Transforming a chicken pen with hardwood play chip

Winter 2020/21 – my 14 chickens were under giant nets, appropriated from fruit cages, under instruction from DEFRA to try and prevent the spread of bird flu. The nets served to keep the wild birds out but also acted as giant collection centres when the snow came. The snow settled heavily into them and despite best attempts to clear the deluge (which mostly involved getting great deposits of the cold wet stuff down the neck of my jacket) the snow sat, in great dripping masses, for days.

The result of all this was that my nice, grassy chicken pen became a brutal mud slick. It seems even if you tiptoe gently around in size 5 wellies, you still manage to turn the ground into something resembling an intertidal mudflat. I slipped and slid around and the chickens looked increasingly depressed at having permanently slimy feet and nothing to peck around in. I tried putting straw down which offered a temporary respite, but over time it just got churned into the mud making the whole place look like a mad sludge pit which wouldn’t have been out of place on a kids’ gameshow.

Come the spring, and a total lack of rain, the mud baked into a hardened crust. No grass sprang forth and there was little to interest my flock as the bugs and worms that they liked to rake for were trapped below the compacted surface. Having considered various solutions, I decided to try putting down a layer of hardwood chips in the worst affected areas. Bingo. The pen was transformed into something more reminiscent of the National Trust and the chickens, cautiously at first, began to investigate. They scratched around, enjoying digging and investigating and I loved the fact that everything looked neat and tidy again.

The chickens move the wood chip around as they forage and can still scratch at the ground underneath, but I simply rake it back into place which is more for my benefit than theirs!

I am fortunate that I have enough space to still have some grassy areas that were rested during the winter and these provide areas where the chickens can still create their much needed dust baths in the warmer weather when the red mite rear their annoying heads.

The wood chip has transformed the space into something that looks good and is practical too. If needed, it can always be raked up and moved.

So happy hens, happy hen keeper and, much to my surprise as it hasn’t happened in 10 years of having chickens, happy cockerel. Turned out my lovely Buff Orpington ‘she’ was, in fact, a ‘he’ all along.

Guest author: Customer, Vanessa, from Kent