Chicken Day Spa
This weekend was a classic January Thaw, and that gave us an opportunity to build a portable run for the chickens. Lots of people build all kinds of fancy-schmancy ones like chicken tractors with wheels and nice paint jobs and stuff, but we already have a pretty chic (and ridiculously well-built) primary residence for our birds, so all we needed was a summer camp.
So Kirk took a Christmas gift card to the hardware store and got us some Christmas 2x4s that he ripped in half and used to knock together this frame:
As you can see, it is designed to fit right inside our raised beds (that is, just shy of four feet wide). It's two feet high, which is tall enough for chickens, but short enough to use two-foot wide chicken wire around the sides. It's eight feet long, which is the length of lumber that fits inside a Ford Focus.
After building the frame yesterday, we realized we needed a door to get the chickens in and out, so Kirk added a little bit of framing for that before we rolled the chicken wire over the frame. We started by rolling the two-foot wire around the sides, and Kirk hammered staples in while I kept the wire from springing back in his face and trimmed the edges as required. Then we rolled some four-foot wide chicken wire across the top.
Finally, we covered a smaller, square frame for the door, and Kirk attached it to the run with two hinges and a little eye hook latch. Et voilà:
Once we picked them up and put them inside, the hens were glad to be in there, scratching in the dirt and eating the winter rye. This is exactly the point of having them in day camp – we want them to do most of the work on our cover crop. All their scratching and nibbling – not to mention pooping! – helps turn the cover crop back into the soil to get the beds ready for our spring plantings. The hens are happy to eat as much greenery as they can manage without us shooing them away, and we are happy to have them do our work for us. They till the soil and fertilize it, which saves us the work of going out there with shovels to turn the rye into the beds.
So on nice days, Kirk will pop them into their day spa where they will benefit from sunshine, a dust bath, and a lunch of organic greens. I'll get them back home for sunset, and hopefully over the next few weeks we'll get a lot of the rye grass turned back into the soil. They're off to a good start so far!