I know that the chickens will eat any plant that I throw into their enclosed chicken run — probably out of boredom. However, when they’re free-ranging, they pick and choose their favorites. For example, this spring they completely destroyed the bok choy in my garden, but turned up their noses (beaks) at the spinach, chard and lettuce. This preference for certain foods leads me to believe they must have some sort of ability to discern between yum and yuck …
After a little more research I learned that a chicken’s sense of smell is not highly developed and does not influence its selection of food. So, I marked garlic off my list of deterrents. In fact, I even found where some chicken keepers actually feed their chickens garlic cloves as a treat!
As for taste, chickens do have taste buds, but they’re limited in number and sensitivity. I was hoping that they would have an aversion to peppers, but birds lack the ability to detect capsaicin — the chemical found in peppers that is responsible for its spicy taste.
Even after I learned the facts, I wasn’t convinced that I couldn’t train my chickens to stay away from my prize tomatoes. The research indicated that smell and taste shouldn’t have that much of an effect on their choice of food, but I couldn’t understand why they had never even nibbled at the garlic or peppers in my garden …
Step 3: Hypothesis
“If I use an odor and/or taste repellent, the chickens will stop devouring my tomatoes.”
Step 4: Test the Hypothesis by Conducting an Experiment
I remember from college that you’re suppose to have a control set (or a tomato that hasn’t been treated with a spray), but I’m not being graded on this assignment … and I know that the girls love tomatoes. Check out the video below (of my daughter and flock) that shows just how fast five chickens can consume a tomato!
(2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 quarts water)When I placed the tomatoes in front of the girls, at first they displayed their usual crazy behavior when I give them a treat. They all pecked at the tomatoes and continued eating them, but not with their typical enthusiasm.
(2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid dish soap, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 2 quarts water)
I thoroughly expected the same reaction out of my chickens with this spicy spray, but to my surprise they didn’t care for these pepper-flavored tomatoes! They each took a taste, but quickly lost interest, wiped their beaks off in the grass, turned their backs and walked away! I know this doesn’t prove anything, but I really didn’t think it would make any difference if I sprayed the tomatoes with anything. I decided to take this part of my experiment a bit further.
Another favorite treat of the girls is strawberries, so I sprayed them with my amazing pepper spray, offered them to my flock and waited for their response. At first they went crazy fighting and pecking each other for the juiciest berry, but in the end they their response was similar to the pepper-sprayed tomatoes. They did, however, eventually consume all the berries, just not with the same zeal they normally have for a treat.
Step 5: Conclusion
Though the pepper spray did slow the chickens down a little, they still damaged the tomatoes and finished off the strawberries. Who knows, maybe if I diligently applied the spray the girls would eventually develop an aversion to tomatoes. I’ve come to the realization that a lot of my garden will be eaten by the chickens. The tomatoes, peas and beans within their reach have become their smorgasbord. As for now, I’m letting them have their share. I enjoy watching them free-range and I appreciate the eggs they provide. Eventually, I’ll probably get fed up and do the only proven way to keep chickens out of the garden: I’ll build a fence.
To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit …the garden-roof coop.