Last Updated: Sep 4, 2020 @ 9:26 am

Our farm has long been home to chickens. Often they spend daylight hours free-ranging, but for various reasons, many days the chickens stay confined to their 100 year old coop and a 10 foot by 12 foot fenced run.

Early in my experience of chicken keeping, I was frustrated by chickens pulling up and eating any plant that sprouted in their enclosed run. Each spring, I’d try a new attempt at keeping even a portion of the run green, and usually fail. One year, I experimented with fences to “rest” sections of the run long enough to establish growth, however, my chickens had an impressive ability to move even well-anchored fencing. Although I found a combination of hacks that keep green growth in my coop year-round, my experiment with these elevated mesh boxes were so successful they’ve got their own tutorial below. 

These chicken grazing boxes create a protective buffer between delicate root systems and the ravenous beaks and prehistoric scratching claws above. This riser provides just enough protection to young plants so that cool weather grasses can grow year-round, providing forage in winder months when free-ranging is more difficult.

DIY building chicken grazing boxes that keep greens available to cooped chickens

My Grazing Boxes Experiment:

Inspired by seeing stems of grass growing through a scrap metal grate in a scrapyard, in 2011 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.

This is one of the easiest DIY’s I’ve ever built! I’ve outlined steps below, but essentially you’ll just need to make frames with 2×4’s, and add supports every 12-16 inches to prevent heavy hens from forcing the mesh top to sag (which would 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. When finished, planted, and sprouted, the chickens neatly “mow” the grass, through the mesh, without damaging the roots.

this frame with mesh top makes it easy to grow fresh greens even in a crowded chicken coop 12

How to Build Chicken Grazing Boxes:

Supplies You’ll Need:

  • 2×4 Lumber (Pressure Treated will last longer) Cut to lengths of 24 inches and 18 inches. Save your scraps for the final step.
  • A Kreg Jig (most sturdy construction) or Corner Brackets (flimsier and may require corner braces)
  • Staple Gun (did you know electric staple guns are a thing? They are, and they are AWESOME)
  • 1/4″ Opening Hardware Cloth (Substitute anything else on this list, but do NOT sub out this hardware cloth for another. Smaller openings will block sunlight and prevent grass growth, larger openings will allow beaks to pick at roots, and any non-metal material will stretch and let the chickens kill the grass underneath)

Download Free Woodworking Plan

Download the free PDF plan below, or just keep reading for a step by step walkthrough + tips on how to place, plant, and rotate boxes. 

Free woodworking plans for building chicken grazing boxes

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Step by Step Instructions:

How to Build Chicken Grazing Boxes

Total Time Required: 30 minutes

Download Free PDF Plan & Cut Lumber

Free woodworking plans for building chicken grazing boxes

In the free woodworking plan, I use 2x 15 inch boards and 2x 24 inch boards, but you can use any length as long as you cut two equal length pieces of each dimension.

Frame Chicken Grazing Box

Free woodworking plans for building chicken grazing boxes

Using the two long pieces of wood and two short ones, frame a box using whatever method you are comfortable with. I used a Kreg Jig because it makes a very sturdy frame very quickly, but if you don’t work with wood much, simple corners or basic corner brackets should work if you aren’t planning on regularly moving your grazing boxes around the chicken run.

Cut Hardware Cloth Top

Free woodworking plans for building chicken grazing boxes

Unroll hardware cloth over the frame and cut to size. Thankfully the grid makes cutting the hardware cloth lots easier!  You can use snips, wirecutters, or pliers for this project. (Briefly, during my stint making horse head wreaths, I even had a pair of electric snips which made cutting stuff like this like cutting through butter!)

Attach Mesh to Frame

Free woodworking plans for building chicken grazing boxes

Using roughly double the number of staples you think you should need, staple the hardware cloth onto the wood frame. Double up on staples to account for chunky hens sitting on the mesh, sometimes in pairs or groups and putting pressure on the staples.

Add Supports if Needed

Wood frame with hardware cloth for growing greens in a coop

My first attempt at grazing boxes didn’t have supports in the center, and my cleverest hen learned that by plopping her full body weight down in the center of the hardware cloth, she could cause it to sag just enough to pull the most tender shoots of young grass up by the roots.
To make sure the grass has a chance to grow strong roots before being pecked, use the scraps of your lumber to create a few points of support. Just place under the grazing box on your workbench and use the staple gun to add sufficient staples to hold the block in place.

Plant Seeds in your Chicken Grazing Box

Choose the right location and seed for your area (details on both below), plant and water seeds in to the ground under your new chicken grazing frame.

 

 

Can you see the slight sag in the wire mesh from the weight of sitting chickens? Added supports keep the chickens far enough from the roots to prevent damage to the roots of the grass underneath.

Best Grass Types for Chicken Grazing Boxes:

After trying a few seed types,  I was blown away by the success of using oat grass. Oat grass grows in 3 seasons (and even through mild winters!), can be planted without digging or tilling, and has roots strong enough to stay firmly planted in the ground when chicken beaks pull at the shoots of grass reaching through the mesh.

Oat grass is true to its name- it’s just a juvenile version of the plant that produces the familiar oat. A three-pound bag of oat grass seeds marketed for sprouting should cover about 15 plantings of grazing boxes the size shown here (but buying whole oat animal feed in 40lb bags from a local feed store is a better value, if you plan to plant often!). Other unprocessed whole grains can be planted in the boxes, just be sure the grain hasn’t been treated to prevent sprouting, irradiated, or heated to a high temperature to sterilize.

According to Michigan State University: Oats are a cool-season annual grass that grows well during the fall.  Some of those benefits include: forage, weed suppression, nutrient removal, erosion control, and soil softening.” Oats germinate in temperatures as low as 38 degrees F, making them a year-round crop in some areas.

Chicken grazing boxes are easy to plant. I usually reseed with whole oats from the horses' feed bins or with chicken scratch feed. Any whole grain should sprout and you don;t need to worry about unwanted plants going to seed, the chickens will keep the seedlings trimmed back.
Chicken grazing boxes are easy to plant. You don’t need to worry about unwanted plants going to seed, the chickens will keep the seedlings trimmed back.

Oat grass in your coop’s grazing boxes has an additional benefit: environmental responsibility. Although we backyard farmers bear much less responsibility than commercial farming operations, it is important to be mindful of the runoff from our coops and the health of our soil. Oat Grass is a tool in this work because it has roots that bind soil and minimize erosion. Additionally, Oat grass is actually used by organic farmers as a “nitrogen catch crop.” Chicken manure is a high-nitrogen organic material, and oat grass – unlike many plants- is not only able to tolerate high-nitrogen soil, but is able to absorb some nitrogen from the soil, lowering the amount of nitrogen in coop-run runoff.


 

Choosing the right seeds for your Chicken Grazing Boxes

Seeds and grasses that do best in chicken grazing boxes are hardy grasses. I prefer oat grass in my grazing frames because the chickens love the taste and it can germinate at lower temperatures (see above), but you may want to experiment with growing grasses that are native to your region. Growing native grasses is often much easier because the plant has adapted to thrive in our climate and soil.

Believe it or not, grass is an excellent source of nutrition for chickens. Although we are used to feeding hard grains and pelleted feeds to chickens, a diet of grass – and the microorganisms and insects that call a patch of grass home- provide excellent supplemental nutrition for both meat birds and egg-laying hens.

Sprouting chicken scratch grains with the grazing box

If you want to give chicken grazing boxes ago without purchasing specialty seed, try sprouting your scratch grains. “Chicken scratch” as it is labeled in most feed stores, is a blend of different seeds that can vary by region and by the feed mill producing that particular brand of chicken scratch. Generally, chicken scratch seeds are not heat-treated or irradiated, meaning they can sprout and grow into the plants that produce them. Many of these seeds can grow into rather large plants that a chicken wouldn’t bother to eat, but a  chicken grazing box can help you sprout these grains into tiny edible nutritional powerhouses for your chickens.

Sprouted grains may offer more accessible nutrition than hard grains, and a grazing box makes it easy to sprout grains for your birds. When you scatter chicken scratch in a grazing box you can choose to either let it grow into small grasses that breach the wire mesh and become a little plant buffet for your chickens, or you can scatter your seed during the rainy season (or, at a time when you can water it every other day or so).

If the seed is kept consistently moist, within about a week your seeds will sprout (usually, even without a soil covering) at this point, you can choose to move the grazing box to a new location, spread more seed, and let you chickens eat the nutritionist sprouted grains left behind. 

Best Location for Placing Grazing Boxes:

You can place your grazing frames anywhere your chickens have scratched and pecked an area of earth down to just dirt. You can even place the box in an area of your coop prone to mud and standing water! Mud can be harmful to chickens’ feet, but a grazing box can keep chickens elevated up out of persistent puddles- and even improve drainage in that particular area of your chicken run!

Grazing boxes to Improve Chicken Coop Drainage:

When grasses die, bare earth is exposed, and as the area is exposed to the traffic of chicken feet, the soil becomes compacted and unable to absorb excess moisture. Instead, when it rains the water just sits on top or washes away, eroding layers of dirt. In chicken coops with compacted and eroding soil, grazing boxes can help restore a healthy root system.

