Monday, July 14

The Problem Area and Chicken Happiness.

Although our property is a little over two acres, it is divided up in a way that makes it seem much smaller. There are rows of trees and outbuildings in strange locations and the property has more of a segmented feel to it. One of the more aggravating things is that there is a line of huge arborvitae, two maple trees and weedy ground cover separating the house from a decent view of the chicken coop.
In a perfect world where I didn't care about such things, I would cut these trees down and that would be the end of the problem. But I can't bring myself to kill a living thing just because it is inconvenient for me. And there are many birds and little mammals that call these trees home.
So I cut a path through it, taking out a few almost dead arborvitae which left a nice line of sight to the coop from the back window. To the right of the path I cleaned out the weeds, trimmed the lowest dead branches of arborvitae and planted some nice shade-loving ground cover - some snow on the mountain and something else that is not variegated but looks a lot like a solid green version of snow on the mountain. There is also a very old bittersweet bush in there which I love and it makes a nice end cap to that section.
The section to the left of the path was another story. This part is much larger, encompasses both maple trees and contains a horrible amount of weedy material. The arborvitae are much more filled in here and reach all the way to the ground. It would have been impossible for me to crawl around in there trying to clear it out enough to plant some ground cover and make it look presentable. This part of the yard has always bothered me and it has been on the 'clean-up' list since we bought the house 9 years ago.
After a little bit of standing around staring at the bit of problem area I decided that it may be impossible for me to tackle this problem, but not for my chickens. How many times have I watched them decimate a patch of ground in less than an afternoon?
But how to get them there? I can not let them free range in the yard anymore since they take off to the neighbors and Murphy thinks that they are very small dogs for him to run around with. There is a 15 foot section of yard between this area and the outdoor chicken run. I did not want to enclose the entire yard area and the problem area - that would just be too much fencing. I wanted them to be able to go to the problem area whenever they wanted and be able to get back to the coop - basically going back and forth all day without me having to rotate pens.
So, this is what I came up with. I fenced in the problem area with a metal 4' gardening fence (about 50 feet).  
The problem area.
I then built 5 'chute sections' that I can attach together with zip ties. The sections are 3' long by 1.5' wide. I cut and nailed curved sections of leftover garden fencing to them leaving the ends open  for connecting to each other.

The sections attach to the problem area fence and a door I cut in the fence of the outdoor coop run.

Murphy watches in puzzlement - "Why can't I get those chickens?"
They figured it our pretty quickly and after taking out much of the grass, they moved on to the problem area.
I am happy to report that they have decimated much of the undergrowth in the area and are generally having a wonderful time in there. It offers them new area in which to scratch, shade on hot days, protection from predators such as those hawks that love to stalk them, and it lets me see them doing what chickens do. Entertainment and free yard services. I am not complaining.
I did have to put up some poultry netting over about half of the problem area since some of the ladies figured out they could easily fly over and out. But the other half is heavy with low branches that act as a natural 'top'.
While I was feeling generous towards the girls I decided to go ahead and make some coop outdoor run improvements. Thanks to some wonderful pictures and ideas I saw over on Fresh Eggs Daily, I have made some great new chicken-friendly additions:

A new dust bath area consisting of 4 good sized cedar logs in a square, the center filled with a few bags of play sand.

Some transplants of fast growing shrubbery found in our woods to add green to the run.

Here you can see the perch I made from old cedar trees and the tarp that I placed over the dust bath for some shade.

I placed rocks around the transplants after reading the posts on Fresh Eggs Daily to deter the chickens from digging up the new plants. I also took her advice and bought some bicolor butterfly bushes and sergeants juniper to plant in the run. She also suggests rose bushes and I did transplant a few from around my yard, however it does not appear that they survived. I will trim them back and wait until next year to see if they make a come back.
I wish I could tell you for certain that the chickens were ecstatic with their new additions and the access to the problem area, but aside from the usual chicken greetings I get when I visit, I really can't tell. They do spend a lot of time in the dust bath and on the perch and they have not destroyed the plantings (granted, I have rocks and chicken wire around some of them). I can only assume that they are happy in that they are still laying and no one pecks at me when I enter the coop.
They do seem happy which is all I want for them and I am constantly trying to find ways to make their caged existence as pleasant as possible.

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