Chickens / Management

Managing Chicken-Scratch Erosion

Though the days are getting longer, it is winter and everything lies dormant.  Everything, that is, except for my chickens.  During this mild winter, these birds are not snuggled on their roost tucked away in their coop; they are out and about, scratching and pecking away happily through the wet and windy days.  Thankfully, they do not come down much below my house and so are away from the neighbors and the road while they roam.  They spend a large chunk of their time up by their coop where there is a bit of a seasonal stream from water running down the hollow and where they are close to home.

Chickens, as we know, scratch for food.  They happily kick their little legs back, scraping at the ground with toes and nails to find a bit of tasty-something we can often barely see.  They will, if you let them stay on the same ground, scratch and scratch until they have destroyed even the root systems of plants and nothing can grow.  Try to keep the floor of your run covered in grass and you will soon discover the truth of this.

Unfortunately, scratching up by their coop presents a bit of a problem.  The grass in some places is completely decimated.  Yet, this very same area is at the greatest risk for erosion as rainwater comes gently down the hillsides or rushes in a huge flood from further up the mountain after spring rains.  This torrent is usually contained by a small berm of dirt, usually held in place by a mix of native plants which took over after the soil was put in place.

The berm as it was this past fall

But no longer.  As you can see, this berm is nearly naked in places, scratched day-in and day-out until there is nothing but bare dirt.  With spring coming, something had to be done.

The berm, bare this morning

While I would have preferred a natural burlap, I bought a plasticized jute netting to hopefully prevent little chicken feet from scratching it to bits.  I laid down a mixture of clover and chicory, covered it with some leaves and grass because I don’t want the chickens to peck out the seeds through the cloth, and covered with the netting.  If the rocks don’t hold it in place, I’ll follow up with some landscape pins, and if the leaves aren’t enough, I can put down another layer.  Hopefully, these seeds will germinate as soon as anything can survive and the netting will help prevent erosion in the meantime.  This spring when it’s a bit warmer, I may follow with a round of native wildflower seeds if the chickens prevent the native flora from spreading naturally.

Seeded and covered, hopefully protected

They have also taken my front garden bed down to a dangerous level.  Right now, I think their weeding and fertilizing has done the garden a great deal of good, but if I don’t fence it off soon, they will destroy all of my plantings.  I think I’ve lost a few irises already.  So, the front garden is on the list for next weekend.  They will miss it however.  The garden had the best dirt for dust baths…

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4 thoughts on “Managing Chicken-Scratch Erosion

  1. I understand entirely. I think they destroyed all my new shade plants, wildflowers included before I could get the fence up. They enjoyed it so much I was procrasinating. I saw a little root I think Blood root the other day.

  2. Yes, I feel the same way! You want to protect your garden, but at the same time, they seem to be enjoying that dirt! It’s neat that you are growing blood root in your garden. It grows in the forest and hill behind my house, but I never realized it was also cultivated.

  3. Oh boy, I can sure relate! My chickens love to dust bath in my flower gardens. I fear I have lost a few bulbs this year. Crazy chickens!

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