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Chicken Proof Garden

 

 

 


I've been at this "chickens and gardens" thing for a couple of years now and I have to say that my garden has never looked better, and I believe chickens have made the difference. From the start I felt that the poo was going to be as valuable a harvest as the eggs and boy was I right. The Nitrogen and micro nutrients that it provides have made my garden so lush and floriferous. My peonies and delphiniums and hydrangeas barely needed staking because they have nice strong stems, something they have always lacked. Also, my roses are less bothered by Japanese Beetles because the girls are mad for the grubs. I was concerned that the plants that rely on self sowing seed to renew themselves would suffer from the girls weeding sessions, but that doesn't seem to be a problem. The penstemon, borage, and feverfew came back better than ever. I know this might sound like bragging, but it's not me, it all them. 

 

How to do it?

Chickens and gardens should go together beautifully. They eat all the bad bugs, slugs and weed seeds and provide us with nutrient rich fertilizer. My pastoral fantasy of chickens clucking and pecking around the blossoms can be easily disrupted by Daphne kicking all my mulch onto the lawn or Bobby choosing to scratch up my seedlings. In order to keep the harmonious relationship between chicken and garden we need to take some precautions. 

 

First, the proportion of garden to chicken is important. There is a big difference between 6 hens in an acre garden for a few hours a day and 30 birds full time free ranging a quarter acre. Realistic expectations need to be exercised and the right balance reached. Because we have a predator problem where we live our girls are in their large run most of the time and come out when we can be out with them, which works out fine for the garden. 

 

What works in one garden might not work in another. I've heard people say "my chickens never eat the..." and that turns out to be someone else's chicken's favorite. Also, I find that nothing is chicken-proof in the spring when it's all tender new growth just poking up. If you can protect your garden a bit during this time it gives it a chance. 

 

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Physical barriers are sometimes what is needed to protect plants. My girls are poor flyers so a short fence is all I need to keep them out of the vegetable garden during the growing season. Between the nightshades and Rhubarb that have toxic leaves and all the tasty things that I want for myself it just makes sense. It's just best that they never find out that strawberries are just beyond the fence. Emerging bulbs and new Spring growth might need just a little extra protection. A piece of chicken wire bent into a short dome and placed over the area to be protected usually does the trick. For newly transplanted seedlings I sink short bamboo stakes into the ground with about 4-5 inches above ground. One or two of these for each seedling will make scratching no fun and the chicken will move on. Once the plant starts to get bigger you don't see the stakes anymore. Chicken tractors are good for containing birds to a specific area outside their usual run.    

 

 

Give Them What They Need

Chickens want to scratch and snack. If you make sure they have a place to dust bathe, scratch and graze they will do less damage to the rest of your garden. This Spring we are planting a high omega-3 poultry pasture that should keep the girls happy and distracted from other plants. The mix consists of flax, ladino clover, Birdsfoot broadleaf trefoil, alfalfa, red cowpeas, and buckwheat. New test results show that eggs from hens raised on pasture show 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs, as well as 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx#ixzz1HSF62nZt

 

Chicken-Proof plants

I'm working on a list of chicken-proof plants for the garden around my coop/run. When I say "chicken-proof" I mean firstly that it won't harm the chickens, and second that they won't mess up the plants too badly. I know there is a great list of toxic plants (http://www.poultryhelp.com/toxicplants.html), but if you are like me it's hard to look at a list of forbidden fruit and think of "what can I do?". Some people believe that chickens know to not eat things that are bad for them, but then again I constantly hear about how chickens "drop dead for no reason". There is always a reason even if it's not obvious to the observer. They may be ranging in an area where all the plants have died back for winter and you think "what can hurt them". Well, maybe the foxgloves dropped their seed earlier in the season and they could give them a heart attack. We can't remove all the garden dangers, but we can learn about what's in our environment and steer them in the right direction.

 

Trees, shrubs and tall perennials over the chickens heads are usually safe from too much nibbling. As an added bonus they provide some cover and shade. It's usually the middle to front of the boarder plants that need more thought put into them.

