Are you dreaming of chickens helping you in your garden? There are many benefits to adding chickens to your garden, but be sure to look at the cons as well! Learn to truth about adding chickens to your garden!
Pros and Cons of Adding Chickens to Your Garden
After my first year of owning chickens, I decided I wanted to incorporate them into my garden. I’ve come across books about raising chickens in actual gardens, and how beneficial they can be to crops due to their manure, pest control, and aeration techniques.
Images of my chooks co-existing in my flower beds and helping me produce the juiciest tomatoes flooded my daydreams while I researched and planned my little backyard paradise.
I quickly learned that while chickens provide a lot of benefits for a garden, the images in my dreams were a little far-fetched.
Let me share with you some pros and cons of having chickens in the garden.
1. Chickens Could Care Less About Flowers
Chickens love vegetation…period. And when I set out to plant a natural landscape full of wildflowers and perennials, I was devastated to find them quickly picked apart.
Didn’t my chickens know I didn’t want them to eat those flowers? Of course not, and how would they?
2. Chickens Don’t Care About Expensive Mulch
Well actually, they love mulch…they love to scratch it to find grubs and bugs, and even worse, they love to take dust baths in the ground underneath it.
In one area of the yard, it looked like a level 5 tornado blew through and scattered my artistic landscape to the winds, i.e. rocks in the yard--and in my lawnmower’s blades.
3. Those Fresh Veggies….Mmmm mmmm.
If you are anything like me, you can’t wait to give your chickens your veggie table scraps. It’s entertaining to watch them squabble over the treats and those juicy tomatoes or watermelon rinds.
So, when you see them attacking those same fresh goodies in your garden, don't be confused. They already have had a taste of their favorite treats, right from your kitchen table, and now they just want to head to the buffet for more.
4. Leave My Seeds, Please
Chicken lovers and non-chicken lovers alike all rave about the amazing benefits of chicken manure and compost as fabulous fertilizer for gardens.
What they don’t often say is that our beloved birds enjoy freshly sown seeds just as much as they do the ripened vegetables and fruit at harvest time. Yup, chickens can destroy a garden before it even starts flourishing.
All those hot days spent hoeing and planting in the sun were for naught.
So, can chickens be beneficial to gardens? Absolutely!
If managed appropriately chickens can be very beneficial to your garden. The lovely dream I had of creating a paradise-like ecosystem that would be self-sustaining just wasn’t doable, but there are ways to allow chickens to do their job without being destructive.
Let’s take a look at the benefits:
So, you want to use that crazy-good nitrogen-packed compost to fertilize your garden?
Since chicken manure must be composted prior to application, save it up, compost and rotate it for about four to six months before application.
Alternatively, once you have harvested all of your veggies in the fall, allow your chickens to have at your garden’s leftovers. They will fertilize, scratch and till your garden for the following year.
2. No Tiller Needed
I don’t know about you, but my least favorite gardening task is tilling. Well, in case you didn’t know, when chickens scratch and peck at the earth, they are naturally turning it, aerating it, and loosening the soil.
While using your chickens to aerate prior to planting will take more time, it does save on the expense of a tiller. Additionally, they will naturally fertilize as they go.
Confine your chickens to the area you would like them to aerate, and give them at least 6 weeks to naturally till a 40 to 50 square foot garden.
A method I have used for this is building a mobile chicken coop that has a chicken run and it can be moved over sections of the garden.
I used free chicken coop plans online to build it and I now use this mobile coop to prepare my watermelon patches!
3. Weeds and Fallen Fruit
Weeding a garden is tedious and usually leaves gardeners with a lot of waste. Between the weeds and the fallen fruit, you have a nice salad bar for your chickens.
Whether you are throwing your weeds out of the garden, or your leftovers from the kitchen table, your chickens will happily take what's left. They will pick through all of your “trash” and eat what they like, which in turn will provide you with more delicious breakfast eggs.
To keep your chickens out of your garden you can try fencing and poultry netting. Chickens will find ways in, so having a secure fence, will help deter them.
If fencing in your garden isn’t your thing, you can also try planting herbs that are unappealing to chickens around the border of your garden, like oregano. Sometimes the smell of these herbs is enough to keep your chickens moving.
4. Pest Control
When I first started dreaming of my chicken garden, I wanted them to destroy potato bugs, which I had been plagued with year after year. Luckily, chickens love potato bugs, unfortunately, they don’t know where the potato plant stops and the tomato plant starts.
They also keep scratching deep into the earth, looking for more of the good things they crave, so much for my potatoes.
The best way to use chickens to rid your garden of pests is to allow them to have at it prior to planting. During this time, you can confine them to the garden where they can aerate, eat pests, and fertilize.
Once you are ready to plant, it’s time for them to move on. But…you better believe that they will remember all those fun little morsels they uncovered in your garden and will want to return for more. Fencing may come in handy at this point.
As you can see, a self-sustaining garden with chickens are a little far-fetched, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work around the obstacles and still use the best parts of my chickens to grow a plentiful garden.
All it takes is a little planning and maneuvering, and I can take my garden to the next level. Not to mention that left over or unappealing vegetables goes straight to the chickens giving me healthy strong eggs.
And, hey, why not create a little paradise for my chooks in an area that is not my garden. They can still enjoy fresh vegetation and 5-start dust baths on the other end of the yard.
While my original paradise may not be obtainable, other little gardens of nature can still be provided for my chickens. And, when they get called up for garden duty, they can still play a role in those juicy tomatoes for my perfect BLT in the fall.