Keeping chickens without destroying the garden

I love keeping chickens in the backyard and collecting fresh organic eggs every day. They’re great at pecking off pests from the plants and interrupting the pest reproductive cycle by gobbling up any insect eggs or larvae. The drawback, however, is that they scratch up the garden in the process and can wreak havoc with the plants growing in the same area.

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When I first brought chickens into my backyard I lost almost all of my plants. If the chickens didn’t eat the plants, they would scratch them out of the ground instead. Even though I had anticipated losing some plants, I didn’t realise that they were capable of destroying the whole backyard. Now I’ve tried a number of things to get my garden back in order and thought I’d share some of my tricks with you.

The choice of plants was the first thing I learnt. Fleshy large leafed plants were consumed within minutes, but plants with hard, coarse leaves or silvery foliage was left alone. they also seemed to dislike some strong smelling plants. So include things like lavender, rosemary, curry plant and scented geraniums. They also devoured annual plants with ferocity, so I’ve stuck with hardy perennial plants, with a strong root system once established. Some of these perennials are herbaceous meaning that they die down in winter but re-shoot in spring. These included salvias, red-hot pokers (Kniphofia spp.) catmint and catnip.

Taller plants and smaller trees that have foliage above the reach of chickens are good too, but you’ll have to protect them until they grow tall enough. Fruit trees are great and the chickens really help with pest prevention for fruits.

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Physical barriers that I use to keep them away are wire trellising or frames around the trunks of plants. Plastic lattice placed in a cylindrical pattern around the trunks need to be secured in place with small stakes (I used old tent pegs, small bamboo stakes or pruned branches from the fruit trees).

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One of my chickens (named “flighty whitey” for obvious reasons) was a bit more adept at getting over some lattice barriers and proudly displayed her superior flight capability as soon as I wasn’t watching. So I dug out some old mosquito nets that a friend had given to me and constructed an igloo over some beds using irrigation pipe and stakes as framework. It also added a particularly artistic colourful effect to my garden!! It also keeps the wild birds off too.

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Physical barriers are okay for a whole bed or larger trees but trying to stop chickens scratching around smaller plants where they free range is another problem. I use 3 or 4 old bricks placed around the base of the plants so that the chickens cannot scratch too close to the plant. I cover the bricks with a mulch of old hay so they are a bit more hidden. This also helps keep moisture in the soil and gets the plant roots established. I found that if I leave the bricks in place for good, without trying to remove them later, then the plants have more success.

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I’m also a fan of plastic lattice for this too. If you spread this flat on the surface of the ground and hold it in position with sticks, stakes or bricks then chickens cannot scratch through it. I choose the larger weave with harder plastic rather than soft bird netting

Here’s a summary of best plants for the chicken run, I’ll do another post on which medicinal plants to also include for chicken health soon.

Shrubs: lavender, rosemary, curry plant and scented geraniums.
Perennials: Salvia spp. Kniphofia spp. catmint, catnip
Trees: fruit trees