Anyone that keeps chickens knows it is only a matter of time before the chickens will remove every bit of vegetation in an enclosed run. My chicks were four weeks old when I put them outside and it took them two days to get all the grass. They then went to work on the weeds and in about two weeks there was nothing but a dirt floor for them to scratch around in.
I got some bagged leaves from a Freecycle post, threw them into the run and the chickens have really enjoyed scratching through them. I scatter their sunflower sprouts and fermented oats out across the leaves so they have to scratch and dig to get every bit I toss out. To give the chickens some greens in their diet I am also now growing fodder with wheat seeds. But I have found the chickens go after the wheat seeds more than the sprouts, so the fodder is not giving the greens to the diet I had planned. Time to rethink some things and find another way to add those greens. I could always pull grass by hand and do.. but it not something I want to do all the time and I wanted the greens to be more available than when I threw something into the pen.
My answer to this is a plot that is protected and screened off from their scratching yet still allows them to get at the growth that comes through. I used some 2×6’s I had left from my coop construction and just stretched my half inch hardware cloth along the top. I used a small screw and a washer to hold the wire in place. My plan was to create a box with the wire on top but I did not have enough lumber to do the short end pieces.. so my box was not complete.
Even though the box was not done, I did throw out some Rye and Oat seed to get established, as I figured I would pick up some lumber and get the box finished before the grass got much growth. But as usual.. got busy and the seed sprouted and the box was not done. Done or not the chickens went after the new growth in their pen. I found the chickens did get up on the wire to eat the grasses coming up through the wire.. so it was working. However, the more chickens that got up on the wired, the more it bent to the ground. With enough chickens on the top, the wire bent to the ground and I found the grass to be pretty much destroyed and eaten in the middle. Even if they can’t scratch, if the chickens can grab it in their beak, it was only a matter of time till it was gone. The bending of the wire pretty much was defeating the purpose of the box.
My solutions was to add a piece of PVC pipe I had laying around the yard and put it under the wire and up the middle to support it and keep it off the ground. The chickens could still get the wire to bend but not as much. You can see in the photo above, when weight is added to the wire, the blades of the grass stick up through the wire. The grass is now easily accessible to the chickens and they tend to snip off the tips. Because the wire now only dips slightly, and remains several inches above the ground, it protects the roots so the grasses can continue to grow. There are times the chickens do manage to pull up the grass roots and all. In those cases the chicken gobbles it all down and goes back for more.
Right now with the cooler weather I have Rye and wheat growing under the wire. When the weather warms the Rye is expected to die out and I will seed with a warmer season grass. As inexpensive as the Oats are I may just keep using them. I would like to get some clover and alfalfa established under the wire as well as I feel they would provide a bit better nutrition than just the grasses.
For the seasonal changes in forage, I am a bit undecided as to how to proceed. I can move the box and let the chickens destroy what is there and then put the box back and reseed over the top or just keep adding seeds to the box keep the growth full and lush. With my recent research and the Back to Eden concept I may just let it go and any die back will in time decompose and feed the soil producing healthier growth. Should that option fail I can always move the box and let the chickens have at it.
I find it a bit amusing that an unfinished project actually worked out pretty well. A sturdy box would keep the wire from bending and allow much more even growth from the grasses.. but I am all for if it works don’t mess with it. The chickens seem to enjoy their greenery and I like having one little patch of vegetation they can’t destroy. With a little bit of wire and scrap lumber I can have chickens and grass in the same place.