Friday, March 25, 2011

New Plan for the Chicken Run

Last year, I built a nice, big run for our chickens, to protect them from the hawks and foxes and racoons and dogs and (well, you get the idea).  Seems like everybody loves chicken.   The run initially was full grass and it was nice to have them foraging around without the worry of being attacked.  Unfortunately, it took about a week for them to completely destroy all vegetation in their yard, and they were down to bare dirt. And when it rained, mud… for days.

So, I have to find a better way of doing things. I was thinking I could section off their run, plant grass on both sides, and then rotate them around so they have a constant supply of forage. But it would take a lot of materials to build a run like that.

I also considered about building a chicken tractor (a moveable coop), that would fit over my raised garden beds.  They would help me till and fertilize the bed when I wanted/needed them to, yet keep them out of the other veggies.  However, this option would only be available in the early spring and fall - so it wouldn't provide a permanent solution.   Mother Earth News had a great article in their Spring 2011 issue: "8 Stategies for Better Garden Soil" where they recommend using "chicken power" to help tend the garden.  They used electronet fencing to park the chickens in a certain location in their article, but I think I might build something like a small hoop house or low row tunnel over the raised bed.  Instead of landscape fabric, I would use chicken wire.  Come to think of it, I could add the row covers over the chicken wire in the fall and make a low tunnel greenhouse to extend the gardening season. Mmmm, now that idea has some potential.  Love it when something can multitask like that!  I'll have to try it out and let you know how it goes.  

Anyway, back to the muddy chicken run problem...  I was searching the internet for ideas/solutions, when I came upon a fantastic idea: building raised beds of fresh feed crops to put in the run with the chickens.
Instead of planting grass in the chicken run and having them tear it all up in a matter of days, you would build some shallow raised beds to put in with the chickens, plant the crop of choice in the beds, and cover them with a poultry wire. When the grass or whatever you plant grows, the chickens will only be able to eat what comes through the wire on the top of the box. They will still get their fresh forage, but won’t be able to scratch it to oblivion.  Genius, right??!! Well, I think so, anyways. So I’m gonna try it.

To deal with the mud in the rest of the run I’m gonna cover it with a constant thick layer of leaves, straw and grass clippings. Not only will this help to keep the run sanitary, but it will also provide a perfect breeding ground for worms and other little bugs for the chickens to scratch and peck at.  Not to mention that it'll double as a giant compost heap.  Sweet black gold!

I’m still not sure what I want to plant in the beds. I’ll probably have two or three covered raised beds in their run. Some suggested crops for chickens are: Rye Grass, Legumes, Wheat, Rye, Oats, Barley, Alfalpha, Clover, Kale, Mustard, and Buckwheat.  I'll try to keep you posted  on the progress and results of this little experiment. 

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