Are you thinking of getting backyard chickens, but worried about whether they’ll destroy your garden?
Don’t worry! The great news is that chickens can be very beneficial to your garden. They are inquisitive and bring great benefits – but you do need to learn how to have them coexist with your plants!
While there are some things you need to be aware of, there are plenty of reasons beyond fresh eggs and fun company to keep a backyard flock. They can actually be “put to work” in your garden with some planning and adaptability on your part.
So, how do chickens help your garden?
Benefits of Chickens in the Garden
- Fertilizer – stinky as it is, there is a reason so many people purchase chicken poop to fertilize their gardens. Add it to your compost. It is a good fertilizer as it is well balanced, containing Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
- Bug Control – chickens are enthusiastic bug controllers. Their appetite for slugs, worms, and other bugs is insatiable and they can help keep your garden slug, beetle, bug, and snail free. With chickens, you don’t need to use harmful pesticides.
- Weed Control – chickens will pull up weeds and weed seeds from around established plants – no more chemical weedkillers!
- The general well being of your lawn and garden – chickens will dig plenty of beak-sized holes in soft soil – this can be a blessing and a curse, but it is great for aerating your soil. They will help shred your compost, mix your soil, and pick goodies out of it too. This means improved soil quality.
- Garden Cleanup – after you harvest your garden, chickens will clean up leftovers, including fallen fruit.
Are There any Drawbacks of Having Chickens in Your Garden?
For all the good they do, chickens will move your mulch and peck at your plants (and possibly pluck them out). You can rely on chickens to:
- Create a dust bath in garden beds
- Pull up seedlings
- Eat freshly sown seeds straight from the soil
- Strip leaves and flowers from plants
- Eat new fruit
With a sense of humor, this can initially be entertaining, but it will wear thin pretty quickly! So you do need to know how to protect garden plants from chickens.
- Mulch around newly planted flowers, vegetable plants, and herbs with large, flat stones
- Fence individual flower beds or vegetable gardens in with chicken wire to keep your birds out.
- Eliminate toxic plants from the areas which your chickens can access. Relocate and replant any species of plant which is hazardous to chickens and which you wish to keep.
- Create “time zones” in your garden and have plants that produce at the same time planted together. Allow your birds access at times when they will do little damage – and block off those zones which need to be chicken free to thrive for the moment. Established, non-flowering/fruiting plants are less at risk from chickens and will benefit from your birds’ pest control efforts.
- Keep your hens’ wings clipped to prevent them from flying into unwanted areas.
- Create a chicken run around the outside perimeter of your garden.
- Install raised garden beds that chickens can’t easily access.
- Keep broody hens near their nesting boxes lest they brood in your garden.
- Keep baby chicks out of the garden – they get lost in the maze of plants and both hen and chick can become distressed.
Important – The Safety of your Chickens
You must understand that some plants are extremely toxic to chickens.
Naturally curious, chickens will peck at and consume just about anything they find, as they forage inside and outside their coop and run for tasty morsels and treats. This includes plants, flowers, scraps, and anything else that catches their eye and looks appealing to them.
As such, you need to keep these plants and other edible items out of the way of your chickens. Ideally, don’t have them at all – but if you do, replant them in an area inaccessible to your chickens, or block existing access of your birds to them.
What plants are toxic for chickens?
- Apple seeds – these contain cyanide which can be fatal in a tiny dose
- Raw (uncooked) or dried beans – can kill both humans and chickens
- Raw green potato peels
- Nightshades – including tomato, peppers, capsicum, eggplant
- Avocado skins and pits – cause heart and breathing problems, possibly death
- Apricot – leaves and pits
- Bulbs – iris, narcissus, daffodils, tulips, etc
- Azaleas and rhododendrons
- Buttercups – ranunculus, delphinium, clematis, anemone
- Oak trees
- Lily of the Valley
- Mexican Poppy
- Castor Bean
- Bracken Fern
You should also avoid giving chickens access to the following:
- Any scraps of food with mold on it
- Onions and garlic – these will flavor the eggs
- Mushrooms or toadstools
- Citrus fruits and peel – these are not poisonous to chickens but will reduce egg production
A bit of planning and a willingness to adapt your garden areas for your birds will go a long way to finding the perfect balance between happy, safe chickens and a thriving garden. Happy healthy chickens need to forage and be busy; if you are willing to adapt your garden and have your birds exploring, you will reap the rewards.