3 July 2012

Change and modifications, not giving up

Change is constant in our lives. We're always reacting to the good and the bad in our backyard and while the good results in smiles and a feeling of achievement, the bad makes us think about change and modifications, but never giving up. And such is the case now. We've had to have a good look at our backyard because it's not working as well as it could.  The main problem is that since we increased the number of chooks we have, they're impacting more on the backyard and most notably, the grass.

Looking very important, here is Lulubelle.

Many of you will remember that I'm a complete fan of grass. Some people aren't, they think it's a waste of resources, but grass can be grown sustainably. We never water or fertilise our lawn, the sky and the chooks do all the necessary work and we leave it to grow and provide a cool and soft area for grandchildren to play on. It helps remove carbon dioxide in the air and releases oxygen, just like trees do. We also use it as one of the main components of our compost. So as well as providing free feed and omega 3 oils for our chooks, which gives us omega 3 enriched eggs, it helps provide valuable organic matter and soil conditioner for the garden in the form of compost. It also helps filter water runoff before it reaches local waterways and on a hot day, it helps cool the air around the house in a way concrete never can. I would never live in a house that didn't have a lawn.

This is the area the chooks are sitting in all day and you can see in the photo that the grass has died off. When it rains, it's very slushy walking through here to go to the chook house. In the background, you can see where Hanno has placed the posts for the chook run extension.

But! Those chickens of ours love sitting close to the back wall of our house, right near the gate that stops them coming closer to the house and onto the back verandah. That area just outside the gate is now stripped of lawn - mainly due to their droppings burning it off, but also because of their scratching and all the rain we've had this year. We need to move the chooks away from that area without cutting off their access to grass.

The last of our Barnevelders was killed by a fox last week. It was such a sad loss. She was a beautiful girl, she'd just started laying and she held so much potential. I emailed Julie, where we get all our chooks now, and she'll have some little Barnevelders, Welsummers and an Araucana ready for us in early Spring.

This is the area we're extending the chook run out to. That first fence will go and the run will extend out to the second row of posts. The fence in the background is the start of our little orchard and the dense growth on the right is the rainforest that lines the creek just a few metres beyond.

So we've decided to enlarge the chook run so it goes right out under the fig and pecan trees, providing shade and sun, as well as the all important grass. But they'll be behind a fence so they won't be able to wander around like they can now. There will be a large square space between the end of the chook run and the orchard, so Hanno's decided to put in an extra vegetable garden there. It's virgin soil there, so it will need a lot of enrichment before it amounts to anything but we'll start on it soon and expect it to be producing decent crops within two or three years. The key to virgin soil, especially in Australia, is to add a lot of compost, all sorts of manures, lime, rock minerals and worm castings. It will also need some cultivating and watering and although that sounds like a lot of work, it's good work and worth the effort we put in. We don't like the no dig method - we are soil people, we like the opportunity for the plants to send down their roots into the soil to mine the minerals and to bring them up into the leaves, vegetables and fruit.

The last piece in this equation is mulch. Lots of mulch on the garden that will break down over the months, to be replaced by new mulch. It all adds to the organic matter in the soil. As soon as the soil is moist and the organic matter is there, earth worms will come to live there and a healthy cycle in the new garden will begin.

This is the interior of our chook house. We're thinking of painting the exterior walls lilac. :- )

I've included some photos of the chooks and our chook house here. I'd love to see where your chickens live. I'll set up a thread at the forum and I invite you all to post photos of your chicken palaces there. Let's collect a lot of photos to show the incredible diversity of chook accommodation all over the world. Click here for the forum thread.



  1. We just had to change our chicken run as well, because we have a very small lawn and the chooks were destroying it- if we had a much larger space like yours they would have more access to grass, but we wanted to have at least a little bit of healthy grass left to enjoy! I just wrote a post about our flock, over here at http://batchworthlane.blogspot.com.

    It always feels great to see that folks on the other side of the world make the same changes at the same time as us :)

  2. When you say mulch what does this mean? What is your mulch made up of.
    Great post, thanks.

  3. With hindsight I would have left one of our 4 areas as lawn but our dogs and chickens were really hard on any grass we laid... I love how you say "in two or three" years the new soil will be growing good vegetables...I was so impatient in the beginning that I thought the 1st year we would have mega crops. We did well then but I see that each year it improves.

  4. Had trouble finding the thread at the forum:( oh well I posted a pic here of the chook house my husband built

  5. Erin, I've put up a link to the forum thread now.

    Wendy, gardening is a waiting game. It's one of the processes that taught me to slow down.

