My chickens’ living quarters consist of a windowed hen house with roosting sticks and nesting boxes, and a large, partially covered enclosed run. This gives them outside access at any time they like, plus dirt to scratch and bath in, regardless if I’m home or not. But, like ANY enclosed chicken run, it is a wasteland as far as growing plants and bugs go. And I like to allow my chickens to be free range, and give them pasture access. Not only does this keep them happy and healthy and prevent boredom, it also cuts down on feed cost.
Regardless of what you read, if you are in suburban or urban lot, there is no way you can harmoniously grow food and have free-range chickens. Chickens will do what chickens do, and if they don’t eat your plants outright, they will uproot them up with their scratching or tare them apart with dust bathing.
So the solution? Give them free range access to limited part of the yard. For me, that’s the back half of the property, on the other end of the garden. I have nothing planted, so the chickens are free to be chickens. When we first started the garden, I petitioned this area off with a janky concoction of scrap wire, lattice and pallets. The space is large enough that they can’t decimate the area. But, its about 100 feet from the chicken house. So to get the birds from their coop to the pasture without destroying my garden, I use the ingenious idea of a chicken tunnel.
The first version, tunnel.1, was constructed from 2×2, scrap 4×4, and chicken wire. The lumber was built to make a long rectangular cube, with the fence acting as one of the sides. We could pull up sections of the wire to let the chickens out in designated areas, and put them to work to clear weeds, or, they could move down the length of the tunnel to the back of the yard. It worked perfectly well for about a year and a half, but as time went on, a few sections of the 2×2 broke and weeds intertwined in the wire, making it so we couldn’t pull them or weedwack the area.
Tunnel version.2 abandoned the chicken wire and was made from no-climb welded wire. It was bent into a hoop and attached to a basic rectangle frame made 2×2, reclaimed from tunnel.1. This time, instead of placing it directly against the fence, I pulled it out about 18″, and planted a jasmine vine behind it, against the fence. I had the intention of planting more vines further down the line. Thankfully, I didn’t get far in the construction of this version before I realized my error. In version .1, the birds had access to the fence line, and therefore kept the rampant bermuda grass that perpetually invaded from the neighbors yard at bay. With the tunnel set back off the fence line, the weeds soon started to infiltrate my proposed planting area. So it was demolished and we remodeled.
And this weekend, we finished our third remodel, and I think we finally have a design that works the best: chicken tunnel.3. I still used the no-climb wire, because that shit is expensive and I already bought it. Plus, the wire is stiff enough to hold its shape without built framework. I simply bent it at a slight curve towards the fence, used U-nails to attach it to the boards, and garden stakes to anchor the bottom to the ground. I didn’t like how the galvanized wire was shiny and stood out, so Matt spray painted it a rusty metal color before we tacked it up. I transplanted my jasmine back to in front of the tunnel. Eventually, I’ll have a line of vines and shrubs that cover the run.
In addition to the removing piecemeal partition fence, we also built a low fence and an arbor. In the spring, I’ll plant kiwi vines on the arbor, and drystack urbanite to make a low bed in front of the fence to grow pollinator-friendly flowers.
The only problem to any of these tunnels are they aren’t predator proof. More than once I have found Gaia in the chicken pen, looking for bread and pizza crusts. It would be just as easy for a raccoon to go to the pasture side of the yard, walk down the tunnel, and get into the hen run or house. So to keep them safe, we only let them out during the day and when I’m home. There is a door inside the run that is opened to let them out, then closed before nightfall.
One more project finally finished this year! Happy New Years from my homestead to yours!