Flashback to last year – 2018.
I was pumped about the prospects of our herb and vegetable gardens.
I got my seeds in the ground at the exact right time.
I transplanted my transplants following all of the important guidelines I normally eschewed, like hardening them off and planting on a cloudy day.
I even mulched around the base of 95 percent of my plants.
The chickens flew out of the pen one day and wreaked havoc on my entire garden. We don’t keep our chickens in an enclosed chicken run but instead had them in the boundaries of a solar fence.
It was that day that encouraged us to clip our chicken’s wings, realizing that there was no other way for us to realistically keep our poultry out of the vegetable garden. However, it also inspired me to do some research on keeping chickens in (or near) the garden.
Here’s what I learned.
Since incorporating these tips, I’ve had nary a chicken in my vegetables. I know that many people like to keep chickens in the garden, and while this can certainly be done (and I’ll discuss that in a moment), you need to take some extra precautions.
Here are the best tips for keeping chickens out of the garden.
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How to Keep Chickens Out of the Garden
Spray Them With Water
If you have sprinklers set up in your garden, you may be able to encourage the chickens to vacate by turning them on. Chickens don’t like being sprayed with water, and as long as you keep the water pressure light, you don’t have to worry about hurting your birds.
This is a great short-term solution, but it does require you to actually catch the chickens pecking in the garden. They will usually return shortly after you spray them, but if you’re consistent, you may be able to put a stop to this annoying behavior.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t had much luck with this, but countless backyard chicken keepers swear by sprinkling certain spices around areas where they don’t want chickens to invade. Some popular choices include:
- Cayenne Pepper
- Balck Pepper
- Curry Powder
You can also make a spice blend out of one or more of these ingredients. The theory here is that chickens don’t like the smell of strong spices, and that they will stay away for that reason alone. In addition, if a chicken walks over these spices, there’s a chance that the spices will cover the bottom of the bird’s feet and create a burning sensation.
For the record, chickens also supposedly don’t like the smell of citrus, you could use old lime, lemon, or orange peels to repel chickens from your garden.
Grow Some Herbs
I won’t claim to be an expert in repelling chickens with herbs – after all, I’ve had chickens rip my herb garden to absolute shreds. However, many backyard chicken keepers claim that growing certain herbs – particularly those with strong odors – can help keep chickens away.
For this to work, you should consider growing herbs like:
- Lemon balm
- Sweet woodruff
You could also grow chicken-repelling plants like:
It’s recommended that you only use established perennial herbs, as these will be more difficult for the chickens to scratch out even if they do become curious. Try to avoid using seeds or seedlings, as these will be more delicate.
Engage in Selective Weeding
Chickens like to peck the bare ground, so if there’s a ton of plant matter hanging around, your chickens will be (somewhat) less likely to peck at them. Consider leaving a few weeds for your chickens to take care of, and they’ll hopefully leave your other plants alone.
Fence Off Your Plants
If your chickens continue to invade your garden, you might need to erect temporary or permanent fencing. You can make a simple fence out of materials like tomato cages, chicken wire, or hardware cloth. Ideally, these should be temporary so that you can keep chickens out but also maintain the health of your plants.
Cover the Ground
If you need to protect an area that you recently mulched or seeded, you can lay down a thin layer of wire cloth. This will allow your plants to grow bu tit will prevent chickens because they dislike the feeling of wire beneath their feet.
Surround Plants with Stones
IF you have just a few plants that need to be protected, you can protect them individually by surrounding their bases with large stones. These will make it nearly impossible for the chickens to get to the roots of the plants to damage them.
Incorporate Container Gardens or Raised Beds
These containers or raised beds will need to be tall in order to keep the chickens out, but they can really help keep your plants safe. If you have chickens that are particularly tenacious, you can always put the containers on your deck or another place that is out of reach for the chickens.
Plant flower seeds in crevices that chickens can’t get to. For example, you can plant them in fixtures like pallets or spaces between bricks. This will reduce the likelihood of your chickens disturbing your seeds, so they will have plenty of time to germinate.
Create Dust Baths
Chickens like to roll around in the bare dirt in order to clean themselves. You can encourage them to roll around elsewhere by building dust baths outside of the garden. Add diatomaceous earth on a regular basis to keep the birds healthy and parasite-free.
Keep Flock and Garden Size in Mind
Know the limitations of your garden. If you fifty chickens and you let them out in a garden that is only half an acre in size, you’re not going to have much garden left. Instead, try to keep no more than three to five chickens to no more than half an acre.
Something else you need to keep in mind is your neighbors. If you have neighbors who have a garden, there’s a likelihood that your chickens will try to escape to hang out there from time to time.
This can cause some serious problems, so you’ll want to make sure there are structures in place to keep them enclosed if necessary.
Design Your Garden Strategically
Is your garden right next to your chicken coop? Is it in their direct path? The further away you can keep your chickens from your garden, the better.
This is the easiest way to keep chickens out of the garden. You can also erect fences if you are having trouble keeping chickens out of the garden. Clipping wings can keep your chickens within their designated fences or runs, too.
Cultivate a Chicken-Only Garden
I’ll be honest, even this tip has its limitations. Many farmers swear by providing their chickens with an alternative area to graze on tasty vegetables but remember – the grass is always greener on the other side, and there’s no guarantee that your flock will stay put.
However, you can choose to grow a separate vegetable garden just for your chickens, which will make them less likely overall to go after your larger, more important garden.
