Keeping chickens in the garden may be picturesque, but chickens can do a lot of damage in a surprisingly short time, especially to freshly planted seeds or tender sprouts. A couple of chickens roaming in a large garden after the plants mature may do little damage, but in a small or newly planted garden just a few chickens can make a mess in a hurry. Here are 6 tips for enjoying both your garden and your chickens.
1. Once plants mature, let your chickens into the garden late in the afternoon, shortly before they normally go to roost. The less time they spend in the garden, the less damage they will do.
2. To encourage chickens to scratch in an area where they can’t do much harm, sprinkle a little grain in that area. Or lay down some boards and turn them over for the chickens to glean the bugs and worms that accumulate underneath.
3. If your chickens are trained pets, bring one at a time into the garden while you work. Without its flock mates, a single chicken is more likely to remain nearby where you can monitor its activities.
4. If your chickens focus on certain plants or certain problematic areas, protect those particular plants with cages made of chicken wire, small mesh woven wire or hardware cloth. Move the cages around as plants in the garden change throughout the season.
5. Set up a small fenced area where you can toss weeds, clippings, thinnings and other garden debris. Let the chickens scratch around and add their manure. At the end of the season rake the pile together and let it compost.
6. Build a chicken tractor, which is essentially a portable bottomless coop or cage that confines the chickens to a small area where they can scratch with abandon. At least part of the tractor should be covered to protect chickens from the hot summer sun.
To completely protect your vegetables and flowers, don’t let your chickens into the garden until everything has been harvested for the season, then let them in to clean up bugs, weeds, weed seeds and other garden pests. Just like gardening itself, keeping chickens in the garden requires careful management and a watchful eye.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens