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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
Yay for chickens and free range! I love your chicken posts.
I love all your information and as someone who is keen to get chickens gives me a lot more to think about ,with my 4 vegie plots and large yard am still getting things growing and am glad I found you ! 🙂
Plenty of good ideas to share here! Feel free to add some of your own tips too.
This is the first time I’ve seen your blog. I’m glad I did! I’ve been wanting to raise chickens but my husband is quite concerned about the vegetable garden. This should help convince him!
Yah, glad you found us! It took me a while to convince my hubby too, but won him over eventually. Good luck.
Love your ideas. We have just planted our orchard & our 10 chooks & 1 rooster wreak havoc! We’ve had chooks for years & our neighbour finally had had enough of them coming over to his place & messing in his shed if he forgets to shut the door. So we used chain link fencing between us and him. They are still sneaking around the bottom of the fence so we need another roll or two. Lucky I have an understanding husband. We do have a run but I hate penning them up & love our free range eggs. I’m hoping they will help with insects. I wondered about using sacks, but the plastic lattice looks good. We also have bricks.
I think your tips are very helpful and am keen to put them in place. We have terrible problems with fruit fly and I don’t want to use sprays or chemicals. I’m hoping a trio of silkies will keep the bugs away and leave us something to eqt.
I have a a wall of leighton greens that are established to 2.5metres tall. Is it bad for the trees to have 3 chickens scratching around them?
No they should be fine. They’re not likely to sucker and are pretty hardy once established.
My parents live down the sreett from this lovely home. What’s so amazing is it’s inside the city, but there is enough green space around to give it this pastoral feel. It’s right next to some soccer fields – you can kind of see the goals in the background of the third photo – making it feel even more expansive (and peaceful as long as no one’s practicing 🙂