Getting grass in the run - solutions?

TJAnonymous

Crowing
Feb 29, 2020
2,000
9,578
481
Central Arkansas
I have a rather large run (approximately 135' by 32') which my chickens share with 2 goats and 5 ducks. There is no grass in the run but a TON of woody weeds that no one will eat. I would love to get some grass to grow in there... The soil is not great.... A fine sandy soil on top of clay.

I thought about running some sprinkler lines in there and putting sod on top. If I run the sprinklers at night during the dry weather, perhaps I can keep it green enough to stay thick so the chickens are less likely to tear it up?

Any other ideas? There's no way to block it off and I have around 40 chickens in this space.
 

azygous

Enabler
12 Years
Dec 11, 2009
25,966
39,999
1,182
Colorado Rockies
Your vision of an immediate grassy run with that many chickens is doomed. There's no chance of grass being able to establish roots with chickens doing what chickens do.

Sod type grass has roots too shallow to survive the action of scratching feet, and it requires time for bunch grass to put down deep roots to withstand the activity.

I've successfully established cover crops on my chicken range area, multiple varieties of plant species including bunch grasses, chard, cilantro, alfalfa, and oregano by fencing the area off during early spring until the plants mature in mid-summer. Once the plants are full grown, they handle chicken activity very well. I did over three years, a section at a time.

I suggest you fence off a portion of your spacious run and plant, cultivate, and establish the plants or grass, then move to another section of the run next year and do the same. It will likely require around three or four years to establish the crop(s) you wish to see in your run, doing it a section at a time.
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
5,111
15,344
606
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
Deep rooting fescues can establish themselves, but ultimately, your best bet is planting outside the run, allowing the grass to grow inwards, and never being satisfied with the results. I have similar soils, but rely on most of two acres of clearing (and another 2 1/2 of underbrushed area) to ensure green keeps growing in my "run". A number of tall prarie grasses can do well, too - if given a chance to establish themselves - look at "my acres of weeds" (incomplete, work in progress) for some ideas, I actually "borrowed" several species from your area in determining what might work well for me.

The tall ornamentals are attractive, but provide very little in terms of nutrition. My chickens ignore them, and the goats much prefer the blackerries. Still, you have a lot of options in the low panicum, which do provide an abundance of seeds the chickens are interested in, the goats will nibble the taller greens, and they survive duck walks.

You could also consider (space and budget permitting) making another run (or two), and using rotational grazing techniques.
 

TJAnonymous

Crowing
Feb 29, 2020
2,000
9,578
481
Central Arkansas
Your vision of an immediate grassy run with that many chickens is doomed. There's no chance of grass being able to establish roots with chickens doing what chickens do.

Sod type grass has roots too shallow to survive the action of scratching feet, and it requires time for bunch grass to put down deep roots to withstand the activity.

I've successfully established cover crops on my chicken range area, multiple varieties of plant species including bunch grasses, chard, cilantro, alfalfa, and oregano by fencing the area off during early spring until the plants mature in mid-summer. Once the plants are full grown, they handle chicken activity very well. I did over three years, a section at a time.

I suggest you fence off a portion of your spacious run and plant, cultivate, and establish the plants or grass, then move to another section of the run next year and do the same. It will likely require around three or four years to establish the crop(s) you wish to see in your run, doing it a section at a time.

Sounds good but how do you keep them out? I've tried using a 6 ft fence and they still fly over it. I could build higher but with the price of lumber, it starts to get ridiculous for just some grass....

I guess my run is destined to be nothing but weeds that no one will eat. 😔
 

TJAnonymous

Crowing
Feb 29, 2020
2,000
9,578
481
Central Arkansas
Deep rooting fescues can establish themselves, but ultimately, your best bet is planting outside the run, allowing the grass to grow inwards, and never being satisfied with the results. I have similar soils, but rely on most of two acres of clearing (and another 2 1/2 of underbrushed area) to ensure green keeps growing in my "run". A number of tall prarie grasses can do well, too - if given a chance to establish themselves - look at "my acres of weeds" (incomplete, work in progress) for some ideas, I actually "borrowed" several species from your area in determining what might work well for me.

The tall ornamentals are attractive, but provide very little in terms of nutrition. My chickens ignore them, and the goats much prefer the blackerries. Still, you have a lot of options in the low panicum, which do provide an abundance of seeds the chickens are interested in, the goats will nibble the taller greens, and they survive duck walks.

