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Raised Beds In The Chicken Run. Plus, What Grass Or Cover Crops To Plant For Chickens

>15 March 2011
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Last year we built a nice, big run for our chickens, to protect them from the hawks and foxes that unfortunately picked off most of our free-range flock. It was full of grass and so nice to have them foraging around in 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.

And with the first heavy snow we got this winter the entire run was collapsed, and the chickens were set free again. So, it’s back to the drawing board for us.

I LOVE the idea of free-ranging our flock, but I’ve come to realize that for us it just isn’t practical…

1. The hawks pick them off like a fast food joint.

2. The foxes get what the hawks don’t.

3. The chickens don’t know how to stay out of my garden beds, or my flower bed.

4. When they start laying in the woods it can be impossible to find those precious eggs.

5. If any of the hens go broody, and decide they’re gonna sit on a clutch of eggs to hatch, I’d much rather she be protected in the coop than out in the woods completely exposed to predators for weeks on end.

And so, we have got to get them back under a protective cover. But we have to find a better way of doing things. I was thinking we 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 thought about building a chicken tractor (a moveable coop), but I don’t really wanna have to worry about lugging a chicken coop around the yard every so often. Plus, the only place I’d really want them digging is in the garden where they would benefit the soil, which just wouldn’t be practical.

These options sound like a lot of trouble to me. Not to say I won’t end up trying them one day, but for now, I’d just like to have the coop and the run and leave the chickens there.

I was searching the internet tonight to find which grasses (or other cover crops) would be most beneficial to plant for chickens, 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. (Kinda like what I’ve got pictured above, only this was a chainlink fence we used to cover our strawberry bed. You get the idea.)

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.

Isn’t this genius??!!

Well, I think so, anyways.

So I’m gonna try it.

It may turn out to be a total failure. But it’s plan A for now.

To deal with the mud in the rest of the run I’m gonna cover it with a constant thick layer of leaves 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.

Now… to get Jerry to work on that chicken run!

It may be months before you see pictures of this project finished folks. But I was so excited about the idea I wanted to share it with you now.

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 (make sure it’s suitable for pasture!)
  • Legumes
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Alfalpha
  • Clover
  • Kale
  • Mustard
  • Buckwheat

So, whaddya think? Don’t you just love this idea?! Any other suggestions for me?

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17 Comments »

  • Laura-Lisa said:

    That sounds like a good idea! We put pasture our chickens and havn’t had but a couple taken by the chicken hawks…they dogs keep the away usually…but we always put them back in at night. Once ours are used to laying in the hen house they will come in all the way from the fields to go back in to lay…We planted alfalpha orchard grass mix a few years ago the goats chickens and turkeys like it…the pigs just like to root it up LOL…

  • Jill @ The Prairie Homestead said:

    This is a great idea- might just have to try it! We can’t really free-range ours either… The dogs would have them in 2 seconds flat…

  • Quinn said:

    What a clever idea!

    I’d just make sure that you have a very generous and enticing roosting system otherwise I could see them roosting on the wire and then you’d have droppings burning/caking up on the plants before they have a chance to flourish.

    I like the idea of alfalfa. It has the same about precent protein found in commercial laying mash/crumbles, will fill in the area, responds well to many cuttings, and is attractive.

    I think the grains come in at about 12% protein and the legumes at 24%.

  • Tina said:

    You should check out Joel Selatin’s self-sufficient farm, called Poly-Face Farm. We started our new little farm adventure about the time you guys did, and now we’re seeing how we seriously need some expertise to go learn from. They offer field trips with kids free, and we’re just making a fun family vacation of it. But he also has lots of videos to be viewed freely on the internet. The guy is a genius!! (And btw, a Christian homeschool family)

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Tina,

    I’ve read about Joel, and watched some videos about him, but I’m sure there is a lot I could learn from him!! I didn’t realize his was a Christian homeschooling family though, that’s awesome.

  • constance blizzard said:

    Aha! You may have just solved my problem, and I may successfully win the argument over chickens (our place is in the woods, so free-range won’t work). I second the Alfalfa idea– seems practical beyond anything the chickens could want.

  • Jocelyn said:

    Comfrey. Bocking 4 Comfrey. High in protein, good for poultry. I recommend it.

    I like your idea a lot. I think I might borrow it!!

  • Shannon said:

    We are in the process of building our coop and run and THIS solves so much of my problems. I am very happy I found this thanks!

  • Brittany said:

    That sounds like a really great idea. Not to mention that the chicken poo will fall down and fertilize the plants. Did you install a sprinkler system, or how do you plan to water the plants?

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Brittany,

    A hose will do for watering :)

  • Julie Romagnoli said:

    Hi Kendra – My husband is in the process of building a chicken coop, my friend is giving us four red hens. Can’t waite!!! love your idea of the raised beds so the chickens have a supply of greens. Going to try this and will let you know how it goes.

  • Peggy said:

    We also have trouble with losing chickens when letting them out to forage.
    A chicken scratching and foraging is a happy chicken though so we came up with a compromise. We let them out a few hrs. before they would normally go in to roost. In the summer we usually let them out after dinner and in the fall it’s when I start to put dinner together. Since it’s close to their “bed time” they don’t stray too far from the coop and they really enjoy that couple hours of freedom.
    As for the muddy run…we threw a tarp over the top of the run which is also fenced. This worked well but there should be some slope so the water from rain or snow doesn’t accumulate.

  • Harrell said:

    I’m afraid the chickens will have really bad feet problems walking on that wire so much.

  • Linda said:

    Hmmm, just a comment about the grass and leaves your’re planning to put in the runs to prevent mud and to give worms and bugs a breeding ground. Good luck with that. My chickens are in small coops and no matter what I have put in there to cover the ground, they do their scratching ‘thing’ that they do and decimate it very quickly. Then it’s back to bare dirt. And forget about the idea of worms….the chickens will make sure no worms have a chance to survive. My favorite thing to put in the coops is old hay for a ground covering, but they soon (very soon) take care of that. I think they are eating it. I suppose if you have an unlimited supply of grass, hay, clippings, etc and add it every day you might be able to keep the dirt covered but the way they love to scratch around, I can’t see worms or bugs ever having a chance to survive. Chickens can be such nuisances but I love them just the same.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Linda,

    Yeah, it’s been a while since I wrote that post. You’re right, the grass/leaves thing didn’t last long at all, lol. I’ve tried wood chips, which actually lasted for a little while, but a few good rains washed it all out of the run.

  • cressie said:

    I am in the planning stages of making a run for my 5 chickens I will get next spring. My problem is I have grass with a sprinkler system. I like the idea of the chicken wire over the grass, but this will be a permenant run. Will it soon turn muddy? Thank you for all your great information on your blog!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Cressie,

    Chickens will scratch up grass in no time unless they are rotated and the ground has time to recover. If it’s a permanent run that isn’t rotated, you can bet it’ll be bare ground over time, depending on how many chickens you have and how much of an area they are in.

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