Interest in protected agriculture has increased over the last several years at the Noble Research Institute. Many producers want information about new systems that can increase profitability and decrease inputs. Protected agriculture offers distinct advantages through climate and pest control, irrigation, etc. One form of protected agriculture is a chicken moat.
What Is a Chicken Moat?
A chicken moat is an enclosure built around an area generally used for some form of fruit and vegetable production. The main purpose is to provide a barrier between your agriculture crops and predators, including insects, rabbits and deer. The crop production area sits in the center with the chicken production area surrounding the crop production area.
The main purpose of a chicken moat is to provide a barrier between your agriculture crops and predators.
For those interested in raising chickens along with fruits and vegetables, this can be a great way to incorporate the two systems into one. We currently have a demonstration chicken moat in our protected agriculture area at the Noble Learning Center.
Things to Consider When Building a Chicken Moat
It is very important during the design process to first determine the scope of your project. Moats will vary greatly depending on your objectives.
1. Site Selection
Site selection of the moat is critical because you need an area that is suitable for crop production and moat construction. Chicken moats can be built at any scale. I have seen moats built around a small garden in the backyard as well as a structure that covered about 1 acre built around a fruit orchard and garden.
2. Structures and Entrances
For the chicken structure, you will have the hutch (or house) and a run. If you have another structure nearby, you could store your feed and supplies in that building. You could also store these items in your chicken structure. You will also need to determine where you would like entry points for your structure. You will need an equipment entry point for the garden and a point of entry for chicken care. In our demonstration moat, we put our access door for the garden at the opposite end from our chicken house entry. We made our doors wide enough that the outer wall door could swing one way and the inner wall door could swing the other direction. This opens up the garden to the outside while simultaneously closing the run. This allows access with a tiller or small garden tractor. We built taller runs (head high) to allow us easier mobility if we need to access the run and to also make the structure deer-proof. On a smaller chicken moat, the runs might only come to your knee.
One word of caution: be conscious of structures you build on the inside of the production area. We built a vertical herb garden from an old pallet at one end of our garden. Once our plants were mature enough, we opened the inner gate to allow the chickens into the garden area, which allowed the chickens more access for insect patrol and scratching to help with weed control. What we didn’t realize was that we had built an escape ladder since there was no cover over the garden area. So, be aware of what you build to support plants and its proximity to the top of the structure. You can also cover the top of the garden area with a shade cloth. Our moat is covered with chicken wire to protect the chickens from predators such as hawks. You could also train or encourage vined plants to grow up the side and over the top of the structure. The fruits of those vines grow off the ground, which protects them from soil pathogens and pests, preventing potential diseases. Leaves and fruit overhead can also provide shade to the chickens.
4. Defense Against Predators
Our original design did not include anything beyond the outer fence of the run. However, we experienced a coyote problem when one dug under the fence. To correct this flaw in our design, we cut welded wire mesh panels in half and laid them on the ground, which provided about a 2-foot-wide barrier that we staked down and covered with gravel. This now provides some defense against animals that had tried to dig under the fence. This may not be a necessary piece of the design depending on your location.
Know Your Objectives
Chicken moats can be an excellent natural protective barrier against pests. There are many options and designs available to work within your operation. The materials and designs are limitless. Keeping a good focus on the objectives of your operation while aligning your pest management options will allow you to construct the best moat to fit your needs.