You could also consider (space and budget permitting) making another run (or two), and using rotational grazing techniques.

I currently let my chickens out daily to free range around the house and barnyard. I don't really have a choice... There's simply nothing for them to eat in the chicken run.

I tried planting some mint and bee balm in between my duck run and Silkie run hoping it would grow into the runs but it simply never established itself because of the dry weather. I might try again in the spring.

I've thought about building some raised beds covered with chicken wire to give fodder a place to grow but I really want something other than dirt. Just seems like a waste to not get SOMETHING to grow there
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
5,111
15,344
606
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
I currently let my chickens out daily to free range around the house and barnyard. I don't really have a choice... There's simply nothing for them to eat in the chicken run.

I tried planting some mint and bee balm in between my duck run and Silkie run hoping it would grow into the runs but it simply never established itself because of the dry weather. I might try again in the spring.

I've thought about building some raised beds covered with chicken wire to give fodder a place to grow but I really want something other than dirt. Just seems like a waste to not get SOMETHING to grow there
I'm in complete agreement with you - and yes, mint was an excellent choice, but it does have to establish itself first.

Look for "Scribner's Panic Grass". I bought it as a Panicum, but its sometimes classified as a Dicanthelium as well. Its a cool season, so if you order soon, you can plant it for fall.

I have some perrenial rye. Its not doing well, and I'd not rely on it. Takes a lot of water to establish densely. Will make resilient clumps, but truly doesn't spread quickly or vigorously.
 

Liz Birdlover

Crowing
Jan 6, 2018
1,392
4,826
426
Delaware, USA
After nearly killing myself "skating" across muddy pens on yet another wet fall day a few years ago & several chickens getting bumblefoot due to the mud, I knew I had to do something, even if it was just temporary to get through the winter. I have yet to come up with a permanent solution, but I have tried the sod idea the longest, so far.

I did sod my runs (have a few, too many Roos) but my runs are only 7x10 up to 10x10 each. I only have up to 4 to 7 birds per pen, too. More birds means more feet trampling, digging and scratching.
The sod worked great all winter into spring as we get a lot of rain here but I have very rich farm soil & prepped it well, churning it up 1st...yes, my back ached for 2 months afterwards.
When we get drought in July, the grass all dies, can't save it by watering, we get scorching 90s & 100 degree days Jul & Aug, so it's dry dirt pens the rest of summer. In the Fall Oct, our weather gets cooler. I have to scrape out the old layer of thatch roots from the dead sod, load into 5 gal buckets then haul to my compost area, then deep prong rake the compressed soil & add some lawn lime to prep for new sod. Talk about a workout! Rolling out sod is the easy part, prepping the soil beforehand is backbreaking & takes days. DO NOT BUY your sod Until AFTER the area is prepped & ready...important lesson here, trust me.

This is NOT a good way to do things, I admit that, but I have tried sand runs, mulch runs, straw runs & they were much worse with the vast amounts of precipitation we get here over fall, winter & most springs. Covering my runs to keep dry is not possible the way they're built already, besides a dry run is still just a dirt & poop run, still nasty.

I have too many predators here to free range. The only other solution would be a portable pen on wheels, known as a "chicken tractor". That way the chickens can be moved daily & the area recovers from the scratching & digging. There will be holes dug & unfortunately since the unit is mobile, a fox can dig right under. This won't work for me as I can't be right there 24/7 to watch for digging foxes. It might work IF you have a good farm dog dedicated to protecting your flock.

Anyway...it is a dilemma.
I've made wire panels to sort of lay down & cover the greenery section. I planted chickweed in a small section of pen, it grew up through the wire mesh cover, so chickens can walk around on top & enjoy eating what grows through, but can't turf up the roots. In theory, a movable cover "could" be used all over, but that isn't practical. Who has time & the back muscle to constantly be moving huge wire panels? I don't.

So...this is why I do the yearly "pain in the wazoo" sod. It takes a week of time & costs me about $200. Bumblefooted chickens & me busting my ass slipping in mud all fall, winter & spring is NOT an option, though.

To grow ANYTHING, you need rich soil for roots. Sand & clay are not going to grow anything well. Add hot, fresh manure from chicken fuzz butts on a daily basis...nope, can't grow diddly squat in that.

