The chickens get access to the majority of my backyard for free ranging, but now a days you would not realize it just glancing around the yard. The first few months with chickens free ranging, the yard didn’t look as good as it did in the years before chickens. With a few months of all day free ranging, there was poop on the concrete, plants uprooted or heavily munched, and holes in the lawn. Over time I have learned and figured out strategies for keeping the mess and damage down. Now, two years later, it looks lush again, clean, and the grass is the greenest it has ever been. This was not achieved through permanently incarcerating that free range group of chickens. By implementing a few changes in my planting techniques, using fencing, choosing better plants, reducing the number of chickens, and understanding what chickens like, my yard returned to a pretty garden again.
I keep my some of my veggies and especially yummy plants fenced off from the area the chickens get to occasionally roam. The fence is picket style and they don’t like to hop on top of the pointy shaped boards. After I harvest, I let the chickens in to help “clean up.” I also use easily moveable pet fencing in areas just starting to get established. Once the plants are big enough, I remove the fencing.
I do allow the chickens access to vegetable garden under supervision or in their pen (a dog exercise pen with flexible panels to adjust to the shape I need.)
Plant Protection and placement
I put the stuff I know the chickens won’t like as much on the edge of the beds. More desirable stuff goes further in so it is harder for the chickens to notice or reach.
Since getting chickens, I have been using chicken wire around the base of the root zones of plants when I first put them in the ground. I lay it on the ground with any sharp parts trimmed off or poked in the ground. Then I put landscape staples or clothes hanger pieces through it to hold it in place and cover with mulch. The chickens avoid scratching over it, but are able to walk on it. This prevents the chickens from digging the plants out before the plants are firmly rooted in the ground. Here is a photo of some of one my chicken proof planting methods.
I have learned to keep a few large areas open for digging and dust bathing so the chickens don’t make new holes in the lawn or at the base of a favorite plant for the same purpose.
With our second flock, I have limited the amount of time they get each day to free range, and some days I don’t let them out at all. They only come out when I have time to supervise. I do not want them to get into the habit of expecting to be out all day long like our other flock did. Also, bantams are a nice size treat for hawks so I am more careful with them.
Choose Plants Wisely
Pick vegetables that grow quickly or that it doesn’t matter if the leaves are a bit nibbled, like broccoli or zucchini. I also keep a list of plants in my yard that my chickens leave alone here at my blog and at BYC. I check Sunset Western Garden book before purchasing new things to see if they are “deer proof.” Most deer proof plants are also chicken proof. Large shrubs and fruit trees seem to work especially well with chickens, but with a little extra care, smaller stuff can work too.
6 adult LF hens was more than my yard could sustain. When we reduced the flock to 4 hens, it made a big difference and we still had plenty of eggs for our family, and 3 was perfect. I eventually switched to bantam Cochins, and they do significantly less damage than the large breeds did.
To minimize the droppings on the concrete, I use the same portable pet fencing to temporarily block off the areas I want to keep them off. I found two of them on craigslist for about $10 each, and the other two were given to me.