As a gardener and a chicken keeper, I’m always trying new ways to coexist with my free ranging flock. I’ve given presentations through my local Extension Center and Master Gardener chapter on how I take advantage of the benefits of having backyard chickens (free fertilizer and pest control) and at the same time protect my gardens from their foraging frenzy!
Even though there are some plants that the flock are not that fond of, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to truly protect your garden from the chickens’ constant scratching, pecking, dust bathing, nibbling – is a fence. Either contain your flock in a run or put a fence around your garden. otherwise your garden will become their smorgasbord and they’ll pretty much take over the new seedlings and freshly tilled soil as their favorite spot.
To protect my vegetable garden I purchased decorative 4′ metal fence panels from my local hardware store. They were easy to install and have worked well for several years to keep the girls away from my harvest. The panels were $10 each – for a large garden this might be a little costly, but I like the look and the simplicity of the installation.
I also have a large butterfly garden that I have had much longer than I have had hens… It’s full of wildflowers and around 15 host plants of native Missouri butterflies. Host plants are the specific plants that each species of butterflies will lay their eggs on. For example a monarch butterfly will only lay eggs on milkweed and this is the only plant the monarch caterpillar will eat. The chickens are not at all interested in the established native wildflowers and shrubs in this garden, but I’ve had trouble planting young transplants or sowing seeds.
A couple of years ago I tried elevating bird netting above the seedlings, but the plants were still too small to survive the hens’ scratching when I removed the netting. Another attempt I had was to place chicken wire directly on the soil and plant young bedding plants within the wire openings. The chickens didn’t like walking on the wire, but it was hard for me to weed around the plants – and it looked a little odd. Even if I could protect the plants, the flock still made a mess of the mulched paths throughout the garden…
This year I had a new idea – which is really an old technique used by chicken keepers for generations – a picket fence! If you have chickens, you know they are poor fliers, but they are awesome jumpers. I have a 5 foot compost bin that they love perching on. Actually – anything under 4 foot and they’ll probably find a way to jump on and over.
A picket fence, however, lacks a good perching spot and they’re leery of jumping over anything if they don’t have something to grab onto. I figured a 4 foot picket fence would be the solution to my gardening woes, but I didn’t want to invest the time or the money on installing a permanent fence around the garden. I did find bundles of cheap picket-like fencing at Lowes, but it was only 2′ high. I wasn’t convinced that this would keep the girls at bay, but it was only $25 for 15′ and I figured if it didn’t work at least I hadn’t invested a lot of money into the project. To install the fence, I pounded 2′ wooden stakes into the ground around the perimeter of the garden and then secured the fence to the stakes with screws. I ended up spending a little more than $100 to surround the garden, but that was a lot cheaper than hiring someone to install a larger fence or even doing it ourselves.
It’s been 4 months now and the chickens have not attempted even once to enter the garden! Since then I’ve stained the fencing and my husband made a gate to match the picket theme. It’s not a perfect structure, but it’s an affordable solution . And I think it adds a vintage charm to a country garden…
Is a 2′ picket fence an option to enclose a chicken run? NO!
Will it protect the flock from predators? NO!
Will it work in anyone else’s garden? Who knows, but it is working in mine.
Will my hens eventually realize they can easily jump into the forbidden garden? Time will tell…
To view more of my tips on gardening with chickens, refer to this link: Gardening with Chickens
To view what else is happening at our Southwest Missouri property visit: the garden-roof coop
If you enjoy bird-watching (in addition to chicken-watching), I invite you to follow my Facebook page: Rebecca’s Bird Gardens