Growing your own food is brilliant, and adding chickens to your backyard improves your self sufficiency and resilience. But how do you protect your garden from the chickens?
Protecting the garden from free range hens is a really common problem for most backyard chicken owners! Chickens love to look for their own food, to dig and scratch and dust bathe in bare soil. Not to mention snack on fresh young green plants.
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Free range vs Chicken tractors
I understand why people like to free range their chickens, they get space, fresh food, bugs and to live the life they were born to live.
However, chicken tractors can also provide all these things while still keeping the chickens in a contained space. The benefits of a chicken tractor is that you can move it daily to give them fresh ground, or you can keep it in the same space for longer to encourage the chickens to till and manure a spot ready to plant a new garden.
Full time free range vs part time free range
Another thing to consider is possibly only allowing your hens out to free range after you are home to watch them. This means you can supervise their fun and keep them away from where you don’t want them.
This is a free option for keeping them out of your garden, and letting them out later in the day allows them time to eat their balanced feed before filling up on treats and to lay their eggs in their house not all over your backyard.
The down side to this is that it can become a full time occupation watching them to make sure they don’t ruin anything.
How to stop chickens eating my plants
There are so many different options for stopping chickens from eating your plants and destroying your garden. Below I have listed my favourite ideas for keeping chickens out of the garden and away from your plants.
If, however, the chickens are a little overzealous and you’re losing too many plants, you’re probably wondering how to chicken proof your garden.
There are a number of methods for chicken proofing a garden. The most obvious is fencing off the most problematic areas. There are a number of ways to do this. Probably the most common is chicken wire. There’s a reason it’s called chicken wire.
Generally chickens won’t go over anything higher than 1.2m (4 ft) and we have successfully kept hens in a 900mm (3ft) chicken wire and T-post fence as well.
Keeping chickens behind a fence
Some chickens will jump over any fence, where there is a will there is a way! There are a few things you can do to keep your chickens behind a fence.
- Get heavy birds: Heavier birds cannot lift themselves with their wings, so the bigger your chickens the less likely they are of escaping a fence.
- Clip wings: Clipping your chickens wings is a pain-free, easy and free way of helping keep your chickens behind a fence. One wing is usually enough to tip them off balance and prevent them getting over, clipping both wings will stop them being able to get any air at all.
- Use wire: Chicken’s eyesight is not great. They cannot see wire well. You can extend a wooden fence by adding a couple of rows of normal fencing wire above the top of the fencing panels – your chickens will think of it as some sort of invisible force field.
- Hot Wire: A hot wire is an effective way to train chickens to stay away from a boundary. The discomfort keeps chickens from attempting to roost on the top of the fence. It can also be used as a fence and means of keeping chickens out.
Chickens do not really like water. You can chase your chickens away from your garden with a squirt of the hose or even leave the sprinkler on to keep them away.
Other more elaborate options include surrounding your garden with a small moat or stream or installing a motion activated sprinkler system like this one.
3. Plants that deter chickens
Chickens can’t taste much, but strong pungent or bitter flavours deter them. These plants will deter the chickens, they might have a little nibble, but they will quickly learn to leave them alone.
Use these plant as ground covers in your garden to stop them scratching up the ground, mix them in with your flowers that you don’t want them to eat or use them in a big border garden around the edge.
4. Spices that deter chickens
Spices are usually cheap and easy to source, you can even grow some of them yourself. Spices that deter chickens include:
- Curry powder
- Black pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
The biggest problem with using spices is that you will have to replenish them every time you water, it rains or gets windy.
You can make a paste with chilli or cayenne with a little flour and water and paint this on to the plants you don’t want them to eat, it will last longer than just sprinkling it around.
5. Using citrus to keep chickens away
Chickens do not like the smell of citrus. You could try chopping up some dried citrus peel and sprinkling them around the plants/garden.
You can use the readily available citronella oil to spray around plants you want the chickens to stay away from. Grab it in bulk here.
6. Using fake predators
Owls, snakes, and falcons or hawks are common predators to chickens so chickens have a natural built in fear of them. However, simply placing a plastic owl or hawk on your porch isn’t likely to keep your chickens away long term because they will quickly work out that it isn’t moving.
For fake predators to be effective, you will need to change the position, the number, and position of them. Luckily you can pick up toy rubber snakes for really cheap.
As an extra benefit, these fake predators can help to deter other real predators!
You will also find that different types of chickens are more flightly than others. As a result, you will have varying success with decoy predators to scare away your chickens.
7. Keep the ground covered
Chickens LOVE bare soil. It is easier to kick and scratch through to find bugs, and it makes a great dust bath. Keeping the ground covered helps minimize the soil disturbance that the birds create.
Weeds provide nutritious snacks for the chickens, housing for beneficial insects, flowers for pollinators and keep the soil covered too. If this is too messy for your type A brain, try using one of these cover crops instead.
Larger rocks around the base of your plants will stop the chickens digging up the plants or exposing their roots while also keeping the soil more moist and warmer. This is a great trick for plants that like warmer roots anyway like grapes or tomatoes.
Covering the soil with some fine wire mesh will stop the chickens from digging up the soil and it can also stop mice from eating seedlings!
Plant in containers
Raised pots and containers are not as attractive to chickens as a flat garden bed is, so try growing vegetables in containers, here is a list of good ones to start with.
8. Use distance
When you are planning your homestead, try and keep your chicken’s free range space and the garden away from each other. Using permaculture zones to plan your space will help you work out the best layout for your homestead.
A rooster with your flock will usually encourage the girls to stay closer to their home and less likely to venture all the way to your backyard.
9. Grow a chicken garden
If you have the space, try growing a garden with the chickens in mind. Make space there for them to dig and snack to their heart’s content.
Here are some plants you might like to grow in your chicken garden, and make sure they have a designated dust bath too.
10. Protecting plants from chickens with cages
Most plants will be fine to have the chickens brows around once they are established, but while they are small the hens are more likely to dig them out.
You can surround your new plants with a wire or bird/insect netting cloche made with some hoops and some netting held together with some zip ties, or even just a ring of wire mesh around the tree. You can peg them in place with wooden stakes or wire ‘n’ shaped pegs used to hold down weedmatting.
Using chickens in the garden
Chickens are brilliant at digging up the soil, tilling in compost, eating weeds and roots, getting rid of grubs and beetles and generally prepping a garden bed ready to plant.
You can selectively use your chickens to clear up a garden at the end of the season, or to prep a new bed before spring planting.
You can even use chickens to build and turn your compost piles!
If you are struggling trying to protect your vegetable garden from chickens, try some of these ideas to help. Have you successfully kept your hens out of your garden? Tell me about it in the comments below.