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?