BACKYARD BLISS | Exploring options for backyard chicken tunnels

Chicken tunnels are one of those life-changing techniques you learn, and then wonder how you got through life before without it.
Chicken tunnels are one of those life-changing techniques you learn, and then wonder how you got through life before without it.

We learned about the chicken tunnel a few years back from our friends at Very Edible Gardens, and have managed to squeeze it into every appropriate design for our clients and our own gardens ever since.

It's one of those life-changing techniques you learn, and then wonder how you got through life before without it ... it's that good, seriously.

Chicken tunnels are great ways to mitigate weeds while also giving your chooks extra space to explore and enjoy. Pictures: Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom.

Chicken tunnels are great ways to mitigate weeds while also giving your chooks extra space to explore and enjoy. Pictures: Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom.

What exactly is a chicken tunnel?

It's a tunnel system that hugs your fence lines (or relevant area) to pipe your chickens across your garden and to help keep weedy plants away from your food gardens.

One example (pictured) is a design we created for a property with extensive food gardens backing onto a series of paddocks used for grazing animals.

One example of a chicken tunnel around a vegie garden.

One example of a chicken tunnel around a vegie garden.

The grass was a significant issue in terms of maintenance and they had used weed killer to keep it under control, which we completely understood - no one wants to spend hours on the end of mattock weeding again and again and again.

Thankfully this is where chickens can step up and do the job for us, and keep poisons out of the garden.

There are a range of ways to build a chicken tunnel. We generally go for the simple options as they're quick to build and 100 per cent functional.

We use chicken wire as the tunnel, tie-wire to connect it to the boundary fence (or nails if the fence is timber) and some type of landscaping peg to secure it to the ground.

You can use tent pegs if you have an abundance of them, but they tend to pop out as they're too small. I've also made my own pegs out of strong high-tensile wire used for fencing.

For this particular design, we worked with the existing fence line and integrated a chicken tunnel along all relevant edges, turning a negative (weedy grasses) into a positive (food for chickens).

It's important to be able to provide different and fresh ground for your animals to keep them healthy.

Our own current chicken tunnel/passage (pictured) connects our chickens' main yard to their house, then to their feeding station and then down a passage behind our compost bays, under a little tunnel and into a green foraging area where our young hazelnut shrubs live - and lots of grass and weeds.

Our own current chicken tunnel/passage.

Our own current chicken tunnel/passage.

The chooks love it in there, and we love it because it means they can help themselves to fresh greens whenever they like.

Another chicken tunnel example was in our last rental home where we made a much smaller chicken tunnel to create two runs for our chooks, which we could then alternate them between.

We also made the tunnel function as a seat for us to sit around a camp fire. So this particular tunnel was one of my favourites due to being so multifunctional.

As this tunnel was up against a concrete wall, preventing weeds from creeping in wasn't its main job.

Instead, its key function was to pipe the chickens across the yard without taking up too much space - essentially doubling the area available for our chickens, increasing their health and happiness.

Do you need to train the chickens to walk into the tunnel?

We've found that food works wonders in enticing the chickens into the tunnel the first one or two times. After that they quickly learn that the tunnel equals a world of fresh food and new surrounds.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise based in Tasmania that creates resilient and regenerative lives and landscapes.