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Can backyard chickens and a garden peacefully co-exist?

Question details

I'm just curious to find out... are there any of you kitchen gardeners that have chickens in your yards along with your gardens? How do you raise them - do they free range? And if you do free range.... how do you keep them from gobbling up your garden as well as the weeds and bugs? Thanks!

I don't yet have chickens, although I will be ordering some soon, but I plan to use the same method I use for marauding squirrels, which is to place chicken wire around my raised beds, removing it only when I am working on it. I did this with my in-ground garden last year and it worked. I also plan to let the chickens out only when I am in the yard. I live on the edge of an urban area (Oakland CA) but that has raccoons and large predator birds and that doesn't allow roosters in the city limits, so I have to be the rooster and keep a sharp eye out for my ladies.
I live in California and am keeping chickens in my garden. Since we live in a rural area, we had to put up an 8 ft. fence to keep the deer out. It's approx. 25 x 100 ft. and we have 5 4x8 raised beds in it along with fruit trees, grapes and many various berries. We built a chicken tractor to fit our raised beds and my chickens go there at night, as well as to lay eggs in their nesting box. They are let out each morning. We have had damage and had to modify our garden. We now have "hoop houses" instead of raised beds. We did this with PVC pipes and bird netting. We've also enclosed our blueberry bed and raspberry bed as the chickens like the dig and scratch in the loose soil. Everything we place in the ground has a gopher cage around the roots and have found we need to put large rocks surrounding the gopher cages as the chickens like to take their dust baths there. I truly enjoy having the chickens roam around the garden/orchard and find the extra work is worth it. As Joel Salatin says you have the let chickens have their chickenness, so we work around the problems. Their manure, eating the bugs and "tilling" the raised beds, along with their companionship is worth the extra work. We have not had an problem with predators so far, but we are on watch, as we know it's very possible in our area (we have racoons, fox, skunk, hawks, snakes, etc.)
Great question! If some experienced answers don't pop up here, I will ask my local garden club. But there are lots of chicken owners on KGI. There's a world of info "out there" about keeping chickens & chicken tractors. I like your category: peacefully co-exist!  :-) In my limited but intensive experience :-) Peacocks were hardwired to eat every emerging green shoot but Ducks were more interested in carnivorous forage such as snails. 
Chickens will destroy your garden if you let them. Last year was my first year with chickens and they did a lot of damage. I had to replant almost all of my crops and actually had a very poor year yield wise as a result. Free ranging isn't really possible because there are so many chicken predators in my area (name one, it's here!). FYI, foxes can easily jump 4ft fences!! The chicken yard has very good tree coverage which has really helped with the hawks, although an eagle perched on one of the branches last fall after the leaves fell to evaluate it's chances. My daughters chased it off by throwing things and yelling. My primary thought on keeping birds safe is that you must keep them close to your house. My neighbor didn't and lost all of her much larger flock, in spite of her apparently well built chicken coop. I am still working on predator proof overnight housing. We have a microflock (3 birds), so to keep them from freezing in the winter, we overnight them in a bin with frequently changed bedding inside the house. My biggest problem with this is that my daughter now wants to keep bringing the birds in at night forever!!! To answer the question, there can be a lot of variables. If you're only concerned with protecting your garden from chickens, you must either contain the garden or the chickens. If you have to deal with predator or neighbor issues, you'll have a lot more to think about.
Chicken tunnels: I forgot to mention what I do with my chickens on winter days. Moving a chicken tractor around is impractical when you have more than a foot of snow on the ground and I am uncomfortable with leaving the chickens on the same small patch of ground for months on end (New England winters), so I have chicken tunnels. Over 4 of my garden beds, I have hoops and plastic. Inside each tunnel is leaves, some wood chips and mulch hay, added as needed. I rotate the chickens from one tunnel to the other as the spirit moves me, or depending on how much snow I feel like shoveling. I hope to have well prepared beds and healthy, happy chickens in the spring!
This sounds great! Are you saying that your chickens can stay in the chicken tunnels 24/7 in the winter? with snow on the ground? Or is preparing your garden beds their day-job & they go back to the chicken-house at night? Could you please give us the specs on what size the beds are & how many chickens are happy for how long? Do you provide feed & water for them within the chicken tunnels? Your info will be very useful here, where the town permits keeping a few chickens & we have zone 4 winters with snow.
