When you’re trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle or simply enjoy having both a yard and chickens, you may struggle with compatibility. After all, chickens are great at clearing the ground. Not only will they eat common pests, they’re also good for getting rid of other debris that may be on your property. In addition to these housekeeping benefits, chickens make great animals to raise. They’re reasonably low maintenance and provide you with fresh eggs to sell or use as desired.
Many people who raise chickens also want their chickens to be free range, or at least minimally confined. They notice their chickens are happier and healthier when they’re allowed to roam freely. However, chickens aren’t always a great asset to a yard.
Chickens and Yards Don’t Mix
If you’ve ever had chickens destroy your yard, you probably understand why it’s hard to keep both at the same time. Chickens are after all, somewhat scavengers by nature. They’ll get into your yard and eat plants as well as anything you have growing or living on them. For example a tomato bush is a great target for chickens and they’ll love the bright tomatoes which quickly become a favored by the hens. If you’re trying to grow your own vegetables, you’ll notice that chickens see them as a target and can ultimately kill the plants as well.
Chickens can also damage flower beds even when its not a growing season. They’ll poke around in the garden soil and scatter mulch and dirt to the surrounding areas. If you don’t want to have to put new soil on your yard each season, you’re going to find this habit to be frustrating. Also, they can damage flower beds, especially any raised beds. Many gardeners find that trying to have chickens coexist with their yard simply doesn’t work.
Keeping Chickens From the Yard
If you want to raise a yard and still keep chickens, then you have to prepare appropriately. Just as you wouldn’t have a baby without childproofing a home, you can’t have a yard and not make it chicken proof. The good news is that chickens are reasonably easy to deter from making an unwanted impression on the yard.
One key principle to keep in mind is to only keep the number of chickens appropriate for your space. Smaller urban spaces probably shouldn’t have more than five chickens at a time. Make sure that your chickens have enough room to roam to discourage them from getting into the more fragile areas of the yard.
How exactly do you make your garden safe from the chickens? These are the primary strategies that keep them out of the space.
1. Fence Off Critical Areas
Although you may not have to fence off the entire yard, a simple fence of chicken wire is often enough to deter your hens from getting into critical areas. Use tomato cages or stakes with the chicken wire. It’ s also good idea to put wire around sensitive new plants that need time to grow. You don’t have to put up a huge amount of chicken wire to be effective. Strawberry plants may only need a short fence about a foot high to keep chickens away.
2. Use Raised Beds and Pots
If you’re putting in a yard from scratch, then it may be a good idea to use raised beds or flower pots as much as you can. Chickens are certainly able to get into a raised bed but are less likely to wander into them by accident. Simply having a raised bed that’s a foot or two off the ground can cut down on chicken interference exponentially. Pots are also a good way to deter the chickens, and they’ll find it much less appealing to try and maneuver into the limited space at the top of the plant pot.
3. Add Bricks and Stones
An aggressive chicken will often scratch around the base of plants, causing damage and even uprooting them. However, stones or pieces of bricks will keep them from doing this. This is especially recommended if you have new plants that haven’t yet taken root. Chickens love nothing better than to kick the loose soil from a pot. Keep stones or bricks handy and put them around the base of your plants. These won’t cause any damage to the plants but they’ll be a strong deterrent to your chickens.
4. Add Motion-Activated Sprinklers
As you probably know, chickens aren’t fond of being sprayed with water. What makes this method effective is that it’s a great deterrent for chickens to stay out of certain areas but doesn’t require much work on your part after setting up the system. It’s also a harmless method for keeping chickens out of the yard, whilst still being very effective.
If you set up a motion-activated sprinkler system, set it for only a short time to avoid wasting too much water. In any case though, the water need not be seen as a wasted, for example this is a great in warmer months when gardens need extra moisture and it may even save you some time on watering.
Crucially chickens quickly learn that when they go into the garden, they get sprayed with water. They won’t enjoy this and will quickly begin to steer clear of the space.
5. Motion-Sensor Animal Noises
Similar to a sprinkler system, this is actually a great option and also harmless. Chickens are not going to want to go near any animal that poses a threat. This could be dogs, foxes, and other animals. As one of the lowest animals on the food chain, chickens know they can’t fight off predators and will avoid them at all costs.
A motion-activated system won’t use up much power and is easy to set up. When the chicken triggers the motion sensor, the system will emit a series of animal noises that will make the chicken think there’s a predator in the nearby. After tripping the sensor a few times, they’ll make sure to avoid the affected area. Make sure that, when you use this method, you use the right volume setting. Too low and the chickens may not even notice, too loud and you could end up annoying your neighbors!
6. Use a Movable Fence
Some people may refer to this as a chicken “tractor” but in any case it’s a fairly simple process. Chickens are great for the lawn and will eat bugs, aerate the soil, and fertilize the area, providing you can contain them. This is why it’s a good idea to use a foldable, movable fence that can move the chickens around the space, keeping bugs at bay and benefitting the lawn in the process. This also gives the chickens almost all the benefits of free ranging but keeps them safe from predators, and your flower beds safe from the chickens.
You’ll also notice that being moved on a regular basis keeps the chickens more engaged in their specific area. They’ll constantly be looking for new areas to explore with a moving fence, making them less likely to go into areas you don’t want them to be.
7. Provide Supervised ‘Free Ranging’
This means you let the chickens out when you’re in the immediate area and can keep an eye on them. This is a good idea when you’re weeding or doing other types of yardwork. Cool summer evenings are a great time for this and you’ll be able to manage any unruly behaviour should it occur. For example, you can keep the hose handy and turn it on the chickens if they make their way into areas you don’t want them to be. Once again, this is a good idea since it provides them with free ranging options while protecting the yard.
8. Add Non-Harmful Deterrents
Another way to make the yard safe from your hens is to sprinkle spices around the areas you wish them to stay clear of. This won’t cause any harm to your plants or the chickens, it’s simply that hens don’t like the smell of strong spices. Consider spices like cinnamon, paprika, curry powder, pepper, or even a spice blend with any of these options. Chickens have a good sense of smell and will tend to avoid these areas. If they do happen to wander into the spice-covered area, the spices will actually cause a tingling sensation on their feet. This doesn’t cause harm but the bird certainly won’t like the feeling.
For similar reasons citrus is also a strong deterrent for chickens. They don’t like the smell of it and this will often be enough to make sure they keep their distance. You can collect peels from oranges, lemons, or limes. Scatter them around the edge of the garden and in between separate plant beds. You can also try to spray the ground with lemon juice, although you’ll have to repeat this fairly frequently as it will likely wash away fairly quickly.
Making a Friendly Home
These methods are all effective and also safe for your chickens. Although you can follow these steps by themselves, it may also be a good idea to consider planting some bushes specifically for the chickens to enjoy. Elderberries are great for chickens and having a few of them in your yard gives them a reasonable alternative to your carefully managed flowerbeds.
Finally, keep in mind that gardening with chickens is a constantly evolving process. No system is perfect but running a few of these strategies concurrently can make the experience much easier.