The Chicken Tunnel Man

Modular Chicken Tunnels help direct chickens to improve garden beds

While filming a segment on backyard chickens, we came across a novel approach to improving your garden beds when we visited the garden of Bruce Morgan in Nambour, Queensland.

Bruce has been doing Permaculture now for many years and has even taught the “pros” a thing or two over the years. A builder by trade, Bruce has managed to build an impressive terraced garden with a little ingenuity.

You see, Bruce has created a modular system where he links a series of wired chicken “tunnels” together to direct his chickens to areas in his garden that needs some serious work. The chickens go through the tunnels to the weed infested area and over the course of a few weeks, scratch and dig and fertilize the spot and get it ready for his vegetable seedlings.

The added bonus is that chickens can run back to the main chicken coop for a drink or to lay an egg before its back to work on the building site or the garden patch, scratching out a chook existence – catching that early worm. The pay is just Chicken feed but the birds don’t complain. They love it.

Bruce has a series of terraced gardens and swears he never needs to dig or weed if he directs the series of tunnels to the effected area. “Its all in the Permaculure 2 manual.” he shrugs like it was no big deal. He claims he is 80% self sufficient in food. “Occasionally I like to buy some lamb from the shops.” he says but he doesn’t eat much meat.

Each chicken tunnel can have a sort of a “sluice gate” (recycled fridge shelf) to isolate and area or direct chicken traffic to a certain location. One of the great features located at the bottom of Bruce’s garden is a small creek and Bruce has a plan to grow rice in this area. He tried it once before but in the recent Queensland floods the torrent of water tore some of his chicken tunnels and crushed them down stream. Fortunately the chickens ran home for cover. Now Bruce is planning to turn this damp patch back into a rice-paddy.

“When the chooks see me walking around with a wire tunnel.” he says. “They all get excited – ready for work.”

But the recent rain has resulted in a patch of grass right up to your waist. Is Bruce going to attack this spot with a mattock? No way! Its the lazy Permaculture approach for Bruce. Unleash the Chooks. Bruce estimates you can’t do this kind of work with one or two chickens (unless they have very muscular thighs.)

You need around 10 Chickens of active service age to make a dent in the undergrowth. (The older chickens – or the draft dodgers go into a pressure cooker for lunch.)

Bruce prefers to use Australian Australorp Chickens – a heavy black bird suitable for tunnel digging. You can’t help think of WWII War films like “The Great Escape” when you see the series of wire tunnels in his backyard and the gritty determination on the haggard beaks of the chickens.

But it all seems to work okay for Bruce. His terraced garden looks like an oasis of Permaculture paradise. Predator dogs if they attack his tunnel cage aren’t strong enough to get at his ‘workers” and the chickens can make a dash for home and safety if the going gets tough.

Bruce has stuck with his Australorps but has admitted to breeding his own birds suitable for the task – “The Sumo Wrestlers of the Chicken world with muscular thighs and gnarled claws able to kick trees and sheds down.

Okay, we’re exaggerating a bit – but you get the idea.

Bruce Morgan and his novel chickens will be featured in the “The Permaculture Backyard Chickens DVD” released later in the year.