The joy of having chickens……until they wreak havoc in the garden.
Blending the two worlds of joy together can be a bit tricky. I have gone from four chickens, to sixty four chickens. Now I am back to ten. I have experienced different breeds that like to explore, jump fences and get into trouble. Other breeds are sloth-like fatties, who enjoy just hanging around the food bucket. All in all, I have discovered a few guideines that I try to live by…..keeping my bulb gardens safe from the scratching hens that I love so dearly.
First…..you really need a fence. I know this sounds elementary, but free-ranging chickens still need a place to call home. Boundaries are a good thing. Inside the fence, I plant all sorts of bulbs. Believe it or not, chickens will simply clean up the weeds around the bulbs. Chickens don’t really care for the foliage. Many large wildflowers can be incorporated into your chicken habitat. Cow Pen Daisy and Moonflower, for example, flourish and give the bees and butterfles a delicious retreat. Inside the fence, I choose my plants that I know are tough……natives, bulbs, roses and wildflowers.
Next, you will inevitably find a few wandering chickens have jumped the fence. Typically your smaller, game hens are quite athletic gals. In my experience, Americanas and Silver-Spangled Hamburgs are the most curious. I can feed them filet mignon or doughnuts, and they still hop the fence to eat another weed. Beautiful gardens containing poppies, Daffodils, Oxalis Larkspur, are now destroyed with the scratching and eating of a few hens. What to do?
Believe it or not, I find that a smaller flock will help this problem. Loners and curious gals will still find space to explore within the fence. The more bulbs I plant, the longer the girls stay inside the fenceline. Chickens like the color green (even if they don’t like to eat it!) I have two lots that hold ten hens…..lots of space to roam. Last year, I caught the “I HAVE to have every chicken breed” syndrome for a while (we all get it at least once). I didn’t like the destruction large breeds caused. I now make myself stay under ten girls.
When gardening with seeds and other tender plants, you will need to find a protective barrier to keep the explorers out. I use sticks and create a criss-cross pattern that the chickens can’t get to. Chickens have the brain size of a milk dud. If they see you digging, they will come running. They will devour your new planted area in a matter of minutes, unless you make it challenging for them. If the girls can’t get to the newly planted dirt, the garden will soon forgetten. Chickens live a very patterned life. Breaking a habit of digging is easy, and chickens will forget about the seeds. The plant will grow beyond the tender delicious part, and all will be fine.
A few of my favorite chicken breeds to have with gardens are Cochins and Orpingtons. Both breeds are known as “big gals”. Cochins are fantastic….fluffy, personable and great mommas. I have never had a Cochin hop a fence. In fact, I don’t think Cochins could even jump onto a bench!!
There are a few great benefits of having chickens in the garden……
1. Chickens eat bugs. Bugs can be destructive.
2. Chickens have hay in the coop. Hay is a great mulch and weed barrier around your plants.
3. Chickens eat weeds. No more pulling out winter weeds around your bulbs.
4. Chickens also poop. We all know the great power of composted manure for our soils.
5. Delicious, fresh organic eggs.
Some of my favorite moments in the garden are watching my chickens. Chickens are so quirky and funny. A whole new world waits for you!! Just make sure to start with a few. 🙂
Happy Gardening, my friends.