Chicken Proofing The Garden

Chicken Proofing The Garden

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 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.)

pet fencing to temporarily keep out chickens while plants fill in
I use pet fencing to temporarily keep out chickens while plants fill in

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 and sample 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.

how to keep chickens from eating plants in the garden

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.

Small Flock

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. 

dust bathing
I love this weird photo of Vader. It looks like she is a scary headless chicken. In reality, she dug her self the perfect dust bathing hole in the middle of the lawn.

Chicken Poop

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. They are great because they are easy to move and can be shaped as needed, especially when using two or more.

temporary chicken pen
I use the pet pen to keep the chickens digging in the areas I want them to dig, This is a dog crate expansion pen from Precision. It has held up well to the elements.

7 thoughts on “Chicken Proofing The Garden

  1. Hello,

    I read your blog and check on it frequently. I enjoy looking at your beautiful garden and lovely chickens.

  2. I am new to being a chicken mom…3 weeks and have been researching and learning for the past few months. Your site is original and so informative. I did not know that chickens would dig holes for dirt baths! I now will leave the area just outside their door just for them! I new I needed to change it anyway, so my first design will be to leave it dirt! I am also going to try to make some small planters of flowers just for them and rotate them in their coop. My hope is they will have them to nibble when they are “all cooped up” but I will be able to rotate them so they will have a chance to grow back. I’ll let you know if it works. I only have 4 so we’ll see.

  3. So glad I found your site!
    I haven’t let my chicks free range because of my border collies, but it looks as if your dogs don’t bother them too much!
    Great info on protecting your plants–I’ve wondered about that also!

    1. Thanks for the compliments.

      About training my dog to be safe around the chickens, it took many months of gradual exposure, rewards, and close supervision. I used the same pet pen fencing that I use for garden protection, to train the dog and chickens to be together. There is a good article in Urban Farm Magazine, Jan./Feb., about training pets to be around backyard livestock.

    2. Rebecca Nickols,

      You have an excellent, well written blog at Community Chickens. I enjoyed reading your posts, especially the recent one about the Automatic Chicken Feeder.

  4. Thanks for letting me read your blog. I have recently brought 3 chickens – Rhode Island Red, Blue Orpington and a Gold Laced Wyandotte. They are housed in a dome which will fit over my circular garden beds, once the existing plants are past their best. Now that the girls are 12 wks, I’m looking at ways to give them more outdoor space, without compromising the health of my garden.

    1. A chicken dome over a circular bed sounds like a great idea. Many permaculture methods I have read about use circular key hole and spiral shapes for planting areas. I would love to see a photo of it used with a chicken enclosure!

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