What are the Benefits of Keeping Chickens in the Garden?
There are countless benefits to keeping chickens in the garden, so keeping them out of that space may not be realistic (or even desirable) for you. Here are some of the major advantages of allowing chickens to range in your garden.
Extra Nitrogen for the Compost Pile (or the Plants!)
Just a single chicken can produce a whopping eight pounds of manure each month! That’ a lot of compost. You can harvest your chicken’s manure regularly and store it in a compost pile, or you can let them fertilize the garden as they go. Just be careful about minding your ratios of chickens to garden space – you don’t want to burn your plants with all the nitrogen.
IF you let your chickens in your garden at the beginning and end of your gardening season, they act as fantastic natural tillers. They will take a bit longer than a mechanical tiller to work,but they require no fuel and no work on your behalf. They’re also quiet and much better for the soil.
Curious about other reasons why you should avoid mechanical tilling? Check out this post here.
To till your garden with chickens, all you need to do is leave them in the garden for a long enough period of time to get the job done. This will vary depending on how large your garden is. You can enclose them in your garden with mobile housing and temporary fencing if you want to keep them safe from predators during this time.
Have a compost bin in your garden area? Stop turning it by hand. While you will need to turn your compost to keep oxygen flowing (yes, even in the winter!), you don’t have to do this by yourself. Let your chickens in. they’ll enjoy eating all the tiny bugs in the compost and will get your pile turned in no time.
Have a large pile of mulch you need to get out? Just drop the mulch in a pile and let the chickens spread it around. Chickens can easily spread a large pile of mulch in half a day. If they aren’t showing much interest in the mulch, you can toss a handful of scratch grain on top of it so they’ll be forced to work for their treats.
Clean Up Vegetable Pieces
At the end of the gardening season, you can allow your chickens into the garden to eat ay remaining plants or plant matter. You shouldn’t leave decaying bits of plants over the winter, as this can lead to the spread of pests and diseases. Instead, let your chickens take care of the garbage disposal! They’ll be so grateful for the opportunity.
Chickens, as you probably already know, are great at keeping populations of harmful pests like ticks, beetles, and grubs to a minimum. They’ll eat anything they can find and will scratch down as deep as six inches. Consider confining your chickens to a tractor in the garden or allow them to free range while you supervise. This will provide all the pest removal benefits without destroying your garden.
How Easy Is It to Keep Chickens In the Garden?
Keeping backyard chickens in the garden is nothing short of picturesque, and certainly calls to mind some of the most crucial principles of permaculture and living fully off the land.
However, it can also be extremely challenging to facilitate. Just a few chickens can cause extensive damage in a small or freshly planted garden, so you’ll need to take some extra precautions.
Wait Until the Plants are Mature
Don’t let your chickens into the garden until your plants have passed the seed and seedling stage. You should only allow your chickens out for short periods of time each day, ideally late in the afternoon right before they go to roost.
This will provide them with limited time in the garden and will ensure that they are only involving themselves in the garden after most of your plants have developed a strong foothold.
Encourage Localized Scratching
If you have vulnerable plants that you don’t want your chickens to disturb, you can direct their attention elsewhere by spreading scratch grain in the desired area. Alternatively, you can put out some boards or rocks and then turn them over when you are ready for your chickens to peck – they’ll love the grubs and bugs that emerge when the rock is turned.
Introduce One Chicken at a Time
Simply put, a single chicken is less likely to inflict major damage than an entire flock. While you don’t have to cull your flock in order to protect your vegetables, you should introduce fewer chickens to your garden. Remember, the more mouths there are to feed, the more they will destroy.
Protect Your Plants
If you have plants that your chickens tend to target, or perhaps those that are more sensitive, you can block them off by guarding them with chicken wire cages or hardware cloth.
Get Rid of Garden Debris
If you aren’t ready to take the full plunge in allowing your chickens to graze wherever they will in the garden, you can compromise. Set up a pen in which you can toss clippings, weeds, and other debris, and let the chickens scratch in there. As an added bonus, you’ll have some fantastic compost at the end of the season!
Invest in a Chicken Tractor
By purchasing or building a chicken tractor, you can control where your chickens are allowed to scratch, keeping your birds and garden healthy at the same time.
Are Garden Chickens Legal?
The short answer – yes. In some places, you might find restrictions on how many chickens you can have. Many other municipalities restrict ownership of rooster. In most cases, you only need to register with local and federal authorities if you are producing massive amounts of birds or if you are selling chicken for consumption.
Will Chickens Eat My Garden?
Chickens are indiscriminate when it comes to pecking in your garden, and while this may be frustrating, know that you can definitely keep chickens and a garden on the same property. Believe it or not, they do have the ability to coexist!
However, you’ll have to do some extra planning by incorporating one or more of the tips I’ve mentioned above.
Worst-case scenario? Do what we do.
We allow our chickens into the garden only at the end of the season, where they can scratch with abandon after everything has been arrested. This allows us to enjoy the best of both worlds without having to worry about our crops being ravaged by hungry chickens!
Remember that free-ranging doesn’t have to be full time in order to be effective. You can range your chickens just when you are home, which will give you the ability to protect your garden from your chickens as well as to protect your chickens from other predators.
Supervised ranging is a great way to introduce the benefits of keeping chickens in the garden without all of the drawbacks.
How do you use chickens in your garden – and how do you keep them out of the places where you don’t want them? Be sure to let me know in the comments.
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