How to build grazing frames for your backyard chickens

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Free plans for backyard chicken frames to grow greens that will last for months.Allowing your chickens to graze on fresh grass is a good thing — not just for them, but for you as well. The nutrients in green vegetation enhances the quality of their eggs and meat. And since fresh greens can make up about 20-30% of a chicken’s diet, providing them for your chickens can save you on feed costs.

But keeping your chickens supplied with fresh greens can be a challenge. When chickens have plenty of room to roam, they will graze a little off the top, then move on. When forage space is limited, however, as in a small urban or suburban backyard, chickens will continue to graze and scratch in the same spot until the vegetation is torn down to the roots.

An easy solution? Grazing frames! But before we get to that, let’s look at some of the more common ways of greening your chickens in a small space.

Some common solutions for getting fresh greens to your chickens

  • Bring the vegetation to them. Food scraps, garden debris, sprouted grains, and so on are all good ways to get supplemental greens into your chickens’ diet. Just toss them in, and the chickens will have a feast.
  • Build a chicken tractor. If you have a little more room and are committed to moving the tractor from spot to spot, an open bottom chicken tractor lets you control where the chickens graze in your yard. We rotate our Garden Ark through our vegetable beds so the chickens can till and fertilize the soil and help control weeds and pests. You can also move your chicken tractor across your yard, giving them a fresh spot of grass each time. You’ll want to move it every two or three days to keep them from laying the grass bare.
  • Use a paddock system. This is where you build your chicken coop in the center of three or more enclosed yards, then you give the chickens access to one “sub”-yard at a time. Once they’ve decimated the vegetation in one, you close that yard off for rest and replanting, and let the chickens into the next yard, and so on.
  • Plant vegetation specifically for your hens. This can be part of a paddock, free range, or simple day-run setup. (Here’s a good resource for what to plant.)

All of these are great solutions, depending on your particular space and needs. There’s another solution, though, that I’ve found to be easy to set up and easy to maintain, and that provides a steady source of fresh green grass inside a small space.

Grazing frames

In our yard, we have one small dedicated day run for our hens located right next to their Garden Coop. In all, it provides only about 100 square feet of grazing area. Fully greened, it would only take a few days for our flock of nine to tear it all down to bare earth. My first attempt at keeping it green was to divide the yard into a couple of paddocks. This required a lot of tending, and there were long stretches of time where both paddocks were closed to recover and regrow.

Then I discovered grazing frames in an article by gardening writer Vern Nelson. Grazing frames are simple two-by-four frames with hardware cloth (welded wire mesh) attached across the top. It’s kind of like a raised bed for chickens. Set one above a patch of grass, and the grass will grow up through the openings. Your chickens can snack on the green tips, and the frame protects the roots so that the grass survives to grow another day.

You can grow and protect grass in your chicken yard for them to graze on for months.

The design I present here is a modified version of Mr. Nelson’s, but it’s basically the same idea: protect the roots, grow the shoots.

A few notes before getting started

Assess your skill level. If you’ve used our coop plans to build your backyard chicken coop, you could probably do this project blindfolded (not recommended).

Time. About 30 minutes per frame? Let me know in the comments.

Measurements. Feel free to modify to meet your needs and materials. Metric units appear in green.

Safety. Read our disclaimer. Follow all manufacturers’ instructions when using tools, materials, or equipment. Protect your eyes, ears, and limbs. Build safe, and have fun!

Grazing frame plans for your backyard chickens

Materials List (to build one 5′ x 3′ frame – 1450 x 865 mm)

  • 2  8-foot (2400 mm) two-by-fours. Note: The wood will be in direct contact with the ground, so either choose a naturally rot-resistant species like cedar or redwood or use a cheaper softwood (spruce, pine, fir) and seal it well or preserve it with a garden-safe product like Timber Pro UV Internal Wood Stabilizer.
  • 1  6-foot (1800 mm) one-by-two. See note above.
  • 3″ (75 mm) exterior screws
  • About 50 galvanized poultry fencing staples (do NOT use ordinary staples from a staple gun!)
  • 5′ length of 3′ wide (914 mm), 1/2 in. (13 x 13 mm) hardware cloth, also known as “welded wire mesh”

Tools List

  • Circular saw or handsaw
  • Couple of sawhorses
  • Power driver with assorted drill and driver bits
  • Tape measurer
  • Hammer
  • Wire snips (for cutting hardware cloth)

Instructions

Cut each of your 2 two-by-fours into a 60″ (1450 mm) piece and a 34″ (865 mm) piece. These will make up the outer edges of the frame (see diagram below).

