Whether it's sun, wind or rain, our flock has limited protection in their run. On the worst days, our chickens will hide in their coop and not come out at all. Maybe, like us, you've tried planting a tree, and found that it's too slow-growing and doesn't protect much from the rain and wind. Or maybe you've used tarps, only to have them disintegrate on you after a year or two. After several years of testing different chicken run protection ideas, I've finally got a great solution.
Summertime = chicken run blues
Summer in the south can mean trouble for chickens. The humidity, heat and forceful winds that come through here from storms cause by far our biggest issues. And because our summers are long, we have to confront this problem for months. Even though it's now autumn, we've had 80+ degree days in the forecast including one day in October we hit 100 degrees.
We stumbled onto one of the best chicken run ideas by accident
Back in early May, as we were finishing planting our garden (which is large but never large enough), there was one last loofah (also spelled "luffa" or "loofah;" I interchange the spelling) gourd vine I needed to get in the ground somewhere it could climb — but I found myself out of garden space. Our last-minute decision was to move the three-gallon pot it was in next to the duck run and adjoining chicken run. We added a small trellis leaning up the pen as protection, to keep the ducks from eating the lower vine until it took hold. Of course, the ducks still managed to get lots of fresh leaves off the vine, but only until early July when the vine reached the top of the run wall and began its fast spread over the top of the run.
That one, simple loofah seed ended up creating an entire wall of protection over one side of the run, and then quickly grew into a ceiling up and over the chicken run. Not only did it cut heavy storm winds down, but it also blocked the sun for a good part of the day. Around this time, it dawned on me: we had accidentally stumbled on one of the best chicken run ideas ever!
Here in November it's completely spread over nearly 40 ft of chicken run.
And since loofah gourds grow until the first frost, I may not remove my vine until December, depending on the weather.
What in the world will I do with all that luffa, you wonder?
Ha! This is the best part. There are so many great ways to use luffa.
Young loofahs are edible...
...for you and your chickens. Loofah squashes and leaves are edible when still young, less than 6" long. These young luffas make amazing treats for your fowl — and for you — early in the season. You can give them to your flock raw, or cook them in dishes as you would a summer squash. Try some of these yummy dishes with your young luffa:
Mature loofahs make sponges you see at the spa!
Many people avoid loofah sponges for sale at the pharmacy or spa, mistaking it for a natural sea sponge which is unsustainably harvested. Quite the contrary — these sponges are the "skeleton" of the loofah fruit. These you harvest at the end of the season, when the loofahs are very long and begin to brown. You then harvest, peel and wash until you are left with just the "sponge." What's left are your own, homemade sponges! This is definitely a win, win, win... for you and your birds.
(Another of the greatest chicken run ideas)
Another great chicken run idea I had wasn't by accident — my husband and I designed, built, and put together plans for a special raised bed garden for your chicken run to allow your flock to enjoy healing herbs without destroying the roots. Check it out!
Okay, how do I get started?
Plan ahead for the next growing season now, starting with the seed.
Loofah seeds aren't too hard to get your hands on. You might be able to buy them locally or online, but why not trade? I got started with loofah through a seed swap group, @superduperseedswap. (Join by following them on Instagram). Seed swapping is the best — I get a fun collection of different types of seeds, and there's always a surprise!
Next, decide where in your chicken run you're going to plant it, and whether you'll plant in the ground or in a planter. Loofah grows slowly, so I recommend starting yours indoors in early spring. This way it's ready to go in the ground as soon as the danger of frost has past.
Loofah are a long season plant, so you'll likely harvest in October or November in most areas in the northern hemisphere.
If you plant next year, I think you'll be blown away by the beauty, the easy of care, the amazing harvest and — maybe — the "gifts" you get to collect. Share your adventure with your own home grown shade cover by tagging us on your social media posts using #MyPetChickenOfficial