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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:11 am 
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Hatchling
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Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:06 am
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Hi All,

I am making some plans for our family to get some chickens and I was hoping for a little bit of advice.

We have an area in the garden which I think was used by the previous owners as a dog run, it is fenced and we are hoping to use the whole area for the chickens to free range. The area is made up of one half being predominantly a mixture of gravel and sand, and the other solid concrete with a couple of corrugated iron sheds. Its a real sun trap and in the summer it can get quite hot, due to both the exposed position and the ambient heat from the concrete, sheds and gravel.

We have a chicken coop, which we have located on the gravel underneath a large shady tree and we plan in install some raised planters throughout the area in order to grow some plants to produce more shade. In addition, we have a separate chicken coop extension run (which open at one end) which we hope to put some shade cloth over to provide another area of shade.

A few questions spring from this:

- Is the gravel/sand mixture suitable for the chickens to be housed on? It is quite dusty, so my thinking is they would enjoy scratching and dust bathing in it, but its very poor quality ground, so there are no worms in it
- Is there something I could put down on top of the gravel to both make it more hospitable for them and reduce the ambient heat? Some kind of mulch maybe?
- Do I need to put anything down on the concrete areas?
- Any planting suggestions for the raised beds for producing some extra shade?
- Any other issues I should be aware of?

Thanks a lot


Last edited by Will Malone on Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:50 am 
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Junior Champion Bird
Junior Champion Bird

Joined: Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:29 pm
Posts: 610
Location: Victoria
How fine is the gravel? If it's too coarse then it can damage chickens feet and cause bumblefoot (as can woodchips and the like). If it's fine or has a fair bit of sand in it then it's less likely to be an issue. They will enjoy scratching around and bathing in it, even if the soil quality is poor. The chickens will usually improve the soil condition over time anyway.

Depending on the area of the concrete and the gravel, it's up to you whether you bother with a topping over the concrete. If they will have plenty of area to be in un-concreted, then you don't necessarily have to put anything down on the concrete. If overall the area is small then maybe a thick layer of sand wouldn't hurt over the concrete. You could try some fast growing screening plants in pots around the concreted area, it would help reduce the amount of heat that is reflected and provide some shade too.

You could plant out a bunch of pest repellent plants in the planter boxes, some are bushy and will provide shade, however check which are safe for poultry. And you'll probably want to restrict access because chickens can decimate plants. You could also have a crop of fodder for the chickens to forage in, you can get seed mixes or make up your own. If you screen them off with mesh set above the plants the chickens can nip the tops off without totally destroying the plants, enabling continuous growth.

Shadecloth can make a huge difference to heat levels, particularly a light colour cloth. I've got a 50% white shadecloth (nominal 30%) in my garden, and you can really tell how much cooler it is underneath. If you could get a light coloured 70-90% cloth it would make more of a difference too.

You could try installing a high pressure misting system if you really wanted to. The superfine misting heads are designed to instantly evaporate the water once it's in the air, which can have a great impact on cooling areas without making things wet. Some people have set up thermostat controlled ones that switch on when it gets over a certain temp and stay on until the ambient temp drops. Fairly easy to do with Arduino nowadays even for beginners. But you can manage temps without any of that.

Anyway, I'm rambling, good luck with your pending chicken adventures :clnava


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 12:06 pm 
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Hatchling
Hatchling

Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:06 am
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Hiya,

Thanks a lot for the quick reply. The gravel is quite coarse, with a high percentage of stones in it - it hurts my feet if I don't have shoes on. I have turned it over which has made it a little finer, but it is quite a rough surface. Would it be worth putting sand or something else on top of the gravel? It is on a slight slope, so there would be scope for adding something in to level it off.

Thanks for the hints about planters - much appreciated. I am hoping to used raised planters so the chickens can't get them, plus extra height means extra shade.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 2:20 pm 
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Golden Swan
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Joined: Wed Jan 24, 2007 11:02 pm
Posts: 25318
Location: Albany, Western Australia
I have very gravelly sandy soil at my place with big gravel, small gravel and rocks in abundance. I have never had any foot troubles with my chooks. The only difficulty I could see would be if they are jumping down onto it from a height (as in a high perch). In that case I would put some litter (straw, chaff, other organic mulch)underneath. The concrete is no problem for them. They can live on concrete (though personally I like them to have some soil to scratch in).

Chooks jump very well so height may not be enough to deter them from getting not you planters! I have a rosemary bush in a big pot in one of my pens. They were supposed to forage from it but they seem to leave it entirely alone, so it might be a good one to try!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 7:36 pm 
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Junior Champion Bird
Junior Champion Bird

Joined: Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:29 pm
Posts: 610
Location: Victoria
True NellyG, generally it causes problems when they are jumping down in it from a height. That was my main concern with the coop placed over the gravel.

I've seen people have issues with Bumblefoot with their chickens only jumping from a 2' height, albeit they were heavier breeds. I haven't had any issues with my chickens jumping down onto the 20mm blue metal & scoria that surround my aquaponic beds, they are 90cm off the ground. However they are lighter breeds, I wouldn't feel as confident if they were big, heavy buggers, lol.

I'd be inclined to put down some sort of softer bedding in the coop at the very least, better to prevent a problem than have to deal with it if it arises. The pen I wouldn't worry about so much, particularly if they have a lot of space, they'll scratch it around and give you bare spots of dirt. You'll probably find over time you'll end up putting a fresh layer of litter over it anyway.

As NellyG said, your chickens will jump into your planter boxes, so a small barrier would be required at the very least. But putting in plants they don't like to munch on is good too, however in my experience they will destroy plants and trees that they supposedly wouldn't touch, lol. I'm taking note of the Rosemary though and will give that a go.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 8:59 pm 
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Hatchling
Hatchling

Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:06 am
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Thanks a lot Azira and NellyG - all good food for thought.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2017 9:35 pm 
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Old Mother Goose
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Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2009 11:15 pm
Posts: 6177
Location: ACT area
Hi Will and welcome to BYP. It sounds as if you have inherited a great set up for some chooks.
I wouldn't worry too much sbout the gravel - raking off the largest stones might be a good idea. A topping of coarse sand will help reduce mud and smells and the chooks will enjuy scratching and dust bathing and generally creating more dust. Some shade mesh will help keep things cooler and will slso break the rain. Do a search for safari roof. They are one of the best way to provide passive cooling for your chook house.
Foxes are a major problem in Canberra and will climb and dig into a pen if it is not safely defended.


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