Tips for Gardening with Backyard Chickens

A few of our younger chickens foraging in the garden, taken about 2 weeks ago

Having a nice yard and garden as well as eating fresh homegrown produce is something many of us enjoy, including backyard chickens. Here are some of my favorite gardening practices for keeping happy free range chickens and still having a productive garden for the family.

  1. Don’t keep more chickens than you really need.  The more chickens you have, the more damage you get.  I can’t stress this one enough.
  2. Fence off the vegetable garden or area with permanent fencing.  Picket fences deter chickens from perching on or hopping up to and then over a fence.  Also clipping one wing helps keep chickens on the side of the fence you want them on.
  3. Different chickens have different tastes.  Someone else’s hens might develop a taste for things like nasturtium, while others leave it alone.  Experiment and never buy a ton of anything to start with.  When trying something new in the garden, I will leave a newly purchased potted plant where the hens can nibble.   If they ignore it for a few days, in the ground it goes the following week.
  4. Hungry chickens will eventually eat almost any plants if there is nothing else to forage around or no other good food source.  Make sure there is something you are okay with them munching on if you let them free range.  I have a modest amount of grass in the backyard that my hens nibble on throughout the day as well as many fast grow annuals in the Spring, so they are never at loss for green stuff.  Plus, they always have access to their feeder and water.
  5. Check toxicity levels before planting anything.  Chickens don’t normally bother poisonous plants unless they have nothing else to choose from, but also try avoid planting stuff that is deadly like foxglove or oleander.
  6. Don’t give the chickens all day access to the yard.  One popular practice is to let the chickens out in the late afternoon and then they often will put them selves back in the coop at dusk.  In general, my chickens are only out if I or the kids are out back with them.  This also deters hawks from making one lunch.
  7. Temporarily fence chickens out of newly planted or fragile areas with chicken wire or other portable fencing until plants are more established.  Then remove it as needed.
  8. Add scraps of chicken wire around the base of plants and cover with mulch.  This prevents chickens from accidentally scratching them out before they are firmly established or damaging the fragile surface roots.  It works with dogs too.
  9. Invest in and plant more fruit trees, shrubs, and woody perennials to provide “bones” to the garden so it doesn’t look bare and gives the chickens a place to hide in the event a hawk comes by for a visit.
  10. Feather footed bantam breeds, like Cochins (Pekins,) Brahmas, D’uccles, and Silkies are often good breeds for fussy gardeners to choose from. They can’t reach as high nor do they prefer to scratch as far or as much as the bigger breeds, thus reducing the overall amount of damage they do to a garden.  They also don’t mind it if they are confined to a small backyard coop.  Three bantam Cochins do about the same amount of damage as one large breed chicken, like a red star or leghorn.

Grass is a favorite chicken food to nibble on while out in the backyard

Two of the mama hens are out for a walk with the chicks in the perennial flowers in the backyard.  The bigger plants, like the shrubs and fruit trees give them places to dart into to hide when spooked

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Comments

Tips for Gardening with Backyard Chickens — 2 Comments

  1. I am getting used to mine in the garden. They seem to want to sit atop my big potted plants. I am rethinking the pots on the patio for the future. I wish they would spend more time in the compost area but they would rather poop in the patio. The one thing I don’t love about them free ranging. BUT I do think it is important at least a little every day.

  2. Pingback: The Babies Have Moved Into the Big House! | A HEALTHY LIFE FOR ME

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