Thank you all for your input so far! I had originally looked into chicken tractors (such an awesome idea!) before we ever got our birds... but it's not exactly practical with our flock. We have 14 birds (a dozen girls, two boys of which one needs to be rehomed quite soon!) and they needed more space than I could find available for even the largest tractor plans. I will perhaps try to take pictures this afternoon of what's going on in the back corner of our little acre.. that's where their little nook is. I'm thinking that our best bet is probably going to be to stop their free-ranging when it's time to put the garden in... though I'm thinking we'll have to add more fence to the area and expand it even more. (I let them range over the yard through the winter this year... they got to eat some bugs, and seemed to help keep the ivy from taking back over too that we tried to dig up last winter.. which is a good thing! But things will need to change when we get ready to want food from outside, too!) But please keep sending your advice and suggestions, I am definitely happy to hear all the input you may have. We love our Araucanas, and our garden, so we definitely want to help them live peacefully together!
Barb Keeler brought up chicken tractors in the Small Animals Group. As I commented there, in the next day or so I will be asking some local experts about "peaceful co-existance" & will report back.  :-) We look forward to your photos!
I had free range chickens my first year of gardening. While I was in the process of putting in the beds, I actually fed my chickens in the garden to try to get them to help me dig it up. They were effective in a couple parts but didn't make too much of a dent. When I got closer to planting, I put up a deer fence. This mostly kept the chickens out while the plants were small. By the time they figured out how to get in the garden, my plants were well enough established that they didn't mess with them. They also did a great job eating that year's massive crop of grasshoppers. I'd agree with locking them up while you're putting the garden in, but later in the summer you should be able to let them loose again to eat up the bugs. Erin
This makes sense & sounds like the best of both worlds.  ;-)
After having chickens for a couple of years, we came to the conclusion that they cannot peacefully co-exist. If the chickens aren't scratching up your newly planted seedbed, they're eating the emerging shoots. And they do love lettuce. Ducks won't scratch, but they sure eat the greens. Our solution was to build a permanent enclosure which is the chicken yard / compost pile. All compostable materials go in with the chickens. They eat what they like, and leave the rest. They do a good job of keeping it all stirred up, and fertilize it generously. I dig about 6" of compost out of there every year. It aint pretty, but it works great.
Thanks Don - for giving us such a great picture of how chickens can "peacefully coexist" with the dynamic gardening cycle & help with the composting! You say, "It aint pretty, but it works great." Well, that's just "plain" inspirational!  :-)  For "pretty," it would be possible to have a fenced chicken/compost yard & grow vine crops up the fence. Or roses!  :-)  Or you can build garden structures from willow & brush in areas with those resources. Soon I will post a photo of a fence-style garden enclosure to keep deer out, built by a renown brushwood artist. Just today, the Permaculture Research Institute posted this report on building natural structures in South Africa - with lots of photos.            
I have back yard chickens and they are great for the garden as fertilizers, but wreak havoc in the garden. Mine have a large pen during the day, i have 6 chickens in a 30 by 15 foot run. I do let them out in my yard for the last couple of hours in the day, but have my garden fenced off to keep the vegies safe.
Mine are in a totally enclosed space during the day...too many dogs, etc. that can run about in town. I have an enclosed pen for more exercise they can go into when I am in the yard, but we also let them loose in the whole yard at times, to keep the ticks down. We just shoo them out of the gardens....they are pretty well behaved.
Hi all. Glad to join in this conversation. We have had backyard chickens for many years. The simple answer is that chickens and gardens can coexist if they are not combined. Chickens can eat down your vegetables and plants faster than you can blink plus they need to dust for their own well being and your garden beds make excellent dusting areas. Our solution is to have our hens "free range" inside their own gated community. This is safe for them and safe for the garden. It also helps us to keep them healthy. You can see our set up at
I just have 4 chickens and glad I don't have any more. They lay just enough eggs to keep us fed and they are kept in a chicken tractor pen. We also let them out in the evening so they can eat bugs and scratch around. There are too many predators that would love to have a chicken dinner to let them be totally free range.
We have many different garden areas which are impractical to fence in. The chickens make a mess of newly planted beds, remove mulch, and peck at their favorite foods. So, in our world chickens and gardens are not compatible. They are allowed to free range until the planting starts, then they are confined behind an electric poultry fence which we move about during the season. This year a few of them have figured out how to fly over the fence, so we are trying the trick of running twine from post to post along the fenceline, to see if it will interfere with their hopping. We perhaps would have been wise to get the 48" high fence rather than the 42", but thought it unneccessary. Interestingly, they will not hop over the 24" wildlife fence that is around the main garden!