    Eileen, I mean straw or hay mulch specifically but any organic material that keeps soil moist and of an even temperature and that will break down over time to enrich the soil is fine. You could use small wood chips, shredded paper or leaves as well. I'll have a great link for mulching on Friday.

  6. I love our girls, they're so entertaining to watch & great layers. We we bought our farm it came with 3 stables & a tack room. As we never intend to have horses, we turned one stable into the chook house & one into a house for the ducks. The biggest one is divided in two, so we use one half to house any orphaned lambs our neighbour gives us to hand raise (they have direct access to a small fenced grassed area during the day), the other half we use to store potting mix, bagged compost, gypsum, bales of sugar cane mulch, excess timber etc. We use the tack room to store any liquids, fertilizers, watering cans, sprayers, feeds in barrels etc.... it's worked out quite well having those structures already in place. I'll post some photos on the forum thread if I can work out how (I know little about how to adjust size etc).... but I'll try.

  7. Good morning Ann, you can resize photos in Picassa or, I think, in Word - in the "edit picture' bit. I'm sure the girls at the forum will help if you need it.

  8. Yes, chooks do impact quite harshly on the ground don't they. We have 35 chickens and now 3 Goslings, which are already impacting more than the chooks. We have a 2 acre paddock which we rotate them around with a quarter of it available to them (they have an electric fence around them to keep out Mr Fox, rampant in these parts as we are surrounded on 2 sides by woodland) at any one time. We move them along every 5 - 6 weeks and then the grass that they were on is mown and left to recover. It seems to be working up to now.

    It's always wise to act when necessary to make changes and try to improve things that don't work as well as you hoped, or stop working for whatever reason.

    We have made so many tweaks to our lifestyle as we gradually worked our way into this simple way of life. I don't think you ever really 'get there', it's always a journey, albeit a very satisfying one.

    Sue xx

  9. G'DAY Rhonda,

    Love the post we are going to extend our chook run and number of chooks.

    The chook and vegy patch are great to see today, it has helped uplift me in this sad time, we've had 3 deaths in the family in 3 weeks, last night my close uncle died, so it was lovely to see your pictures and info on what is happening, it helps, my uncle had a good vegy patch and even had his own sheep for meat, that he killed himself.

    I'm glad the weather is good I'm hoping that this will not set me back, trying to keep my head up though, please keep up the lovely posts.

    With MUCH Thanks,



  10. Oh your veggie garden always looks so healthy. Yes i can imagine that lots of chooks can destroy the grass. I am sure you will have that little patch green in no time. Hope the chooks like their new run.

  11. Hi Rhonda. We are about to do the same here when I'm up and about again. Have just had a stint in hospital so will be taking things slowly for a while, however the positive in that is I will have time to think and plan.

    We had a major fox attack here earlier this year and lost about half our chooks. One section of electric netting fence had stopped working and we think it was perhaps due to a delivery truck backing into it and breaking parts of it, unbeknowns to us until it was too late. The fox soon cottoned on to it, though, that's for sure!

    The remainder of our chooks were fairly traumatised and didn't want to venture far, keeping largely to the area where our clothes line is. I use that as a temporary chook run, when I want them to have a quick green pick for 2-4 days, then I shut them out again. It is looking rather bare and it's high time they moved on, so whilst I'm recuperating and whilst a couple of sons are around and able to help, we'll do some planning and building as well.

    Glad to hear Hanno has regained some sight and to read of the success of your book and the influence on so many around the world, through that and the blog.

    Ree x

  12. We only have 3 chooks and i am suprised to see how much dmage they have done to the yard and how many bare patches there now are! But that's ok because for now there is plenty of space and grass for them to scratch...i just wish they would move away from the edges!!!
    Efficient little creatures aren't they? Thanks for sharing your plans Rhonda...lovely post and i shall be sure to check out the forum although we only have a little tractor for the girls at this stage!

  13. your chooks can come eat my grass, eat it all! I'm one of those folks that can't stand grass. Give me a meadow, or wildflowwers or a diffrent herbs and ground covers but grass? I could do without! I'm working on being rid of it compleatly someday.

  14. I'm a big fan of lawn too. And chooks. :) I'm hoping to get our first couple of hens in the spring (if SJ ever gets around to building a chicken coop!).

  15. Mine have a run at the back and side of the double garage, with a small coop with nesting box and roost in the middle, all made from recycled stuff. It was there when we moved in but have had to rebuild gate as dogs got in and killed all the hens last year. We only have two girls right now but looking to get two or three more soon. There isn't much by way of grass but they get lots of greens - weeds from garden and outside cabbage leaves!