IF you decide to grow sod, or crop cover, you need good base soil 1st, & several inches of it, too. Your area is so large, you'll surely have an aching back, so get some help, prepping will be the most difficult part. You'll need truckloads of good soil.
Once you plant something, or roll out sod, usually have to keep all chickens off for abt 3-4 weeks & you must water well DAILY for roots to get established, if there's no rain. This is why I wait til Oct or early Nov when my weather changes here, cooler & very rainy so chickens would be in the coop mostly anyway then...and I have larger than average coops so they're not crowded or hot & hang cabbage & have pecking blocks, etc. When chickens see the new grass pen, they may want to turf it up, so that's why I have 2 covered dustbath areas...they go to those spots immediately to dustbathe after being cooped up 3-4 weeks. While they were cooped up I sprinkled them & the fresh wood chips in coop with ProZap to prevent any mite issues by the way...so yeah before I even start on the pens I clean the coop completely as they'll be cooped up in there a few weeks. I make sure no one has any mites.
By Oct here the days are much shorter, that means less time chickens are out digging & scratching, too. The sod does great all winter. The days gets longer in spring. They're outside more trampling the greenery. If it's a dry spring, the sod dies & may be all dead by Jun, but it definitely dies by Aug, just too darn hot here then.

I haven't come up with a better solution & this works where I live. When I do relocate, wherever I go, I will have to adjust to the weather. If I moved to AZ for example, sod would never work. Figure out your weather patterns for your area, sod won't work if you don't get enough rain. Know that WHATEVER you plant, will require some kind of maintenance or periodic adjustments due to weather.

One thing for sure.. chickens do need a dustbath area or section, preferably covered so it never turns into a mud hole.
They love scratching & digging, it's what they do. You have to watch for anything sharp that may injur feet or constantly muddy, poopy areas that can cause bumblefoot. Having various "things to do" or perches will keep them interested, like hanging fresh corn cob, cabbage, melons, a chickweed or pecking greens spot, etc.

Sorry I don't have a better solution. I don't know your climate either, so what works here may not work at all elsewhere.

The only other thing to suggest is dividing your huge pen into 4 sections, then you rotate birds & let the ground recover. That was actually my initial intention here but I started out with 4 chickens and had 3 pens to rotate them... Chicken math changed everything here, dramatically! 😆 I have had up to 40 chickens, 11 of them were roosters... A few died of old age and I have not gotten any new ones because I have learned my lesson as to the number of chickens I can comfortably accommodate.

Best of luck!
 

Attachments

  • 20201004_121306.jpg
    20201004_121306.jpg
    1 MB · Views: 11
  • 20201224_112926.jpg
    20201224_112926.jpg
    1.1 MB · Views: 10
  • 20201224_113029.jpg
    20201224_113029.jpg
    1.2 MB · Views: 10
  • 20201130_125154.jpg
    20201130_125154.jpg
    895.2 KB · Views: 11
  • 20201130_121957.jpg
    20201130_121957.jpg
    1.2 MB · Views: 10
  • 20201130_125338.jpg
    20201130_125338.jpg
    837.6 KB · Views: 10
  • 20201130_122430.jpg
    20201130_122430.jpg
    1.2 MB · Views: 9
  • 20201130_122747.jpg
    20201130_122747.jpg
    1.1 MB · Views: 9
  • 20201130_122739.jpg
    20201130_122739.jpg
    1.3 MB · Views: 10
  • 20200927_175435.jpg
    20200927_175435.jpg
    1,023.4 KB · Views: 10
  • 1601489413719_image.png
    1601489413719_image.png
    1.7 MB · Views: 13
Last edited:

azygous

Enabler
12 Years
Dec 11, 2009
25,966
39,999
1,182
Colorado Rockies
I erect plastic deer netting around the cultivated area. The fencing is only about four feet high, so I add clothesline a couple of feet above the top of the netting to discourage deer and the chickens from trying to go over the four foot netting. It has worked very well.

Here are a couple of shots of the cover crops today in full bloom. It's a chicken paradise.
C7D8D891-36A9-449A-ACA6-890EC9A633C4.jpeg
9882BE71-E876-419C-8B06-11B82E65FD9C.jpeg
 

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom