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It is important to try different things to see what works best when gardening with free-range chickens.
Kylie Vaughn I love my free chicken. And I love my garden! Unfortunately, the two don’t always get along. Chickens can quickly destroy a garden. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help.
We enjoy a lot of benefits from allowing our chickens to roost in our homes. They provide insect control, help break down mulch and compost, and provide fertilizer. However, chickens can quickly destroy a garden full of young plants and seedlings.
Through a lot of trial and error, we’ve learned how to keep our own free-range chickens And Our organic garden coexists happily! Techniques for successfully keeping free-range chickens in and around your yard will vary depending on the size of your yard, the number of chickens you have, and the type of chicken. It is important to try different things to see what works best when gardening with free-range chickens.
5 tips for gardening with free-range chickens
Tip 1: Use the fence to deter chickens:
Fencing your vegetable garden area is the easiest way to keep your garden safe from free-range chickens. Not only will this help deter chickens, but it will also help drive away other wild animals such as rabbits and deer that might want to nibble on your vegetables.
If it is not possible to fence off your entire garden, you can only fence certain parts of your garden. Or, if you have raised garden beds, you can place a wire garden fence directly inside the perimeter of each raised bed.
We have a 4 foot fence around our garden on all but one side. While it deters some chickens, many of them can jump/fly over it! While clipping the wings is an option, we decided we didn’t mind having chickens in our garden area – mostly! Our garden is also a huge area and it would be very difficult to completely isolate it because we have to access other areas of the property through it.
We also use wire garden fencing within the perimeter of each of our large raised garden beds. It helps deter some chickens, but not all of them. We rotate them and put them in the beds each spring before planting time. In late fall, we remove the hedge, roll it up, and store it until the next planting season. We put a generous amount of manure on the beds and let the chickens run it in the beds – less farm work on us!
Second tip: protect the seeds and seedlings
Protecting newly planted seeds and seedlings from chickens can be a challenge! It doesn’t take a lot of seeds or seedlings to be crowded out by scratching and pecking chickens. Wire fencing is an easy and affordable way to keep your garden secure!
After sowing, place sections of cut welded wire fencing or chicken wire over your plants. Bending the wire slightly will help prevent chickens from walking on it and will also give your plants room to grow. This is also a good way to prevent cats from scratching your lawn and using it as a toilet.
We use wire fencing to protect all of our grown seeds and young plants. We also make chicken wire garden covers to protect individual plants – you can find instructions here to make your own! Once our plants are well developed and rooted, we remove the wire and clutches and store them until next year. For us, this was the key to having a healthy garden with our free-range chickens!
Tip 3: Surround perennials, shrubs, and flowers with twigs or rocks.
Free-range chickens tend to pick two favorite places to hang out during the day. These spots are usually under the shade and protection of a large perennial shrub or tree. Sometimes, they leave the area undisturbed. But other times, they’ll scratch it and use it to bathe in dust, poking huge holes in the soil and damaging plant roots.
To protect the plant’s roots, you can place stones, rocks, or branches around the base of the plant. This will discourage chickens from scratching and dust bathing. I’ve had to do this in several of our flower beds, and it’s worked out very well!
Tip 4: Give the chickens their own garden
If you have the space, it’s fun to create a “chicken garden”. Growing a chicken garden will provide your free chickens with food and entertainment! Giving them a garden to explore will also help keep them occupied, which can help distract them from constantly trying to find a way into your vegetable garden!
Some of the plants you can grow for your chickens include kale, peas, lamb’s quarters, buckwheat, chickpea grass, sunflowers, cucumbers, squash, and corn! You may also want to include powerful herbs like oregano, comfrey, and mint to help keep your chickens healthy! We grow many vegetables, herbs and flowers near our cages. Chicken loves it! Plus it keeps them busy and out of my garden!
Tip 5: Save dust shower areas
If you find your chickens are constantly using your garden beds for dust baths, there are a few things that can help deter them. Mulching your garden beds with a thick layer of mulch (straw, hay, grass clippings, or leaves work well) will keep the area less dusty and help deter chickens. You can also plant a cover plant similar to purslane, alyssum, nasturtium, creeping thyme, chicory, strawberry, or Dutch white clover.
I’ve also found that creating an actual dust bath area near the garden helps! Two years ago we built two small raised beds for our potato plants. The chickens immediately began using them for dust baths. I finally gave up and let them use it in the dust bath. Surprisingly, I found that now they only use those beds and leave the rest of my garden beds alone! This isn’t too bad of a settlement, in my opinion!