Framed chicken greens

One of our goals is to reduce the amount of chicken feed we buy, not only to save money, but also to give the chooks a healthier diet. Even an organic medication-free feed alone is not enough nutrition. They need fresh greens to stay healthy and to lay strong and nutritious eggs. Up to now we have been growing greens for them in small little enclosures, which we open one by one as the greens become ready. It worked fine at first, but lately we have been losing a lot to the flying mice – the little brown birds – and recently the Scot Grey and Wyandotte hens have discovered they can fly the fence and eat the greens' seeds before they even germinate. So another plan had to be made…

In our context an “enclosure” is a small little area demarcated by temporary fencing, typically trellis wire or moveable fence wire that we can roll up or spread out as we need it. The top photo shows Tiara and his girls exploring a newly opened wheat enclosure. Our enclosures are, say, between 3 to 10 square meters each, in which we sow the greens for the chooks intensely close together. We have a number of these scattered all over place, so while they feast on some of them, we regenerate the others. In the last batch we planted wheat, oats and barley, but we didn’t have the same success rate as before.  Our first batch of mixed wheat, barley and oats enclosures are growing prolifically, and we have started opening some of them up to the chooks already, like the one shown above. However, in the newest sown enclosures we have had below average germination. We now know why – because there were far below average numbers of seeds left in there! Between the flying mice and the fence-flying hens, they were scratching out and devouring the seeds before they could even germinate. So another plan had to be made…

Frame - poor germination

Low wheat germination rate

Recently I stumbled upon a blog where they had a similar problem. Their issue was that they couldn’t keep up with the sowing as the chooks were devouring the greens too fast. We found the same – in the process the chooks totally demolish the plants, so you have to start from scratch every time. I identified very well with that problem, because in between opening the sowed greens we also feed them the excess spinach, lettuce and pak choy from the vegetable gardens. They particularly like the lettuce when it goes to seed. Anyway, these guys in the blog started building wired frames over their greens, so that the chooks could only eat what grew outside of the frames. This way the plants grow nice and strong inside the frame, and you don’t have to replant so frequently. (I wish I had bookmarked their blog to acknowledge them – but for the life of chicken greens, I can’t find it again. There are really so many good blog sites out there from which you can learn or just great people you can share ideas with.)

So I decided to copy their idea liberally, as you do. However, I changed the design a little bit in order to use less materials in the construction. I wanted a real strong frame, so I did the un-permie thing and bought the frame materials. The last time I was at the tip, they didn’t have anything like what I needed, so I made a quick calculation that buying the stuff would save me a lot of time instead of searching and scrounging around for it. I acknowledge full well that it’s this kind of “convenience” shopping that result in our landfills being overfull, but I can assure you I’m not going to be dumping this frame any time soon. In fact, if it works it may just become the prototype for many more to come. Then I’ll look at other ways to source the materials.

Anyway, the construction wasn’t too complex. A quick scale drawing to get the triangles on the sides in the right proportions was all that was required from a design perspective. The rest was just clamp, drill and screw, clamp, drill and screw, as you do. Or so I thought… Unfortunately it was one of those days where there was a lot going on at the house, so with all the distractions I bolted to the length-wise base tubes inside the down frames instead of at the bottom on the outside as in the non-documented design. So I had to use some creative drilling and bolting to get the width-wise base tubes on. Fortunately I had some longer bolts left over from the netting projects. This mistake also complicated stringing the wire mesh, as the base was now a few centimetres longer than the top. Anyway, nothing a bit of “wire juggling and bending” (my favourite activity – not) couldn’t fix. My word, I got so distracted that I even used the weaker trellis wire (which was destined for another enclosure) on the frame. Anyway, the trellis wire stretched a bit easier than the stronger mesh wire. But so now I still have the strong mesh for a second frame…

Frame - construction

Construction

Prepping the area was fun – like before with the little enclosures. The chooks just love to scratch around in new compost! And then you have to chase and keep them away while sowing…

Frame - Sunny and team spreading compost

Sunny and the Princesses spreading the compost

With the shape of the frame being triangular, the planting took a bit of planning. Nothing serious, but it will be of little use to plant a low growing lettuce under the apex of the triangle. So we’ve had to sow what we had left of the wheat, oats and barley in the middle of the frame, because they grow much higher than the apex height, and we’ve planted a mix of tall growing thin-leafed lettuce, and perpetual spinach on the sides.

One thing coincidentally worked out quite well. When we installed the brick paving on the path, the irrigation for the path became redundant.  At the time I was planning a chicken greens enclosure, so I didn’t remove the irrigation pipe and sprayers. With the frame in place, I could literally just wrap the irrigation pipe around the frame, and viola! it is set for irrigation right through summer. A bit of multi-function permaculture is in effect here too. The compost used for the greens will no doubt feed the mulberry and citrus tress around it, as will the chicken manure once they start feeding there.

Frame - installed

Frame installed, irrigated and planted

Well, we’ll see how this one goes. I’ll report later how it all worked out. I’ve got a really interesting experiment that I want to try with the chicken green frames, but more about that much later…

Frame - Sunny and princesses inspecting

Sunny and the Princesses inspecting their future green meals

About martin@muchmoremulch.blog (167 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

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