Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Backyard Chicken Solutions

I was talking with a friend today who said that her husband is thinking about getting chickens, but she is afraid of them. They want to keep down the grasshopper population in their backyard, since they have an abundance that come in from the neighboring field.

I helped her think of a couple of solutions and she said that she might have her husband talk to me if he decides to follow through. Because I'll probably forget some of the things I said, and because maybe some of you are having the same kind of problems, I thought I'd write down the solution I thought of for them, and just maybe it might apply to you as well.

1) Okay, so she has field fencing (the kind with big 4" holes" between them and the open field. This type of fencing works great to keep kids and pets in the yard, but chickens can climb right through.

2) She wants the chickens contained so that they aren't pooping all over the yard, and I don't blame her because chicken poop smells gross when kids step (or heaven forbid kneel!) in it, BUT

3) She wants the chickens to have access to the grasshoppers.

4) She wants the kids to be able to gather the eggs and feed the chickens easily and simply.

Okay, so let's find a solution!

Gene Gerue is the one who taught me about chicken motes. The premise behind a chicken mote is to let the chickens have access to bugs w/o letting them into areas you don't want them in. He uses chicken runs around his garden, the fence keeping the chickens out of the garden, and the chickens keeping the bugs out of the garden. It is a great principle that applies here, so let's modify it and use it.

Imagine a rectangle shaped yard. The two side yards flanking the house are bordered by neighbors, and the front faces the street with curbs and gutters. I suspect most of her grasshopper problems come from the empty pasture behind her house (where the field fencing is), so let's put the mote to use back there.

There are a couple of ways (at least!) to do the fencing. The one that I'd suggest is to put T posts parallel to the back fence where the grasshoppers are the problem. Even though there is already existing field fencing, the spaces are bigger than they should be, and we could try to jury rig fencing material w/ smaller holes to cover the larger holes, but I think it would be easier to just start fresh for the chicken run/mote.

Choose the fence post height that you desire, either 4' or 6' will work fine. 6' will allow most people to walk through the mote, which might be nice if a chicken has problems and you need to get in to it. The chances are small that will happen though, so you *can* go with the 4' if you prefer.

Since we want the whole thing totally enclosed, let's put one T-post just to the side of the field fence, where we can still walk between the fences to maintain our fencing. I'd put a 3' space between the existing fence and the one we're going to make. So about 3' out, pound a T-post using a T-post pounder.

Pound the T posts where the bumpy side is either facing in or out, depending on whether you want the T posts inside w/ the chickens or outside the run. Make sure you pound them all the same direction. Then measure 4' and put another T post parallel to that one. We'll put a 4' T-post as a cross piece, which will hold the chicken wire top on. I use this same T-post set up in my garden for my vine crops, so let me show you what we're trying for:

So for each section of the mote we'll use 3 T-posts for support: one for each side and one for the top.

Make the run as long or as short as you want, running parallel to the area where the grasshoppers are coming from.

At this point, if you have opted for 6' fencing, you can use a smaller holed field fence, which is tougher and will hold up longer, or if you opted for 4', you can use chicken wire sides or the small holed field fencing. Either option is fine. Use chicken wire or small holed field fencing for the top.

For the chicken house, we want a construction that allows us to get the eggs while standing outside the coop. There are lots of ideas out there,and I'd suggest you start by looking at Most of the coops could be modified to become what you need it to be.

Another option may be a chicken tractor. It wouldn't give as much access to the problem grasshoppers, but it would be a smaller solution. (though tiny, this one is certainly cute! ) Chicken tractors are simply movable coops. They take less space and allow you to put the chickens where you need them to be at the time. Put the tractor in the garden after harvesting in the fall, and allow the hens to fertilize it for you while your garden rests during the winter. During the problem bug seasons, it will allow the chickens to have access to grass and bugs in one area at a time.

Just be sure and look for a coop that fits *your* lifestyle. If you'd prefer to not have to go into the coop (mess or frightened of chickens - my girls are! lol!), look for one that has access to the nesting boxes from the outside, or modify it to be that way. You can make the coop as cute or as farmish as you like, as big or little as you need for your yard and the number of chickens you desire, and mobile or in one spot depending on what you need. You will enjoy the chickens more if you enjoy the layout.

Most important: Having chickens should be fun and rewarding!

In addition to loving to watch them scratch and peck, and loving that they eat many bugs, THIS is why I keep chickens:

The pale, watery egg is store bought, while the rich, golden one is farm-made! :)

And to answer a commonly asked question: No, you don't have to have a rooster to get eggs. :)

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