Cut the one-by-two into two 34″ (865 mm) pieces. These will be the two center spans.

Lightly sand the cut pieces and paint, seal, or treat them as needed with a non-toxic wood preservative like Internal Wood Stabilizer.

Plans for backyard chicken coop grazing frames.

Attach the two-by-four pieces together to form the outer edges of the frame, using 3″ (75 mm) exterior screws, two per joint. Refer to the diagram for placement. You will probably want to pre-drill the holes to prevent splitting.

Attach the one-by-two pieces evenly spaced between the outer edges and flush with what will be the top edge of the frame, using one 3″ (75 mm) screw per joint. By using one-by-twos here instead of two-by-fours, and by attaching them near the top of the frame, they will support the wire mesh without resting on the ground, allowing more grass to grow.

Note: You can build the frame to whatever dimensions you choose, but be sure to space your supports every 2′ or less apart (600 mm). It might seem like overkill, but a flock of hens can be pretty hefty, especially when they all converge in one spot atop the frame.

Protect your grass with a hardware cloth chicken grazing frame.

Attach the hardware cloth to the top of the frame at the perimeter, stapling it down well, every 3-4 inches or so (75-100 mm). There’s no need to attach it to the center supports. If you’ve built a coop using either of our chicken coop plans, you’re already a pro at this!

Prepare an even bed of well-fertilized soil, then plant grass seed or grain. I just fluff up the soil a bit, then scatter the seeds generously and rake them in a bit until they’re mostly buried to about the depth of their diameter. As for what to plant, I’ve used both a mix of grains (wheat, kamut, etc.) and a rye-grass mix with success. The grains gave a faster, more prolific growth, as you can see in the photos below. The rye grass (not pictured) was slower growing and finer, but lasted longer. As of this writing, I think I prefer the grains.

First step is to plant grass or grain seeds in an enclosed patch in your backyard.

Set the frames over the seeded ground, adjust for positioning, and give the whole thing a generous, but gentle watering. Let the sunshine do the rest, and water as needed.

Set the DIY grazing frames over the planted seeds, water, and wait.

Grass or grain seeds will sprout and grow through the top of the hardware cloth for your chickens to graze.

Voila! When the grass tops stick up above the wire, it’s time to let the chickens out into their new pasture paradise. (Actually, you can let them out as soon as you have the frames over the seed. Our hens just happened to be young at the time, so it was them we were waiting on to mature, not the grass.)

Chickens love to graze on pasture, and the nutrients make their eggs and meat more nutritious.

VIDEO: Here’s a quick clip of our young chickens grazing on their raised-bed frames for the first time. Here’s another clip.

Maintaining your grazing frame pasture

So how do you suppose your hens will repay you for all this work? Like they always do: with poop (then later with eggs). Poop on the grazing frames is a good thing. Simply hose it down through the cracks as you give the bed an occasional watering, and in moderate doses, it will help fertilize the soil.

Too much nitro-poop could burn the plants, though, so keep an eye on it. I usually let the poop dry a bit first, then aim a higher pressure stream of water low and across the surface of the frames, rolling the poop, leaves, and other debris off to the side.

Over time, blades of dead grass may form a thatch atop the mesh. You can lightly rake across the top from time to time to remove this thatch, or simply continue to water.

Eventually, the bed will tire out. The photo below was taken about three months after planting. There is still plenty of life in this patch. I think we got another month or so out of it before we opened it up and let the chickens go to town on the bugs and roots beneath.