In the same way that urban “rain gardens,” help prevent storm drain overflow during heavy rain by absorbing and then slowly releasing water, grazing boxes can help slow harmful runoff by providing healthy, aerated soil that can absorb rainwater and release it back slowly. By building a few grazing boxes and moving them to a new area of the coop run with each planting, you can help your entire chicken run have less of an environmental impact. 

Grazing Frames for Other Animals

You can definitely use grazing boxes for more than just chickens!  Although chickens are one of the most grass-aggressive domestic animals, when you have no choice but to keep a grazing animal on a less-than-ideal amount of space, grazing boxes can help you keep fresh grasses available to other types of pets- such as rabbits, ducks, and geese. If using this concept with larger animals, such as ducks, geese, or turkeys you may want to create a stronger frame using recycled metal grates elevated with bricks or pavers.

20 thoughts on “Build these Chicken Grazing Boxes to Grow Fresh Greens in your Chicken Run | Download Free Plans”

  1. We spent the weekend making these out of old pallets for half the floor of our coop. We only have 3 backyard hens in a 5 by 10 run and 5×5 elevated coop. They freerange 95% of the time but in icy, extremely wet or stormy weather I keep them in and their run is awful during and after those times. I can’t wait to see if the oats and greens grow! What a great idea!

  2. My coop is 36′ W x 8′ H in front, 12′ front to back, with the back 36′ W x 6′ H. Built out of free pallets covered in hardware cloth. Leftover hardware cloth on 20′ X 4′ grazing boxes just planted with scratch and short 2′ to 6′ sunflowers. Should be interesting. Lol. All this for 15 birds till I start with chicks sometime.

    1. Great question! I’m pretty hands-off with them, especially since when I’m using the grazing boxes it’s typically the wet season in Missouri. I’d recommend treating them like any grass you’re trying to get to sprout- if it’s hot and dry you’ll probably want to waster them daily. Depending on the weather sometimes I’ll just toss the old water from the chicken waterer in that direction when I am refilling their drinking water.

  3. if i used expanded metal instead of mesh , would it be harmful to the chickens/ feet. its sturdier than mesh .

    1. I’d give it a try! It probably depends on how sharp the edge are. As long as the chickens aren’t forced to stand on it (like they would if it was a cage bottom) I think it would be fine to experiment with!

  4. do you think is possible to use these growing boxes for the whole flor of chichen run coop?
    …. do girls walk on it easily?

    1. The chickens probably won’t avoid the area, but if they stand on wire exclusively the risk for “bumblefoot” goes up (see an article on the issue here)

      You can have lots of boxes in run as long as some have non-wire footing. for example, you could line your run with 12 boxes, but fill every-other box with media instead of applying the wire cover. You could fill those boxes with dirt, sand for scratching, or even with small stones or oyster shells. A variety of fills would provide enrichment and make it possible for them to use the wire-topped grazing boxes without having to stand directly on the wire.

  5. I am new to chickens and I think this is absolutely brilliant, as I am looking to get the most out of small space. !!! Thank you!!!!

  6. Very cool. We just built a chicken coop this year and we have our chicks in a brooder box waiting to transfer over. Our run has no growth in it because we had to make a level spot. This would be a good idea for fresh food for them.

    Our website is https://www.themakinglife.com if you’d ever like to check us out!

  7. What type of grain would you recommend for warmer months? My chickens can free range so I’ve buiit a box, but don’t know what would grow this time of year. We are in southern Indiana.

  8. I’m looking into this option for our 4 girls since they make short work out of the grass in their run area. I’m concerned with their nails getting caught. Has anyone had any of them break nails or anything from scratching on top of the wire mesh? Thanks!

    1. Great question! In my experience, this is one of those animal-management methods that self-train them to be safe. They may test scratching the surface once or twice, and the discomfort + ineffectiveness so will train them not to keep doing it!

  9. Would this be suitable for ducks? And I know you mentioned oat grass being a nitrogen catch crop, does this mean you leave these grazing patches in the coop all the time or do you take them out so they don’t get completely covered in coop poop.

    1. Hi Corrina! I have not tried it with ducks, but I have had ducks in the past- I think it should work great.

      Great questions! They do slowly collect poop on top (duck poop will probably drip through the mesh) so when I’m in the run or cleaning the coop I’ll either lift and shake the poop off the frame or use my carpet rake that I use for coop cleaning to sweep it off.

      I recommend moving the frame to a new spot, and replanting, every 3-4 months. Oat grass has a fairly short life-cycle and with being constantly nibbled it will eventually run out of energy to keep growing well. A new spot and new seed starts the process all over again and rotates areas of the run getting the benefits of being planted.

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