same pasture (preferably one day or less if we’ve got the time to manage it)
·    Establish a rotation between 40- 60 days according to season and conditions
·    Have a high stocking density so that a considerable amount of the pasture gets trodden on and generally trashed to form part of the carbon recycling
·    Trying to just graze the young tops (where most of the nutrition is)
·    Leaving enough length in the grass to foster quick regrowth
·    ‘Bank’ grass during good growing periods, and draw down on that bank during slower growth periods
·    Soil test and add appropriate fertilisers (in this case calcium bound in an organic form)
So far the most dramatic response to this has been the change of pasture species and the increased production.  When we first started, after the farm had been mostly set stocked for many years, there were almost no clovers and a predominance of yorkshire fog (which is more tolerant of set stocking), now we are seeing lots of clover, and more rye grass and others.  We are also seeing much more root depth.

IMG_0592Typical pasture under a set stocking regime. Note the lack of clover. Brix values typically 3-4

We are building fertility which will lead us into the second stage

IMG_0588Two years of rotational grazing. Lots of clover and less ‘fog’. Brix value 12 or over.

Second Stage –  Progressive perennial establishment
We are aiming to progressively establish our perennial base.    The exact proportion each year will depend on our development budget
Essentially we’ll fence off broad strips aligned with our grazing patterns, and plant these up with four categories.
·    Fast growing pioneer perennials that will handle a  40 – 60 day rotation, including, rye grass, comfrey, lucerne, red clover, chicory, plantain, and others
·    Fast growing pioneer perennial trees that will handle a  40 – 60 day rotation, including tagasaste, forage willow, and assorted acacias
·    Medium fast perennials that will produce poultry and/or pig forage and/or human food, including mulberry, apples, hazels, others
·    Slower, canopy trees (main producers), chestnuts, forage oaks, walnuts,

For the first year there will be little if any grazing, and probably only with young stock. However, we are also experimenting with an organic grazing repellant which will enable grazing earlier.  (more on that to come)

Stage Three  –   Progressive maturing
Once the whole area is planted in perennials, there will be a progressive maturing of the system, early production will come mostly still from pasture and fast growing perennial crops, as time proceeds the production of the mid height  and canopy trees will dominate.

Happy growing!
See Taiamai’s blog on the Thorny Croft sheep.

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The Thorny Croft Vision

by Bob Corker

Thorny Croft Blog –  Bob

This is my first blog on Thorny Croft, so a good time to give you an introduction to our vision.


Thorny Croft is approx 6ha  on the western end of the Kotare Village Home block.

Mostly flat with some south facing slopes.  The idea is that we develop a multi tiered polyculture of trees, shrubs  and pasture, that supports cows, pigs, poultry for the village.  Our bacon and egg breakfast farm.  The cows milk will support both the poultry and the pigs in the early stages, until the tree crops take over this role.  We are inspired by the permaculture vision of optimising the use of the  incoming solar energy, and maximising the root depth from which we can recycle nutrients, all the while sequestering more carbon and regenerating the soil biological matrix.  Once this progression is understood, the main challenge becomes choosing the species and cultivars, while timing the successions.  Top of the canopy will be oaks (they seem to thrive here), then walnuits, hazels, pears , apples, nitrogen fixers etc. What can’t be used directly for human food will go to the pigs. Then its about exploring variations of shade tolerant berries, herbs etc.  All creating habitat for insects and duck or chook forage.  To get inspired read Russel Smith : A permanent Agriculture (one of Bill Mollison’s inspirations) and Mark Shephard’s Regenerative Agriculture, where he demolishes the arguments that Permaculture can’t compete with modern industrial agriculture.  Increasingly what it comes down is that what is important is not production per hectare, but human nutrition  per hectare, and surprisingly he shows that well tuned permaculture systems come out on top, easily.  So no time to lose, get out and plant like your grandchildren will depend on it.  But note the phrase ‘well tuned’  –  learning new systems and creating synergy will be our greatest challenge.

“It is not enough to be well intentioned, we need to become well informed”  –  Bill Mollison

Meanwhile we need to start planning for the introduction of trees.  We’ve been particularly impressed with the tagasaste we’ve planted in the drier areas, and the research we’ve done suggests that it will handle a 60 day grazing rotation well and be very productive.  Now we need a wet tolerant substitute, maybe forage willows.

This winter we did an experimental planting of one of the southern slopes, which included:

  • oaks, acorns for ducks and pigs
  • walnuts
  • mulberry’s,  hand picked, and forage for chooks, ducks and pigs
  • Croton megalocarpus, a tall high protein chook forage
  • Alnus cordata and glutinosa, coppicing nitrogen fixers/firewood
  • Maackia amurensis, nitrogen fixing coppicing of ground durable post wood
  • various apples, pears, and figs, first grade to us, the rest for pigs and chooks.
  • Tagasaste, forage for cows, and wood pigeons *(we’ll know we’ve succeeded in perrmaculture when they’re legitimately on the menu again)

Next blog I’ll discuss the grazing management and the stock, as this will be the ‘engine’ that drives the first stage of carbon sequestering, building fertility and transition into the additional tiers.

Till then happy growing  Bob