One of the most common questions I get from aspiring backyard farmers is this: “Will chickens destroy my garden and make gardening a lot more difficult?”
Yes, your chickens will certainly destroy your garden if given a chance to run around your flowerbeds as they are curious foragers with a voracious appetite.
But do not fret as your garden can benefit greatly from chickens; you can even let the chickens in and around the garden and turn this potentially risky endeavor into a symbiotic relationship. There are also ways to keep the chickens from wreaking havoc and damaging your garden even when they have access to it.
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Potential Damage to the Garden by Chickens
If you have a feathery flock and a garden with vegetable and flower beds, then you may be looking for ways to either make your garden chicken-proof or chicken-friendly.
There are proven ways to achieve both goals but making chickens garden-friendly does require some planning. Here is why:
- Chickens will see your tilled and exposed soil as an opportunity for digging for food as well as establishing their much-loved dust-baths. They will smother and dig up any freshly planted seedlings.
- Chickens happily gobble up any leafy greens and fruits that they like. They may also scratch up seeds to eat them.
- Chickens will peck at your plant’s leaves and stems and scratch up your plant’s base.
Chickens and Garden in Harmony
Considering chicken’s unending appetite, fondness of foraging, eternal curiosity and clumsiness makes one wonder if chickens can be kept in harmony with the garden.
Although chickens are notorious for ruining gardens if left unchecked and unrestricted, they can also be conducive to making your garden healthy. With a few measures, a small flock of chickens can help your garden:
If you want to cut down on insecticides and other potentially harmful chemichals, a small flock of chickens will happily devour unwanted pests and creepy crawlies such as snails and beetles. They also like to scratch up and eat larvae, combatting problems before they occur!
A Great Source of Organic Fertilizer
Chicken manure is a good source of nitrogen and there are various ways to use it to help your garden. One simple way is to just shovel up some chicken manure, mix it with dead leaves and soil, and put it in your garden. Another way is to store the manure in a container for your compost pile.
Fun fact: Expect a chicken to produce 2 lbs. of poop per week.
Eradicating Weeds from the Garden
Chickens enjoy eating weeds and their seeds. This only means chemical-free weed control for your garden.
Chickens are Great Tillers
Chickens will till a small garden very efficiently and without any expense and effort from your end.
A chicken tractor may come in handy if you want your flock to till a specific area of your garden. Large gardens may require more time to till if you have a small flock, but chicken will certainly help you clear the area.
Helping you spread mulch
Why not let the chickens spread your mulch? It will keep them engaged while you can sit down and enjoy a well-deserved drink. Just unleash the chickens on a pile of mulch and they will level it for you in no time.
Keeping Chickens In Your Garden
There are many pros of having chicken around but occasionally, giving them access to the whole garden can benefit you. With a little planning and determination, you can enjoy all the perks of keeping chickens as contributors to your healthy vegetable garden. Here are a few tips to keep your flock as an integrated part of your garden:
Fencing and Netting
Fencing and netting is your friend if you want to manage their access to the garden. For instance, you may not want your chicken around at all during spring when your plants are sprouting and you are gardening in peace but in fall, you might want your flock to till the garden for you.
Chickens will peck at small plants and seedlings; anything that is not at least 10-14 inches tall can be tugged, unplanted, and smothered by the clumsy chooks. To keep your hard work from being wrecked by your flock, get some poultry netting, plant cages, cloches, and wire fencing to protect your fragile plants.
Erect these barriers around your vegetable and flower beds and around any pots that you do not want your chicken to dig up. If you want the flock entirely out of the way, installing a tall fence around your garden will help.
Stones and Weeds
Chickens love to dust-bath in any exposed patch of soil.
Place bricks and flat stones around the plants, especially plant that are not yet sturdy. You can also use this method for pots as chickens tend to turn them into nesting boxes.
Another way to discourage scratching in the wrong places is to keep weeds around the plants, not giving chickens any opportunity to use these patches. But be aware that weeds will take up nutrients in the ground that could otherwise be utilized by your plants.
Earlier in the year, as you are getting ready to plant your garden in spring, allowing your chickens to mix the soil will turn them into your little assistants!
Raised Beds, Tall Pots and Hanging Baskets
Starting your vegetables in the raised beds will help keep chickens out of the way. You can top it with a bit of netting for overly ambitious chickens.
Hanging baskets serve as an aesthetically pleasing addition to the garden and keep chickens away from plants. For smaller plants, taller pots serve as added security.
Sturdy Plants vs Repellents
While fragile plants and tender seedlings cannot stand against an energetic chicken, tall and sturdy plants will. Some plants come with their own defense mechanisms, like thorns, to keep chickens from pecking.
Also, plants that are tall with thicker stems are hardy against chicken attacks, for example, tall sunflowers and dogwoods. Taking your time to choose the right plants will reduce the need for extra protective measures.
There are also a few herbs that repel chickens with their strong scent. Lavender, catnip, and spearmint are a few of them. Planting these herbs around the growth that you want to keep safe is a cheap and useful alternative. Some people also use citrus as a repellent.
Supervise your Flock
Supervising your chickens when gardening and controlling their free-ranging time will help you protect the garden. Chickens are incentivized by the worms you dig up for them while gardening and they may follow you around for more treats.
But keep an eye on them while you are gardening to ensure they do not wreak havoc to your newly cultivated beds. Limiting their time in and around the garden by containment will also help keep your garden and chickens safe.
Your chickens will ruin your garden without proper planning but with some extra efforts, they become your gardening companion, mulch spreader, insect and weed killer, and natural tillers. They can be fun to watch and your garden will also provide them with good enrichment.
Do not forget to reward them with leafy greens and other treats from time to time. Planting a garden that can co-exist with your feathery flock takes a lot of trial and error and determination but it is rewarding in the end.