How to keep Free Range Chickens from Destroying the Garden (Flower and Vegetable Gardens)!
Updated: Sep 7
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Will Free-Range Chickens Eat my Garden?
The short answer is yes. Chickens can be very destructive in the garden. Not only do they eat young plants, but they also love to scratch and dig in loose soil or mulch. Luckily, there are some very simple solutions to protecting your garden and young plants!
Many people recommend sprinkling various herbs to deter chickens or purchasing chemicals such as chicken-repellent spray to spray to keep chickens out of garden spaces. I’ve found both of these methods to be ineffective after about a day and they can be expensive.
Here are 2 ways to keep chickens from destroying your vegetable garden:
1. Build a fence around the vegetable garden.
This might just be as simple as buying a roll of fencing and stretching it around your garden. If you want it to look a bit nicer, you can always build a nice wooden fence. See my post here for how we built a nice fence on a budget!
Make sure your fence is at least 4 feet tall so that chickens don’t easily fly over it. Most chickens can fly over 4 feet high but don’t do it very often. A 4-foot high fence might allow one or two chickens in occasionally, but that’s not enough to completely destroy the garden. A 5-foot high fence will definitely keep most if not all chickens out of your garden all the time!
2. Only Free Range June through April
Build and use a chicken run during the spring when plants are young and vulnerable. Once plants are well established, chickens are much less likely to kill them. Plant plenty of herbs or cover crops in between your vegetables so that the chickens don’t have room to scratch and dig. Tie up tomatoes or any other fruit that chickens might like to eat. From about June-April, chickens can free range and stroll through the garden all they want without causing harm, but April-June, the plants are still young and vulnerable. Be warned, this might have some risks. Some chickens may have an unfortunate taste for cucumber vines and leaves, but in my experience, this method works fine. Especially with a small number of chickens. If you have 15+ chickens roaming around, this method might be a bit risky. The amount of damage chickens can do rises with how many chickens you have! However, for a small flock of 5-15, this method has worked for me!
I use a combination of both methods. During the winter months, when very little is planted in the garden (maybe just garlic), I like to let my chickens in the garden! Their scratching and digging turn up the soil, and they add good nutrients (poo) while they do it! If I have something planted that I don’t want disturbed, I’ll lay either a piece of metal fencing or create a bamboo lattice over the bed so that the chickens cannot scratch at the dirt.
What about flower gardens?
Chickens can also be destructive in flower gardens! I’ve found that they don’t like to eat flowering or ornamental plants like they do vegetables, BUT they still love to scratch and dig!
1. Wait to let Chickens free range until plants are mature.
If you can, build a good size run for the chickens, and keep them in there until your plants are mature. Chickens tend to leave well-established plants alone in a flower or ornamental garden.
2. Bury bulbs deep.
This prevents chickens from digging them up and dislodging them. The one bulb I struggle with is irises, as they need to be buried only below the surface of the soil. If you have one area with a lot of irises, lay something down over the soil and bulb like a piece of loose wire fencing to keep chickens from scratching. Once it warms up, and the plant sprouts, you can remove the fencing.
3. Create tall edging.
One big problem with chickens scratching and digging in a garden with defined edges is they like to kick dirt out of that space. For example, if you have one brick or a single landscaping timber as your garden edging, chickens will soon bury that in dirt, so that the edge is completely obscured. Either choose an edging that is tall, to begin with (probably over 4 inches), or arrange your edging so it is taller. For example, stack 2 landscaping timbers on top of each other and/or lay brick at an angle, so that they are taller.
After a few years of trial and error, these are my best tips! They work for me, so I hope they work for you too! Honestly, now I have the most problems with my dog! He very much enjoys digging and napping in my flower gardens, so if you have any tips to keep him out, let me know in the comments! (I’ve tried sprinkling chili flakes. It works for about a day, and then my chickens find it and gobble it up!)
Are you still wondering if you should free-range your chickens? See my post here 5 Reasons to Let Your Chickens Free Range AND Solutions to Common Problems!
Want to learn more about gardening? Visit the homesteading section of my blog to learn more! I post about frugal ways to garden and save money at the grocery store as well as topics such as amending poor soil and garden to-do lists!