 
To start off, I've compiled a list of plants I'm interested in that are safe for chickens. I will bold them as they prove to be relatively chicken-proof, and eliminate the ones that don't work. Please, let me know if you have anything to add (or amend), it's an ongoing education! Thanks. Here is what I have so far:

 

A

Acanthus - bears breeches

Achilla - yarrow- I've heard mixed results from people about chickens eating this, but it's said

to have health benefits so I say it's worth it.

Agapanthus

Agastache

Alchemilla - ladies mantel

Allium - On the toxic list, but haven't had any problems. Something to think about.

Alstroemeria

Amsonia

Anemone

Antirrhinum- Snapdragon

Artemisia- wormwood

Artichoke

Armeria - sea thrift

Aruncus - goat's beard

Astilbe

Aster

Aquilegia - columbine - Strictly speaking is toxic, but have never seen a chicken touch it. 

 

B

Bamboo - be careful, can be intrusive 

Baptisia

Bergenia

Blue spruce

Borage

Brunnera

Buddleia

Butterfly bush

C

Calendula

Camellia

Campanula

Caryopteris - Bluebeard

Celosia (cockscomb - I had to include this just for the name)

Centranthus ruber - Jupiter's beard

Centaurea

Chives

Chelone - Turtlehead

Chrysanthemum

Cilantro

Cimacifuga

Coleus

Columbine

Cosmos

Coreopsis

Cotinus - Smoke Bush

Crocosmia

Currents -red , flowering 

D

Dahlias

Daylily 

Dianthus

Dictamnus

E

Echinacea- coneflowers

Epimedium

F

Forsythia 

Ferns 

Fescue - Elijah Blue never gets looked at by my girls, even when little else is available.

Feverfew

Filipendula

G

Gailardia -blanket flower

Geranium

Grape Hyacinth 

H

Hakonechloa- (like other ornamental grasses, they will keep them trimmed if given access too early, but if protected till larger are left alone.) 

Heuchera

Hollyhocks

Honeysuckle (some have poisonous berries, some not. be careful.)

Humulus - Hops vine

I

Iberis - Candytuft

Iresine -blood leaf

Iris - the root is toxic, but I have never seen a chicken try to dig to get one

Impatients

J

Juniper 

K

Kniphofia -Torch lily

L

Lavender 

Leucanthemum -shasta daisy

Liatris

Ligularia 

Lamium

Lilac

Lisianthus

Lychnis coronaria, rose campion

M

Mandevilla

Magnolia

Mahonia japonica

Mertensia virginica - Virginia Bluebells

Mint

Monarda 

Muscari - grape hyacinth

Myrtle 

N

Nasturtium - They may nibble, but it's supposed to act as a natural wormer, so who cares!

Nepita

Nigella

O

Oregano

P

Pachysandra

Pansies

Perovskia - russian sage

Penstemons

Peony

Persicaria

Petunias

Phlomis

Phlox

Physocarpus - ninebark

Physostegia - obedience plant

Polemonium - Jacob's ladder

Pulmonaria 

R

Rose

Rosemary

Rudbeckia 

S

Salix integra Hakuro Nishiki - Variegated willow

Scabiosa

Sedum

Sempervivum - Hens and chicks (funnily enough)

Silene - campion

Spiraea 

Stachys - Lamb's Ear

Symphytum uplandicum - Variegated Russian comfrey

T

Thyme

Tiarella - foam flower

Tradescantia - spiderwort

Trollius

V

Verbena

Verbascum

Veronica

Viburnum

Violas 

W

Weigela florida - needs some protection from the girls when it's small

Y

Yarrow

 

Comments (45)

