You want your chickens to range free without restrictions. Indeed, it’s the best scenario for them, and it’s what nature originally intends.
But, if your plans also include a well-manicured lawn, flowers, and a big, beautiful vegetable garden, you may need to re-think things. Chickens have two natural habits that can be detrimental to your landscape and garden: scratching and dusting. If you have lush green grass or bountiful gardens, be aware that chickens can, and likely will, wreak havoc.
On the up side, chickens love to eat bugs! Letting chickens free-range for a restricted time period around your garden and house can dramatically reduce the numbers of ticks, ants, snails, slugs, and other common pests on your property. Fencing can control when the chickens have access to various areas.
Chickens and Gardens
It’s usually best to keep chickens out of the garden when you are sowing seeds or transplanting new growth. They may accidentally scratch the new seeds or, worse, intentionally dig them up. They enjoy sprouts, so they may also eat new growth. When your garden is producing, chickens may interfere with the growth and may also try to peck bugs off plants or decide to have a taste of your tomatoes.
Chickens will rarely bother established trees, shrubs, or plants, and you can set wire mesh around new trees or plants to protect them. On the other hand, raised beds are chicken magnets as the chicken may think they are ideal dusting spots. They may also consider spots like strawberry beds to be a gourmet meal stop.
Ornamental fencing around the beds will generally deter the chicken from exploring them, but wire mesh may be better to protect plants like strawberries.
Chickens can fly and often do. Even if you have installed a six-foot fence, your chicken can get over it. (I speak from experience!)
If you’d rather not have your chickens hopping the garden fence or visiting your neighbors, clipping their wings is a reasonable solution. Contrary to popular beliefs by those outside the chicken-raising world, clipping a chicken’s wings is not painful for the chicken. The process entails using shears to trim back the first ten flight feathers of one of the chicken’s wings. The bird will then not have the balance needed for flight, but will not be hindered or restricted in any other way.
Clipping does have to be done regularly. Perform about once per year, as feathers molt and new ones grow in.
Chickens and Pets
Household pets can also complicate your chicken’s free-range capabilities. Chickens will cohabit with cats and dogs, although cats may go after baby chicks and some dogs will consider them tasty snacks.
Ideally, you should introduce dogs and cats to chickens when they are puppies and kittens. This way, they will view them as part of your family.
Still, it may be wise to have an enclosed run if you have dogs. Even when they are raised around baby chicks or introduced to the baby chicks as soon as they hatch, dogs may still try to snack on your chickens or will play roughly with them. It is simply in the dog’s nature to do so.
Cats and dogs will often eat chicken feed too. You will need to devise a plan to keep the food separated from your pets. Dogs are also known for developing a taste for fresh eggs once they discover them, so another benefit of a fenced-in run is that it will keep your dogs from getting to the eggs before you do!
Once you have a plan to keep your chickens out of the garden, the next step is to design your dream garden. We have plenty of garden articles on Rural Mom to help get you started!
Want more information on raising chickens, organic gardening and setting up your sustainable homestead? Check out Barb Webb’s new book – Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving – with Over 100 Recipes!