Sharing the garden with my three chickens is a love-hate relationship. They are amazing workers in the right situation, I love having them roam around and they can make some chores a breeze, but at other times…ooh, they are nothing short of a nightmare. However I have some handy tips I have found along the way that let us all share the garden in relative peace.
But first let me introduce you to the ladies I have three speckled rock chickens. They're a few years old now so the eggs come few and far between but I love the company around the garden. They aren’t the friendliest breed, they are not the type to sit on my lap for a stroke like some breeds we have had in the past but they do love company too and can be like three little shadows following me around and scratching the ground under my feet.
The chief of the pack is Ginger, her namesake the lead escapee in Chicken Run because we hadn’t had her more than 30seconds before her first escape attempt in the boot of the car. She’s quite settled now though and happy to stay around.
If you keep your chickens in the coup or run permanently you might not come across all these problems but you might be missing out on some benefits too!
1. Chickens are amazing when it comes to turning over and digging in soil. If you have an area of ground you want to clear, or if you are applying some fresh compost you want to work into your soil. Don’t do the hard work yourself, let your chickens help! Most chickens will get to work on any bare soil and will happily turn it over for you. If there’s an area you want to clear and you have a mobile run, great, move to the despised area and the chickens will make short work of it, alternatively you could fence an area in and let the girls go to work for a while.
2. However chicks in your bare soil can also be a nightmare for direct sowing or small seedlings. There are a number of ways to get around this depending on what materials you have available in your garden. I use a combination of chicken wire and netting propped off the ground. This stops the chickens from scratching around and with the sides pinned down they can't get underneath either. Alternatively ground cover matting is a great deterrent for beds that aren't yet planted.
3. It's not just the smaller plants that can have a rough time with chickens, anything with fresh green shoots is a potential target. A favourite of my hens are the potted hostas on the patio, they love to sun themselves on the steps and have a nibble as they go but by wrapping the pots with any stiff fabric and raising the sides above chicken height it allows the plants to establish without worry until they are big enough to be less appetising. Here I have used a combination of bubble wrap and some stiff cloths I use in place of fleece in the winter.
4. Pest control. I have my own personal pest patrol. Although chickens are a little destructive at times they are a wonder at keeping different pests at bay. Unfortunately my girls may be partial to the odd worm or earwig but they also love a caterpillar and occasionally a slug and catch all sorts I miss. But a word of caution, if you're using pesticides be careful in those that may harm your chickens or other pets if ingested.
5. Lastly, I had a nightmare last summer in keeping my plants in the ground. If I left big spaces between plants the freshly dug soil would be too much temptation for the girls and a few minutes of scratching would leave my new plants back on the lawn. Netting isn’t always practical or pretty for larger flower beds but one way of avoiding this is planting in groups and slightly closer than you might normally. Space = space for dust bathing so bare this in mind. If you need to leave space between plants, old pots or broken pottery pieces laid on the soil are much less interesting to the chicks and will allow your plants to be left in peace until they are more well established and can even become a striking feature in itself.