We just have a "yard" with a few lovely plants, but no real "garden." After reading this great little article I'm quite inspired though. Loved the photos too. (We also have quite a predator problem and I've encountered a huge hawk perched on top of the coop twice!)
I LOVE the idea of the poultry pasture!! What an awesome idea!! Thanks for sharing!! :)
Thank you so much for taking the time to post this info. For now, I'm doing research only with plans to start with 6 chicks and a double decker tractor in the spring. Am gleaning a lot of info from this site.
My chickens love the greens of my muscari but don't seem to eat the flowers...
Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
I thank you so much for this article.I've been looking for ideas and this gives me an outstanding start.If you don't mind I may have to get with you on how you did your calculations.Thanks again
You must have read my mind. My latest project is trying to design a chicken friendly garden. Too early to tell if it will be successful or not. This article will certainly increase the chances, though. Thanks so much!
Our yard is mostly dappled shade so we have lots of trees, shrubs,& mulch. The one sunny spot is devoted to a 20' x 25' fenced veggie patch. This spring i sowed a 20' x 20' area of morning sun/dappled shade with a chicken forage blend, and at first the girls ignored it for scratching in the mulch. Now they spend part of each free-range period (dinnertime - dusk) munching greens. They never seem (yet) to scratch in the 'pasture' for which I am grateful. So nice to be able to provide the girls with their own fresh greens. Another tip to keeping them out of an area is to wet it down well. Mine won't scratch in a wet area.
just FYI, mine have been chowing down on my lamb's ears lately...
Thank you, this is a great article. But you've listed Columbine as chicken proof on your list and the link you provided for toxic plants also lists it. "Aquilegia vulgaris (COLUMBINE); entire plant; cardiovascular system affected by plant toxins."
Thanks SgtPepper, I'll make a note of that.
Last year "something" kept eating my tomatoes. I thought it was a racoon 'til I caught my girls up to their waddles gorging themselves silly on my tomatoes (and lettuce.....and green bean sprouts!) I got pretty good at nailing them with dirt clods, but it wasn't enough to save my 'maters! This year we enclosed the plants that seem to be susceptible to chicken foraging with plastic poultry fencing. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200420651492353&set=pcb.10200420716333974&type=1&theater from Kencove http://www.kencove.com/fence/Plastic+Net+Fencing_products.php
They also offered an electric version, but I'm hoping this more economical choice will do the trick! We fastened it with zip ties to PVC sleeves that just fit over metal t-posts (My husband was concerned the metal t-posts would eventually rip the fence!) We over-lapped it about 8 inches and I fasten it by weaving a bamboo pole in and out. Easy access for watering and tilling. Hope it works like I'm envisioning!!
I don't mind them in the veggie garden. They don't seem to bother the taters, onions, peppers, etc. They do wreak havoc in my flower bed, but I guess I'm willing to put up with that!!
My mum would like this.
My hens love my cucumber plants.I planted cukes near the henhouse to crawl up the wire to kept it shaded in the afternoon and they enjoy trying to nibble the plants through the 1/4 gauge wire.They also love st augustine grass.They are awesome lawnmowers for around the henhouse area lol! I never have to weed eat there anymore.
Great article! I think it's worth mentioning to keep in mind that in the spring when there may not be much to pick from, somethings get eaten that normally would not. i.e. sprouts versus "adult" plants. And it is very true that one chicken's trash is another chicken's treasure. Some of the plants above my chickens have demolished!
Great article!
I noticed that you have Forsythia on the list in bold. Let's just say my chickens keep it well pruned. :P
I love this article.....will keep checking back from time to time. I was inspired by my girls last year to use PVC pipe and cover my veggie garden (25'x35') with a hoop house type idea that easily becomes a greenhouse with vapor barrier over it. I have fencing on all sides and the girls cant get in. They can range all over the acre lawn and have at 'er!! I like the list of pasture though. Will have to look into that when wanting to reseed areas that are not tip top!!
well done. like this quote from hoosiermamanow : Last year "something" kept eating my tomatoes.
Awesome article. I've bookmarked it for future reference. This is my first full summer with my chickens and I think this year, my garden boxes of veggies are going in the tractor so the girls can wander. Love the list and was excited to see that what little I do have around is somewhat bullet proof! You did a great job!!
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