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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...
  1. new chick 203


    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:

    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.
    Alchemilla - ladies mantel
    Allium - On the toxic list, but haven't had any problems. Something to think about.
    Antirrhinum- Snapdragon
    Artemisia- wormwood
    Armeria - sea thrift
    Aruncus - goat's beard

    Aquilegia - columbine - Strictly speaking is toxic, but have never seen a chicken touch it.
    Bamboo - be careful, can be intrusive
    Blue spruce
    Butterfly bush
    Caryopteris - Bluebeard
    Celosia (cockscomb - I had to include this just for the name)
    Centranthus ruber - Jupiter's beard
    Chelone - Turtlehead

    Cotinus - Smoke Bush
    Currents -red ,
    Echinacea- coneflowers
    Fescue - Elijah Blue never gets looked at by my girls, even when little else is available.

    Gailardia -blanket flower
    Grape Hyacinth
    Hakonechloa- (like other ornamental grasses, they will keep them trimmed if given access too early, but if protected till larger are left alone.)
    Honeysuckle (some have poisonous berries, some not. be careful.)

    Humulus - Hops vine
    Iberis - Candytuft
    Iresine -blood leaf
    Iris - the root is toxic, but I have never seen a chicken try to dig to get one

    Kniphofia -Torch lily
    Leucanthemum -shasta daisy

    Lychnis coronaria, rose campion
    Mahonia japonica
    Mertensia virginica - Virginia Bluebells

    Muscari - grape hyacinth
    Nasturtium - They may nibble, but it's supposed to act as a natural wormer, so who cares!
    Perovskia - russian sage

    Physocarpus - ninebark
    Physostegia - obedience plant
    Polemonium - Jacob's ladder
    Salix integra Hakuro Nishiki - Variegated willow
    Sempervivum - Hens and chicks
    (funnily enough)
    Silene - campion
    Stachys - Lamb's Ear
    Symphytum - Variegated Russian comfreyuplandicum
    Tiarella - foam flower
    Tradescantia - spiderwort


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

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  1. CarolynF
    An update to my post from last month -- they seem to be leaving the Nandina alone. And daffodil leaves.

    I've found that they work their way down their yummy-list. When they had pretty much finished off things at the top of their list to just kept going, leaving the least desirable to the last, but then pecking even those. I've been using empty pots to place over the tops of plants that need protecting when they are out foraging in that area.
  2. new chick 203
    Kaatje64, I have some Lily of the Valley too, but my girls haven't ever shown an interest. It just shows that a list can be a starting point, but as they say on the cosmetic ads, "results may vary".
  3. Kaatje64
    they eat the leaves of the lily-of-the-valley, supposed to be very toxic, but so far nothing happened. I can't keep my eye on them all the time. At first they didn't look at them, too much going on, so I thought they were smart enough not to eat it. But a few days later... I caught them eating it. Nothing happened so far. So I hope it will stay that way.
  4. CarolynF
    Thanks for making this list and sharing it! I'm just now converting part of our back-backyard to a chicken+people hangout and I want to use plants that will be pleasing and durable for all of us. Your list has really helped, thank you!

    Have you tried Nandina (aka heavenly bamboo)?
  5. new chick 203
    too true nuzzymom1. That list even has clover, which is really a poultry staple. Even water is bad in large quantities. you just have to use common sense.
  6. nuzzymom1
    I noticed tons of the above mentioned plants on the toxic list of the site you provided a link for. But, it seems everything is toxic in one way or another.
  7. atira
    I have learned so much in the past 18 or so months about chickens. I made wire cloches similar to the ones I use in the garden to protect plants as small runs for my hens. I would place the cloches over the area where I was having the most problem with undesirable insects and would place up to 4 hens under the cloches along with a waterer. Worksed really fantastic...for me it was a win-win situation.
  8. new chick 203
    JLB - What you describe is called a chicken moat. I've always wanted one. It creates a barrier where all the weed seeds and bugs get eaten before they reach the interior garden. I've heard of people having one and having great crops while neighbors were left with nothing after invasions by plant eating bugs such as locusts. Well done!
  9. JLB
    Don't think my comment went through. Love this article and have been dealing with this creative problem for years, as I am an avid food gardener. What we ended up doing was making a perimeter run around most of the yard, leaving the kitchen garden and human patio spaces in the center. The run is fenced with plastic poultry fencing, pvc sleeves in the ground with metal poles inserted into them. The girls have the run of this run all day - it leads back to their smaller, more secure roofed chicken yard and hen house. I let them out in the kitchen garden/human spaces occasionally, with supervision.
  10. MainStChicks
    Thank you all for this valuable information. This is my first spring with My Ladies, and I know they are very upset that they can't into the gated garden area right now. I hope to let them in when the plants are bigger. We did use bird nettings on two beds in the yard area on tobacco sticks to let the beans, corn and sunflowers get started. On another bed with beets and carrots we put chicken wire around it with tobacco sticks to support it. The Ladies get really upset when anyone goes inside to weed or add more seed. I can't wait until they can start helping out! But this is really great information. Thank you again!

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