Plant and grow nourishing greens for your chickens that will last for months.

When it’s time to replant, the frames have a big advantage over the paddock system in that you can let your chickens back into their day yard right away. The frames protect the seeds from the start.

Pass it on!

Grazing frames are an easy and effective way to supplement your chickens’ diet with fresh grass, yet I’m amazed by how few people are using them. Far from being an advanced chicken keeping technique, this is a simple do-it-yourself project that every backyard chicken keeper should consider. So pass it on!

Of course, continue to give your chickens all the greens and veggie clippings you can find for them, but with a few raised-bed grazing frames in their day yard you can make sure that they have at least some pasture at all times. I believe you’ll notice a difference in both your chickens’ happiness and the quality of their eggs.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful. If you want a do-it-yourself coop to go with your grazing frames, check out our chicken coop plans, available in both U.S. standard/imperial units and metric units.

Unlike with the coop plans, I do not offer email support for this free grazing frame plan. But if you have any questions, comments, success stories, or tips on how to keep your backyard chickens in the green, please leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to respond.

Finally, subscribe to Coop Thoughts. You’ll get notice of the latest posts as they happen. It’s free, ad-free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to add your name to the list. You can also follow The Garden Coop on either Facebook or Google+. Thanks!

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42 Responses to “How to build grazing frames for your backyard chickens”

  1. andrea peck says:

    awesome idea!

  2. Thank you so much for this awesome idea, we are making it today! And we have ordered this awesome ”chicken greens” a mix blend of clover, sorrel, dandelion and lots of others!

  3. Heike says:

    I’ve got a chicken run on a slope which ends up totally bare because the chickens stay on the slope (because of shade?) more than on the upper flatter part. I wonder would the chicken frames work on a slope? Fantastic idea by the way!!!

    • Heike, it should work on a slight slope. Or you could get elaborate and build the frame to even out the slope some — so the top would be level and the sides would slope down.

  4. sailingto says:

    It might be better to plant clover than grass. Clover is more nutritious and self watering using the morning dew.

  5. Jay says:

    We mostly use portable shelters that do get moved daily, but we occasionally have young birds that need to use the coop and run. We’ve had problems with them digging near the edges of the building and run, looking for bugs. I salvaged an old aluminium ladder, cut it into convenient lengths and covered it with hardware cloth. I lay sections anywhere I don’t want dug up, and have certainly planted grass seed through it. If someone needs a lighter and rot-proof frame, (I live on the “Wet Coast”), I recommend it. I got my damaged ladder from a local metal recycling place for the value of the aluminium – reuse is good! It is still possible to get a build up of nitrogen in the soil if you’ve got too many birds for the square footage. I try to get chipped/shredded wood and leaves to add carbon for balance.

  6. Chloe Abiera says:

    Thank you for this wonderful idea! I have four 1×4 plastic frames (used to be a flooring for my dogs’ cage when I was breeding lab rets) that I used just to protect the grass, but it never crossed my mind for the regrown grass to be eaten by my birds. The frames are an eyesore to those who wanted a clean, trimmed yard. Thank you for this wonderful idea! Now I’m more motivated to raise more chickens!

  7. Awesome idea and a great tutorial! I have thought of covering raised beds with hardware cloth for the chickens, but this mobile system is much more flexible. Thanks!

  8. Ann says:

    I have been meaning to set one up for a while now. These are excellent instructions. Does anyone know what the average cost of setting a coop up are?

  9. I just reseeded a couple of our frames today, something I do maybe 2 to 4 times a year as the grass eventually tires out.

    It’s so easy. I lifted the frame and set it aside for a day or two. The chickens then had free range at whatever weeds and bugs were contentedly living below it. Once they tilled it all, I raked it smooth, spread some grain, raked that in, and watered (well, I didn’t get in the way of the rain that was falling).

    When that sprouts and grows through, I’ll do the other two frames (we have 4 total now). The chickens couldn’t be happier!

