Topic of the Week - Gardening with Chickens

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by sumi, Nov 13, 2016.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    As most of us who free range their flocks know, gardens and chickens don't always coexist happily! Chickens eat plants, dig holes for dust bathing, etc. But they can be beneficial for the garden as well, by means of fertilising the soil with their droppings and taking care of bugs and slugs. This week I would like to hear you all's thoughts on everything garden and chickens. Specifically:

    - How do you chicken proof your garden (I.e. minimise damage done to plants etc by free rangers)?
    - What plants do chickens not eat?
    - Composting with chickens?

    For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here:
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
  2. k101

    k101 New Egg

    Nov 13, 2016
    Hi. I have 7 main garden beds in my chook yard. 2 grow cassava which the chickens love the root but it also provides excellent shade and hiding cover from bigger birds.
    I have another garden that grows something called cow pea. It has a sweet little yellow flowers. The chickens leave it alone but it's soft so they like sitting on it. 2 beds are fenced off with chicken wire because we are growing some clucker tucker which is a mix of greens for the chooks. When it's big enough we'll let them into a bed and it will only take a couple of days for it all to be gone but thats ok. We have some native trees growing in another garden. They are fenced because out teenage chooks kept digging at them. Lastly I have a garden 2/3 is a sunflower garden with about 4 different varieties and the other is a wild flower garden. It is also fenced put we have put our baby chicks in there when we were fixing their cage.
  3. SueT

    SueT Overrun With Chickens

    May 27, 2015
    SW MO
    I put my small plants under cages, some are my former chicken tunnel sections. Lettuce stays in cages all year. There are plenty of plants the chickens are not interested in eating and won't harm once the plants are about a foot tall--okra, peppers, squash, potatoes, green beans, basil, eggplant, cabbage family, etc. They do nibble on kale and parsley, but it's good for them and I plant enough for everyone. Tomatoes had 2' high mesh around the base, which keeps the chickens from eating the fruit. I had less bugs this past season than ever before and I attribute that to the chickens (thus the reason for removing the cages once the plants are big enough). Due to predators this fall, I may not be letting the hens out to free range any more, but I would like to let them into the garden because I feel they are such a big plus.
    The tunnels become mini-greenhouses in winter, with covers to keep out cold (and the wild critters as well. ) As for compost, the chickens like to dig it up, it needs to be in a contained area if you don't want it spread all over.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
    2 people like this.
  4. Trish1974

    Trish1974 Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 16, 2016
    North Central IN
    My Coop
    I've done the opposite of SueT, instead of enclosing my plants I have enclosed my chickens! I made this portable chicken pen not only to keep my chickens safe while grazing (I live on 19 acres of wooded river bottom; you can imagine my predator load!) and so I can put them to work exactly where I need them. In addition to eating bugs they eat weed seeds, scratch up the weeds by the roots, and deposit their wonderful fertilizer in my soil. Yesterday I put them in an area of the garden I let get away from me (my garden in 50 x 60, so pretty hard to keep up with in regards to weeds), their pen is 4' wide x 8' long and the partially dead weeds they were working were at least a foot tall. I moved them 40 minutes later and what was left I could easily rake up and haul off. Underneath all those weeds were three onions bulbs I guess I forgot to pull that were turning green and starting to come up again. The girls didn't touch them.

    This is them in the tractor heading out to the garden.
    2 people like this.
  5. sjturner79

    sjturner79 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 5, 2015
    South Australia
  6. Trish1974

    Trish1974 Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 16, 2016
    North Central IN
    My Coop
    In reference to my earlier post, here is a picture of a section of the row before the chickens worked it for 40 mins, and a picture after. I did lightly run a rake over the top to clear the weeds they uprooted.


  7. melishkia

    melishkia Out Of The Brooder

    May 26, 2016

    We just have a fence around the garden, this is an old picture from spring. I can unlatch one side and climb in, no fancy gate or anything but it keeps them out!

    The couple times I let them inside, they destroyed all the plants.
  8. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    My flock varies in size from 40ish (including chicks and cockrels in the summer) to 17 for the winter. I initially got chickens specifically for the benefit they would provide to my gardening. They are kept OUT of the garden during the growing season, and are encouraged to be in the garden after the harvest.

    - How do you chicken proof your garden (I.e. minimise damage done to plants etc by free rangers)? The garden is currently surrounded with cattle panel for a permanent fence (to differentiate MY garden from HUBBY'S lawn) During the growing season, I wrap CP with deer netting. Chickens bounce off it a few times, but are not smart enough to realize that they can fly over the netting. When I am able to let them out to free range (all depending on predator activity, hawks which are the primary issue) they have free rein over the entire yard, including the orchard.

    - What plants do chickens not eat? I really don't know what they won't eat. If it's something I don't want them eating, and they are eating it or otherwise destroying it, I put a fence around it.

    - Composting with chickens? ABSOLUTELY! Primarily accomplished with deep litter in both coop and run. In the coop, I've found that dry leaves are the absolute best bedding for DL. Bee Kissed is the queen of DL in the coop. But, she has the advantage of having a soil floor in her coop, which IMO makes all the difference between a true successful DL compost in the coop, and a "wanna-be" DL (which is what I have). She is able to keep her DL nice and moist, and it has the benefit of all of the beneficial microbes, fungi, and insects to create that nice black humusy compost. I fear letting my DL get damp enough to actually do a good compost in the coop. While I have a solid vinyl over the plywood, and the structural framing is painted, I fear that a moist DL will cause rot to the building. But, I can say that leaves, with the occasional addition of grass clippings, do not have issues with ammonia build up the way shavings have in the past. Several times/year, I open up the clean out door under the perches, and take out all of the old litter in that half of the coop. The litter in the front section then gets moved back under the perches, and I add an other batch of leaves. Goal is to keep enough leaves on hand to not need to buy shavings.

    The run is where the compost magic happens. My run is 500 s.f. of compost heaven. It has a gentle slope. My goal is to have a 6" layer of DL on the ground at all times. I dump many cart loads of wood chips, garden debris, grass clippings, leaves, and what ever else I can get my hands on in the door at the highest end of the coop. The birds work it thoroughly and it eventually gets moved down to the back end of the run to mix in with the litter removed from the coop. I have yet to harvest compost from the run, but it is rich, black, and spongy, with small chunks of wood chips mixed in. When I do harvest, I expect to make a sifter so the chunky stuff can be left behind. An other goal is to make a door at this end of the run, so I can put the raw ingredients in the upper side, and take finished compost out the lower side.

    As for the rest of my yard: I'm a strong proponent of Back to Eden gardening, and am currently converting my garden to that method. Have been following Ruth Stout gardening methods for many years. IMO, bare soil is neglected soil! Planted a BTE orchard in 2015. Currently working on Hugelkulture mound. Saw an incredible yield from the 12' completed section this season. Any where I want the flock to concentrate their digging efforts, I simply toss a handful of scratch. Their little nuggets provide fantastic amendments to all of these areas.

    Future plans: Build some tunnels similar to the ones shown by Trish to allow limited garden access next year. I envision sliding panels at lower level of CP to allow access to a tunnel which can be moved between garden beds within the garden foot print.

    You might enjoy this guy. I know every time I watch him, he just makes me smile all the way to my toes:
  9. cstronks

    cstronks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 12, 2013
    New Jersey
    Basically gardening with chickens is a giant gamble. Some birds are less interested in what you are growing while other birds are eager to try anything and everything that your garden has to offer. Leafy greens are always a victim to chickens - I've never grown lettuces, spinach, or kales without chickens feasting on it. Tomatoes can do ok with chickens depending on the size/variety/maturity of the plant. Usually chickens won't get too ambitious in gardens so a tall tomato plant can hold its own.

    My suggestion would be this - protect any plants in a garden where you are planning to allow chickens. You can't really control what they will eat or know what bird will become adventurous and chew down your crops. Best of luck!!
  10. harmesonfarm

    harmesonfarm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 7, 2015
    Nanaimo, BC
    -How do you chicken proof your garden (I.e. minimize damage done to plants etc by free rangers)?
    We have our main garden fenced off or in hoop houses. We allow the chickens to free-range about the orchard and yard area near the end of the day, usually 2-3 hours before close-up time. This allows them to forage for bugs, eat their greens and eat fallen fruits as well this ensures they lay their eggs in the nesting box area earlier in the day.

    - What plants do chickens not eat?
    I find this varies with each of our chickens...but I do find that most do not eat pine/evergreens (though I have had a few that do), some herbs like lavender, rosemary, bay, etc. Some herbs like parsley and thyme and chives they would snack on every once in a while but never decimate. Rather, they pretty much would dig them up instead of eat them. Rhodos they seem to enjoy for shelter rather than food. I will be doing more planting this year for the yard area, so we will see next year what they do not eat, better.

    - Composting with chickens?
    I do a deep litter method in our chicken run. I find this reduces the mud for our winter months, as well as composts everything nicely. We also have a separate compost area as well, we just have it contained with wire. We do this for leaf mulch as well. I add our veg and fruit scraps into the run, so i find with the deep litter method it composts those items better and faster.
    I turn / freshen the run with new pine shavings from the coop once a month when i do a clean out. At this point I'm thinking I will take what we have in the run, and move it to the compost pile before I refreshen. I will do this so that in the spring when we use this for our garden, there is not too much new poop mixed in and I don't have to go about digging as deeply so much.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2016

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by