  16. Ha Ha! All I heard was you're going to paint your chook shed lilac! I love it! I never thought of prettying up the chook shed, but maybe I should!

  17. I'm so jealous that you can grow grass without watering it... I think lawns are perfectly appropriate in places where there's enough water for them. But here in Colorado, they have to be watered at least 3 times a week just to stay alive - more if you actually want it to be green, so most people have sprinkler systems, use chemical fertilizers and create a ton of both noise and air pollution mowing them with gas mowers - hence, I'm busy digging mine up and replacing it with plants that don't consume so many resources (such as my time and money!)

  18. Sorry to hear you lost your last Barnevelders.
    Gee your tommies, salad greens and strawberries look fantastic. So healthy.
    How great to be able to extend your veggie garden. I haven't done a no dig garden yet, I too like to use the soil. There is something about turning the soil over.
    We are currently moving pots around and finding ways to grow some more produce. I always find it exciting finding new ways to live this way.

  19. I would love chooks, Rhonda. But I'm wondering what they'd do to my Auckland backyard, which in winter is sodden. Do you find that their damage to the backyard is more of a problem in Winter when its wet and muddy, or in summer when its dry and probably the grass doesn't grow so well. That said, Auckland always seems to have plenty of rainfall, even in summer:( I wonder whether I should have just a chook house and run, and just let them occasionally free range when I want a vegie patch cleaned out.

  20. Hello Rhonda,
    I thought that you could get some ideas from this blogger.
    He had some very innovative ideas where chickens are concerned, particularly this one - He has a chicken run that wraps around his garden.

    Trinidad & Tobago

  21. I really enjoy your blog, thank you...I just spent the last several weeks reading all of the back pages (wow, lots of pages :)) and it just makes me feel good to read it. My husband left his 8-5:00 job 6 months ago, and we're learning first hand how lovely it can be to have someone at home who can really focus on the grocery sale prices, enlarging the garden, etc., and we're both not running around like crazy people at night/weekends. Hopefully in the next 5 years, I'll get to do the same. Thanks again, Traci

  22. We've just got our first three hens and I've been planning on sectioning off their run so that they don't destroy all the grass in one go. It seems from reading your post that the problem is more to do with their poo burning the plants though? Maybe sectioning off can still help so I think I'll just give it a go.

  23. Sorry to read your sad news, Matt.

    ecocat, you're right, in your situation I would not have grass. I would not keep it going by artificial means. Good luck with your garden. It sounds like a very harsh climate.

    Carla, when it rains and the ground stays wet, it's easier for them to scratch the roots up. In the summer, when it's dry, they scratch the grass to make an area for a dust bath. This is their natural behaviour and a way for them to keep themselves free of mites. I don't mind the dust bath areas because they're usually in areas where we don't walk through (we have a big backyard). So to answer your question, there are problems with the grass almost all year but it's only when it's in an area we use that it becomes a problem. If you get chooks, and they really are worth a bit of bother, fence them off and let them out occasionally.

    Traci, I see you've dived right in. Good on you both! You're in for a wonderful ride. Good luck.

    Tanya, the burning off is the main problem in a small area. If they wander around over a large area, the droppings just fertilise the grass. However, if they confine themselves to one area, like ours do in that corner near the gate, the accumulation of droppings burns the grass.

  24. Rhonda, this post is spot on! One of the most important jobs we have in trying to live our lifestyle is to constantly assess our land, animals, home and habits. It's so easy to let things stay the same, when really, change would be better. Usually, a small investment of time can make the world of difference in a situation! It brings me back to my working days in business where constant assessment was vital and looking ahead with a knowing eye was crucial. Who knew I'd be using these skills in this way all these years later... While our lifestyle doesn't change rapidly, it's certainly not stagnant... frequent change and gentle shifts are the things we can count on with total certainty, LOL.

  25. Lulubelle is just beautiful! I am looking forward to a distant future house with enough space for chickens.

  26. We recently lost one of our girls. You become quite attached to dear things. We have a chook run that goes right around the perimeter of our garden. It gives them a very large area to stretch their little legs, and provides us (and I hope them) the perception of them having full range of the garden. No matter where you are in the garden the chickens can be close by.

  27. Hi Rhonda,
    My parents have kept chickens in their small backyard for several years now. They have a coop and lawn space with a little door that lets them out onto the main lawn some afternoons. The chickens are feed a diet of pellets and food scraps from the house. We discovered by removing meat from the scrap bucket, (and therefore he chooks diet) their poo improved greatly. Far less smelly and it doesn't seem to burn the grass. Perhaps this is your problem?
    Good luck with your further hendeavours!


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