Gardening with chickens is a journey of its own and there’s a lot of information available about the do’s and don’ts when it comes to raising chickens.
On our farm we directed all efforts with a natural environment and everything as green as it gets because we actually let our chickens roam.
I currently have a small flock of six chickens.
They’re an independent group of gals with freedom to move and do as they please within 4 acres of fenced land.
These hens have been here for over a year which means they’ve discovered they’re favorite places to relax, find bugs, make dust baths and even uncovered where to gather for treats from the kitchen.
Basically they’ve figured out this farm and how it works.
Sometimes they might even think they’re in charge but this quickly changes when the emus chase them out of their pasture.
They spend the day roaming and if I’m outdoors you can bet they’re not far behind.
They also enjoy time in the garden, mostly during planting and bug season; this would be from March – November.
From the beginning we always free ranged our chickens to reduce the bug population and we knew with this lifestyle they would always be healthier.
Chickens are Born Grazers
Chickens are born grazers this is why they’re excellent at free ranging. The problem is they don’t just want to eat bugs. If you want to garden with chickens make a note of these things.
- They Love annuals, keep pansies and petunias out of their reach because they will eat them down to the base in a matter of minutes.
- Always cover new seedlings they will either eat them or trample while bug hunting.
- Plant in tight rows – this makes it difficult to trample plants, but not impossible.
- If you decide to supplement their diet with garden vegetable and fruits make sure to feed these treats in slices far away from the garden. Chickens will recognize them if fed in the garden and begin to feast off your harvest.
When it comes to feeding chickens from the garden I normally wait until about June or even July. The goal is to have them focused on bugs because they’re here to help out.
They’re always looking for bugs; the hunt never ends.
Hiding From Hot and Cold Weather
Texas heat can be intense during July and August; chickens will always seek places to hide. This means during planting season they’ll roam between tall plants like basil and zinnia to get shade.
If the soil is moist they’ll nestle down to rest and sometimes even dust themselves off. You can’t always avoid this behavior because free range chickens do what they want.
The possibility to detour these events is easy by allowing resting places for shade, like underneath a bench or potting table.
Many times by adding a water container near these shady areas it will redirect their journey.
During cooler months they won’t bother much with the raised beds because they’ll probably be empty. If the soil is moist, they shall help till and fertilize.
On our farm the Chicken coop is an acre away from my garden so they have to think outside the box for shelter when bad weather arrives during the day.
Remember those shady places you used in the spring and summer? During the cold and rain they become places for protection.
Mulch and Chickens
This year I changed my mulch efforts to using hay. Even though this flock still enjoys sifting for bugs it’s a lot easier to gather the hay back up and put back where it belongs.
When chickens fling wood mulch it gets lost in the ground which means constant replacing, this requires additional labor and expense to maintain your garden.
The hay was a good solution and one that I will continue to implement.
Good Plants and Bad Plants
There are many plants that can be harmful to chickens; this is true for all animals including humans. Harmful plants put off a warning scent; this is like a radar to stay away.
I’ve never had issues because our chickens just seem to trust their instincts as they travel through the garden and pastures.
Covered Raised Bed
Finally another good save for gardening with chickens is the covered raised bed. I use these for fall planting and they work like a charm.
These two beds can be planted without worry of the chickens ripping out new seedlings. This also keeps them from feasting because chickens love fall crops and they’ll peck continuously.
Gardening with chickens can be exciting when everything goes according to plan. It can also be frustrating when things go in the opposite direction.
If you decide to include chickens in your space get creative.
If you really don’t want them in the garden all the time then simply install a 5 ft. fence with wired walls so they can only get in when their invited.