We applied for a grant to build a Chicken Zone at our garden. We want to put together a Chicken Zone that has 6 worm composting bins that the chickens can root through. Here’s the plan as we sent it to the grant people:
Patchwork Farms is a collection of gardens on Chicago’s west side run by Molly Medhurst and Catherine Williams. Our largest garden is a 2/3-acre plot in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The farm’s harvest is distributed through a 20-share Community Supported Agriculture program and is sold regularly to two neighborhood restaurants and a nearby grocery co-op. This summer we will be adding 30 laying hens to our operation as a way to better feed our communities and better round out our farm fertility and sustainability programs. The hens will be mostly a mix of Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons.
The biggest challenge we face as urban farmers is protecting ourselves, our animals, our plants and ultimately our customers from the lead in our soil. Since the chickens cannot ingest any of the soil outside of the vegetable garden, our chickens will not be able to roam freely and find outlets for their natural urges to peck, forage and sand bathe; therefore, we will be carefully constructing a coop and surrounding “Chicken Zone” that will give them the space and tools to live out these urges. Despite these challenges the city does provide our farm with a waste stream which will supply our Chicken Zone with the products it needs to sustain itself, from restaurant and grocery compost to wood chips and other commercial byproducts.
Our Chicken Zone will:
- Protect our chickens and their eggs from the contamination in our soil.
- Give the chickens the space and resources to act out their natural urges
- Divert large amounts of organic matter, wood chips, burlap sacks, and other things from our neighborhood’s waste stream
- Produce large amounts of fertile compost to feed our garden soil
We plan to construct a chicken pen that is a 36’ by 36’ fenced-in square. Growing up the outside of the two fence walls that are most visible from the street will be vines—some of which the chickens will eat, and some that will serve to enhance the appearance of the coop. These walls will protect the chickens from both animal and human predators; provide a place to forage; and attract bugs to their area. Inside the fence we are going to first cover the ground with burlap sacks that we reuse from a neighborhood coffee roaster. Then we are going to cover the sacks with 6”-12” of wood chips that we receive for free from nearby tree trimming companies. These will be our primary barriers against the contaminated soil. Since we are going to be forcing a separation between the chickens and the soil, worms, grubs, and foliage; we are going to be building an array of 6 worm composting bins that we will fill with food from nearby, mostly organic, restaurants and grocery stores. Each of these bins will be 6′ wide, 12′ deep and 3′ high. They will be sealed from rodents, and will have one door which we can open or close. We will allow the chickens to root through each bin at a rate that allows the worms to maintain a healthy population. Since we will be supplying the worms with so much food scraps, they will be able to propagate quickly. Because the wood chip/burlap barrier will also block the chickens from bathing in the dirt and finding rocks for their gizzard, we will also build a sandbox and provide the chickens with gravel.
Inside the pen, we will be constructing a coop with 6 raised nesting boxes, plenty of perches, and a brooding box with 2 heating lamps. This coop will be extremely insulated to keep the chickens warm through the winter. The coop will also have a pitched roof from which we will be collecting clean rain water. The roof will extend beyond the coop on one side and will provide a shady outdoor spot for the chickens.
Completing the Circle
In order to protect our vegetables against the existing contaminated soil we laid down a thick barrier and built growing beds with 500 cubic yards of compost and soil. This artificial situation makes it difficult to build soil fertility without adding 140 cubic yards of compost every year. The Chicken Zone should generate 96 cubic yards of compost a year (more than two thirds of our needs) and also provide a healthy, happy habitat for thirty beautiful birds. With your help in funding this project, we can turn what is now being treated as trash into a food source for chickens, who will feed both our neighbors and the soil that nourishes our plants.