I love my free range chickens. And I love my garden! Unfortunately, though, the two don’t always get along! Chickens can quickly destroy a garden. Luckily, there are things you can do to help!
We enjoy a lot of benefits from letting our chickens free-range on our homestead! They provide bug 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 free-range chickens and our organic garden happily co-existing! Techniques to successfully keep free range chickens in and around your garden will vary greatly depending on how large your garden is, how many chickens you have and the type of chickens. It’s important to try different things to see what works best for your garden and your chickens.
5 Tips for Gardening with Free Range Chickens:
Tip 1: Use fencing to deter chickens:
Fencing off 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 also other wildlife like rabbits and deer that might want to munch on your veggies.
If it isn’t possible to fence off your whole garden, you can just fence off certain parts of your garden. Or, if you have raised garden beds, you can place wire garden fence directly inside of the perimeter of each raised bed.
We have a 4-foot chainlink fence around our garden on all but one side. While it deters some of the chickens, many of them can jump/fly right over it! While wing-clipping is an option, we decided that we don’t mind having the chickens in our garden area – for the most part! Our garden is also a huge area and it would be very hard to fence it off completely because we have to access other areas of the property through it.
We also use wire garden fence inside the perimeter of each of our large raised garden beds. It helps deter some of the chickens, but not all of them. We roll it out and place it in the beds each Spring before planting time. In the late Fall, we remove the fence, roll it up and store it until the next planting season. We apply a large amount of compost to the beds and let the chickens work it into the beds – one less farm chore for us to do!
Tip 2: Protect your seeds and seedlings
Protecting your freshly sown seeds and seedlings from chickens can be a challenge! It doesn’t take much for seeds or seedlings to be displaced by a chicken’s scratching and pecking. Wire fencing is an affordable and easy way to keep your garden safe!
After sowing, place sections of cut welded wire fencing or chicken wire over your plants. Slightly curving the wire will help deter chickens from walking on it and it will also give your plants room to grow. This is also a good way to keep cats from scratching in your garden and using it as a toilet.
We use wire fencing to protect all of our sown seeds and young plants. We also make chicken wire garden cloches to protect individual plants – you can find the instructions here to make your own! Once our plants have grown and are well-rooted, we remove the wire and the cloches and store them until the next year. For us, this has been the key to having a healthy garden with our free-range chickens!
Tip 3: Surround perennial plants, bushes, and flowers with branches or rocks.
Free range chickens tend to pick a couple of favorite spots to hang out in during the day. Usually, these spots are under the shade and protection of a large perennial bush or tree. Sometimes, they will leave the area undisturbed. But other times, they will scratch and use it for dust-bathing, creating large holes in the soil and damaging plant roots.
To protect the roots of your plant, you can place stones, rocks or branches around the base of the plant. This will discourage the chickens from scratching and dust-bathing. I’ve had to do this in several of our flower beds, and it has worked very well!
Tip 4: Give your chickens their own garden
If you have the space, it’s fun to create a “chicken garden”. Planting a chicken garden will supply your free-range chickens with food and entertainment! Giving them a garden to explore will also help keep them busy, which can help distract them from constantly trying to find a way into your veggie garden!
Some plants that you can grow for your chickens include kale, peas, lamb’s quarters, buckwheat, chickweed, sunflowers, cucumbers, squash, and corn! You may also want to include hardy herbs like oregano, comfrey, and mint to help keep your chickens healthy! We grow several different vegetables, herbs, and flowers near our coops. The chickens love it! Plus, it keeps them busy and away from my garden!
Tip 5: Provide dust bath areas
If you find that your chickens constantly use your garden beds for dust baths, there are a few things that can help deter them. Top-dressing your garden beds with a thick layer of mulch (hay, straw, grass clippings or leaves work well) will keep the area less dusty and help to deter chickens. You can also grow a ground cover plant-like purslane, alyssum, nasturtium, creeping thyme, chickweed, strawberries or Dutch white clover.
I have 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 started using them for dust baths. I finally gave up and let them use them for dustbathing. Surprisingly, I found that they now only use those beds and leave the rest of my garden beds alone! That’s not too bad of compromise, in my opinion!
Find out how to make a temporary “all-weather” dust bath here!