  10. Kathleen McLeod says:

    I built a smaller version of this to elevate my hen’s 3 1/2 gallon waterer. I discovered as I move it from place to place inside their yard that small shoots of grass had grown underneath…without the benefit of sunlight. The hens always find these shoots imediately and gulp them up. I’ll now build a couple of these larger units to keep them in the greens. Thanks so much for the plans

  11. Cat Hill says:

    This is nothing new, I know many people who build outside runs with wire bottoms just inches from the ground. The grasses that grow up through the wire are kept nibbled down and the poop fertilizes. Adding lime and watering from time to time and scratching it up with a rake to reseed from time to time keeps it fresh. No need to use these frames if you build your tractors or outside runs with this in mind. The Guinea Farm utilizes this method as well.

  12. Tami says:

    Oh, please retract the statement about giving chickens cut grass. I lost two precious birds due to this deadly, common mistake. The birds will naturally pluck the blades of grass in small pieces when the grass is rooted; however, when cut, they have no remedy but to take it in whole. This causes a compacted crop. The whole grass blades swirl in the crop, knotting up the content, and other foods cannot pass through. The grains in the crop begin to ferment, the crop bloats, the chicken becomes lethargic from infection and lack of nourishment. Removing the impaction often leads to death as it may go into the lungs. NEVER FEED CUT GRASS. . .and avoid the horrible experience I put my hens through. Cut, leafy weeds/veggies are suitable for this manner of feeding, but cut grass is not.

    • Thanks for that caution, Tami. I’ve deleted the suggestion from the post. We have a reel mower which works best when you cut the grass frequently. So the clippings are often less than an inch long and have never caused a problem for our hens. But with a regular (gas or electric) mower the clippings can easily be too long.

      • Philip Hinton says:

        I guess the point here is not to give your chickens long cut grass – I can see Tami’s point about where this might cause problems. However, we use a “regular” petrol rotary (i.e. not reel) mower on our back yard and have been piling the grass in the chook pen for years without any problems (i.e. we still have all our chooks). I can’t vouch for other mowers, but ours certainly cuts even long grass up fine enough.

  13. aart says:

    Great idea! Might make rotational paddocks more managable. We were wondering of the chickens get their toes caught in the mesh?

    • Aart, Using these in combination with rotational paddock would definitely get you more “life” out of each rotation. Our frames are in a single day yard — so no rotation at all — and stay green for months. I’ve haven’t seen any of our chickens get their toes caught in the mesh. No other foot issues either. They just hop up, graze for a bit, then hop back down.

  14. Elena P. says:

    I absolutely love this idea! We don’t have too big of a yard for our birds. So they just destroy all the grass in a first weeks of spring. I’m defiantly gonna try this frame in a next season!

  15. Julia says:

    I’m 8 years old and I want chickens! I think this is a great idea. I will show my mom and try to talk her into it.

  16. Brian says:

    I love the idea of grazing frames. A friend is talking about getting chickens at his allotment and I am sure he hasn’t thought of the idea. I’m going to mention it this weekend.

  17. Laura S says:

    Also, I’m wondering if you can do a taller version with a larger mesh to grow other, larger, greens through- like kale, collards, leafing cabbages, chard- that my chickens also love to eat. Anyone try this? I’m really thrilled to get this project started.

    • Laura, I’ve never done a taller one for greens, but it’s worth a shot. Taller sides would give you the height you need, and wider openings on the wire mesh would give better access to the larger leaves. You might also want to increase the number of cross supports if you use wider-opening mesh so that the chickens have something supportive to stand on. Please let us know how it goes if you try this!

  18. Laura S says:

    This is brilliant! I’ve tried other things, but this is my next chicken project. Thank you!

  19. Galin says:

    Great idea. We have a new pasture for our chicks but there’s no doubt it’ll be all dirt before long. I think I’ll build several of these and leave the rest of the ground available for scratching. Thanks for the article!

  20. Bob says:

    Greetings.

    I have a 50 x 50 square meter “farm” in central Taiwan. The strength of vegetation growth here has to be experienced to be believed.

