At any given time, I keep 5-10 hens at Hawk Hill. Often times they free range during the day, but with dogs and a somewhat urban backyard, they spend many days confined to their 80 year old coop and a 10 foot by 12 foot fenced run.
I was frustrated by the fact that chickens will pull up and eat any plant that sprouts in an enclosed run. One year I experimented with rings of fencing to “rest” sections of the run long enough to establish growth, however I found that the chickens had an impressive ability to move the fencing, even when anchored with landscaping pins. Eventually, I decided to try elevated mesh boxes that would allow grass to grow the top through for the chickens to eat during months when free ranging was more difficult.
How I Built my Chicken Grazing Boxes:
I decided to experiment with small sections of hardware cloth (wire mesh with openings about 1/4″ x 1/4″ wide) that I had leftover after another project, stapled over a 2×4 frame. The elevated design prevents the chickens from damaging the roots of the grass.
They are simply frames made of 2×4’s, with supports every 12-16 inches to prevent heavy hens from forcing the mesh top to sag and allow beaks to damage the grass underneath. With the hardware cloth firmly stapled to the frames, these frames help provide my chickens with fresh grass for 9-10 months out of the year. The chickens neatly “mow” the grass, through the mesh, without damaging the roots.
Best Grass Types for Grazing Boxes:
My experience in Missouri is that whole oats (borrowed from the horses’ feed bins) performed the best. It grows in cool seasons, can be planted without requiring tilling or covering with soil, and had roots strong enough to stay in the ground when chicken beaks pulled at the growth reaching through the mesh.
Have you tried anything like this to provide fresh green food to your chickens? I’m considering trying, for a future project, covering the entire coop with a framework of 2×4’s, and sectioning off portions for different type of grasses and portions for dust bathing.