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

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    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.


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    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
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    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 - Variegated Russian comfreyuplandicum
    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

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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!
  11. guineahen
    Like this idea so much that I'm gonna buiod a garden area in the chicken yard. That'll be fun!
  12. JLB
    Your article is so informative and helpful. The solution I came up with was a perimeter run around 3 sides of the yard leading from a pop-hole in the smaller chicken yard fence which surrounds the hen house. I sank 6" pvc pieces in the ground, inserted metal poles into them and attached green plastic chicken fencing to the poles with twist ties. This leaves the center of our backyard for patio, kitchen and herb gardens for human activity and the girls have plenty dust bathing/foraging space in the run. Our dry climate doesn't allow for lawn, but at least they have plenty of dirt to scratch in.
    I tried planting a meadow, fenced it off while things sprouted. When the grasses were a few inches high I let the hens in, but they gobbled it up within just a few days! Any helpful hints most appreciated!
  13. adgcountrygirl
    We have a vegetable garden, and we wait until the squash and okra are about knee-high or taller. Until then, the chickens stay in the fenced in yard away from the garden.
  14. Dook
    My girls will find their way into anything if they wanted too! They figured out pushing chicken wire will bring them closer to yummy plants.. and sometimes I'd find someone inside the vegie garden.. regardless of the fence! I ended up making an extra high fence with bird netting on top! (and a door for me to go in)
    They also strangely LOVE sunflower leaves!
    All other plants have bird wire fencing.. I don't trust them not digging up my plants =P
  15. patricium
    sigh. I deleted my post because I saw two of them. Now I see none, so I'll rewrite and hope I'm not further embarassing myself. ;-)
    I mentioned tree rings AKA mulch mats, which are circular mats of mulch-like stuff you can put around your young trees and shrubs. They keep the chickens form digging away near the trunk and exposing the tender new roots.
  16. new chick 203
    Great tip patricium, can't wait to try that.
  17. Librarising62
    I have a very small garden that is entirely fenced in ( about 80'x 80' ) and only recently incorporated chickens into the landscape. I spent 6 years planting many herbs and perennials so will give a list of the plants and the plants my hens love to eat.
    Anise Hyssop- Will not touch
    Daffodils- will not touch
    Tulips- ate the new leaves, no tulips this year. Probably none for next year either as they need the leaves for food for the following season.
    Grape hyacinth- did not touch
    Hyacinth-ate the new buds
    Roses- have not touched
    Lavender- ate it to the ground
    Honeysuckle ( volunteer )- they love the blossoms and leaves
    Hollyhock- have not touched...so far.
    Yarrow- ate it the ground
    Lemon Thyme- ate it to the ground
    Monarda-nibble on it
    Chives- don't touch it
    German Chamomile- enjoy nibbling on it
    Strawberries- what can I say? They mow it like a Husqvarna.
    Blackberries- They will strip this vine bare!
    Pennyroyal- tried it....immediately wiped their beak on the ground. Guess it means they do not like it.
    Butterfly bush- have not touched it so far due to the old growth sticking up out of the ground like woody swords.
    sweet pea vine- ate the thing to the ground but it is on the rebound and they have not touched it since.
    Allium- won't touch
    Sweet William- won't touch
    Valerian- won't touch
    Hosta- eat only certain hostas but leave others alone.
    Salvia- won't touch it
    Cardinal Flower- won't touch it
    Peppermint- tried but did not like
    Spearmint- won't touch it
    Rudbeckia- won't touch it
    Phlox- won't touch it
    Echinacea- like the leavesLilac- ate the leavesHerbs help to keep hens healthy so I will be planting those that are said specifically to aid in digestion and over all good health. So far, they have been some happy, happy hens with a combination of organic feed, herbs, kitchen scraps and even bird seed. Hope that this list helped some and thanks to new chick 203 for the great pictures and info.
  18. jessiedog@westnet.com.au
    I've made raised garden beds from cut down water tanks (no dig gardens). They stand about 50cms off ground, however my chooks can jump that high. I've now curled plastic netting around and over the gardens. This has stopped all..including ducks and geese. Just have to keep the water up. Also, I planted wheat in two empty runs and plan to open one at a time for "chick treats."
    When I'm digging up clumps of "Buffel Grass" I lob it into the runs and the chooks love turning it over for grubs etc.
    I love reading everyone's hints. Keep them coming. In Aust we have a song about a Redback (spider) on the toilet seat. My profile is one of my "Isa's" on the toilet roll basket!
  19. Victoria-nola
    My chickens (EEs) don't touch basil, or if they do it's a tiny bite now and again.
  20. clarkechick
    I just read in the list of dangerous plants the creeping Charlie has "volitile oils". This stuff grows as a weed in my lawn where my ladies free range regularly. Do I need to be worried? I intentionally skip the weed killers or any chemicals in the fenced area for my girls. I'm not sure how Id ever get rid of it.
  21. Scott H
    Our girls leave the Bishops Weed alone even when it was just little sprouts in the spring. I think it's listed as toxic on the list. Also Hostas are not touched by birds or now by slugs. : - D
  22. Cissy48
    Great article. Well written and beautiful photos.
    I raise my chickens in a Permaculture environment with organic feed and free range.
    Because I mix my perennial and annual edibles it is a chore to keep the Girls out of trouble.
    A friend brought me a a huge load of untrimmed bamboo from his collection. It has come in handy for many things but what may have been the 'waste' is now my salvation.
    I cut the small skinny side shoots (which would normally be thrown out) and make 'fences' around delicate plantings. I simply stick them in the ground close together and it is so annoying to them that no matter what delicacy is within it is left alone.
    These pieces are skinny little things way smaller than a pencil.
    Well.....it does the trick and now I am free to plant whatever I want wherever I want.
    Thank you for being here BYC!
  23. Chickielady
    Great article....and no I do not mind a bit that my photo (Blue Copper Marans in my garden) was used on the carousel !
    I allow my birds to get in the garden almost year round, by making small 'tunnel' of fence wire bent over as you would a hoop house.
    This allows the birds to roam the aisles, but not get into the vegetables.
    Good writing job !
  24. TeriS
    I have motion detector sprinklers at my gardens and that keeps the chickens out of my garden for the most part- that way I don't need to fence in the garden and can still let the chickens free range. Before we had the sprinklers, they ate everything in the garden.....and they loved the tomatoes!
  25. AmericanBresse
    Nice information
  26. DawnB
    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!!
  27. latebloomer
    well done. like this quote from hoosiermamanow : Last year "something" kept eating my tomatoes.
  28. lindsay297
    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!!
  29. Lolipop
    Great article!
    I noticed that you have Forsythia on the list in bold. Let's just say my chickens keep it well pruned. :p
  30. 5PinkBunnies
    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!
  31. TREX
    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.
  32. TXchickmum
    Great article!!
  33. youngchooklover
    My mum would like this.
  34. hoosiermamanow
    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!!
  35. new chick 203
    Thanks SgtPepper, I'll make a note of that.
  36. SgtPepper
    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."
  37. lawatt
    just FYI, mine have been chowing down on my lamb's ears lately...
  38. The Kibble Goddess
    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.
  39. monteverde
    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!
  40. trooper
    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
  41. BYC Project Manager
    Congratulations! Your article is now featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to our BYC Article Writing Contest.
  42. GoldDogsMom
    My chickens love the greens of my muscari but don't seem to eat the flowers...
  43. lazy gardener
    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.
  44. BtownChickMom
    I LOVE the idea of the poultry pasture!! What an awesome idea!! Thanks for sharing!! :)
  45. we5
    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!)

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