    I bought the land to grow about 50 fruit trees to supply us year round, but trying to control the rest of the land is a jungle nightmare.

    Now I’m considering putting a fence around the entire area and setting 20 or so chickens loose.

    Do you have an opinion you could share on this?

    • Bob, sounds like you won’t have any problem supplying all the fresh greens and bugs your chickens could ever want! The issue is one of fencing to protect them and keep them close. In this post, I go into more detail about fencing options for chickens. It’s geared more towards small backyard chicken keepers, but the electric net fencing mentioned near the end might be just what you need. I’d also check with others in your local area to see how they manage given the particular predators there.

  21. SarahD says:

    It was a wonderful moment when I read your post on grazing frames. I had been scratching my head over a pasture rotation which would be complicated by being in a wooded area of my property where things don’t grow as quickly.

    This seems like it would be a perfect solution and I am indebted to the person who thought of it in the first place, and to you for showing actual picture of how it can work. It makes so much sense. Thanks you so much!

    Do you have any thoughts on what to plant in a partially shaded area? I’m thinking chickweed, white clover and a grass mix that is specifically for shadier areas. Any other thoughts on what to plant in partial/full shade?

    • Sarah, the area of my yard where I have the grazing frames is in shade late fall-early spring (as is most of Portland, if you want to get technical about it!). I tried a grass mix meant for partial sun during that time, and it did fine, but not quite the vigorous growth that happens in sunnier spots/months. Your ideas sound great. I’d love to hear how it turns out.

  22. Jon says:

    Do you have a recommendation on how many chickens/frame?

    This looks like a wonderful addition to our run!

    • Jon, it’s going to depend on how fast the grass grows where you are. We have 4 frames for our 9 hens in the Pacific Northwest, and that seems to be enough for them to snack on and for us to notice deeper orange yolks as a result. So what’s that, about 1/2 frame per chicken? But know that they’ll enjoy as much grassy area as you can provide. I plan to double ours to 8 soon.

  23. Perry says:

    I like this. I will have to try to add some to the bottom of my chicken tractor. Right now I do not move my tractor often enough and it leaves me bare spots all over my backyard. My acre is dotted w/ what looks like fresh graves.

  24. Matt Jarvis says:

    I really like this idea! Although we turn our girls loose every chance we get, it would still be nice to have something available to them ALL the time.

    This just got added to the To-Do list !!

    Thanks!

    Matt Jarvis
    Santa Clara, Oregon USA

  25. Jill says:

    I would also worry about scratching harming their feet. How long have you used these frames? I’m thinking about trying some this summer. I guess I’ll just have to keep my eyes open.

    • Jill, I’ve used these for nearly a year now. I had the same thought as you when I first made these. Turns out I was just underestimating how aware chickens are of their own bodies. They step up, graze, then step down, and for the most part save their scratching for when they’re on the ground.

      I’ve added a couple of video links to the post that show it more clearly (look just beneath the second-to-last photo).

  26. John Campanelli says:

    What about the concern of the wire mesh on chickens’ feet.

    Chickens were made to scratch. How does the mesh affect their feet?

    • John, the half-inch openings are small enough that the mesh still provides plenty of support for the hens. They just step right up, eat the grass tips, then step down when they’re done. Our hens don’t even try to scratch when they’re on the mesh.

    • beverly says:

      Why do we not use a staple gun? For fear they will eat the staples? Did one of your chickens do that? I used one for my run and coop, no problem. Anyway THX, I will do it and plant winter rye.

      • beverly says:

        Also, I forgot to ask. The sharp wire ends all around the perimeters, can’t those cut the pads of their feet? Then we’d have “bumblefoot.” Just wondered if they need to be covered, and if so, what would be the cheapest way to go. THX again!

      • Beverly, the staples that a spring-powered staple gun can drive don’t have nearly the hold of galvanized poultry fencing staples or those driven by a pneumatic staple gun — nor do they weather as well (they rust quickly). They’re also thin, so it’s possible, though unlikely, that your chickens would peck at them. Of course, do what works for you, but that’s why I make that recommendation.

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