How many chickens do you have and how big is your electric fenced area?
How many chickens do you have and how big is your electric fenced area?
We let the chickens free range in the garden in the winter, but once crops start growing, they can't go there anymore - they destroy it! At that point our chickens go into a chicken tractor which gets moved around every few days. The way we make it work for our chickens is to use both the tractor (which they sleep in, and have roaming room underneath) and a separate structure that we made out of electrical conduit bent into hoops (using Johnny's Selected Seeds 'hoop bender'). We attached these hoops to a 2x4 frame, and covered it with chicken wire, and then pull it up next to the chicken tractor so that they can move back and forth. It works great, and they aren't so cramped that way... We have a dozen chickens, and this can comfortably hold eight, but has been used for more.
What are the dimensions of your hooped area?
We've had chickens of various size flocks for about 6 years now; both layers and meat birds. We've done everything from tractors to full-on free range, to electric poultry netting. I can't have chickens in an active, growing garden. They will eat the seedlings, scratch up the seeds and find the pea pods and beans. They even hop up in my 2' raised beds. We either fence in the garden, or fence in the chickens during the late spring/summer, and clip wings on one side so they can't fly out. In the fall/winter/early spring, we allow them to free range. I want them in the garden then to till things up. We use the droppings from their coop in our compost. We have lots of land- 27 acres, with about 3 immediately around our home that they roam- and so we have the flexibility to do whatever makes the most sense at the time. the more our chickens range, the better the eggs, I will say that.
We've chickened and gardened together for the last 3 years. I keep the girls out of the garden while things are germinating or sprouting but they can go in if they'd like once everything is up and established. If something is too delicate I cover it with floating row cover to make sure the chickens don't disturb it.
We have two hens and they are big time scratchers and love their "salad". They will peck on anything green. Just because of that (and the fact that we only have two), we use a dog cage as a "tractor" and move them around in the grass, where the weeds are overgrown, etc. but not in our vegetable patch. I heard this "technique" from somebody a while ago: put some wood planks between the rows of vegetables. Every few days or so you can turn them upside down and let the chickens come in for the worms and insect larvae. Sounds like a great idea but I have not tried it myself. All I can tell you is that if I find a grub, I pick it up and throw it to the hens and they think it is candy...
Our Buff Orpington hens do not have the run of the garden till late fall when they are fenced there adn do a wonderful job of cleaning up all residue and bugs. The rest of the year they are fenced (we use 16 ft hog panels to easily create and move areas for the hens) in a rotating pattern across the pasture. Up till last week when we finally got two weaned pigs, the hens got all our kitchen garbage as well. all the hen house and hog pen litter goes in the compost and there are no fresh people food scraps in the compost pile where they might attract critters. WE are down to 6 old ladies who are still laying but have 50 chicks coming on Monday to create the new flock of 15 layers and the rest will be meat birds for the freezer by fall.
Yes they can destroy your garden but if you move them to different parts of the garden every day then the grass will be fine that is what I do with my chicks (to silkies) also rake up the poo. With my 3 big 1 (bluebell light Sussex and ginger warren) because they've got a big coop I carnt move it do I put wood chippings down in one place of the garden then put a bit of turf on the top (make sure there is still some wood chippings the chickens can see because the can dig that not the turf)
I had free range chickens last summer, and they did quite a bit of damage to my flower beds and to my garden. This year, we built a tall (10 foot) fence around their coop, they have plenty of room to range and have shade as well. My garden is doing great, and as an added bonus we don't have to hunt around the 10 acres for eggs! I do plan to let them out a bit later in the summer for pest control, but I agree with an earlier poster that gardens and free-range chickens, for the most part, or incompatible. I love my chickens and I love my garden, enclosing the chickens has made it possible for me to love them both at the same time.
We raise heritage breed chickens and give a "Urban Hens 101" workshops and one of the things I always tell the participants is not to expect the chicken to know what they should (bugs, weeds, etc...) and should not (berries, lettuce, edible flowers, tomato and potato plants which are toxic to them) be eating in the garden... Chickens should really be kept in a pen or run. They will do a great job of eating garden leftovers and supply you with manure. A chicken tractor is a great idea if you only plan on a few chickens and if it can be secured so that no predator can come in at night - and if you live in an area where winters are warm. A chicken coop is really a must if you live in an area where winters are cold. It does not need to be insulated or heated : a chicken's worst enemy is excess humidity, not cold. And you should choose breeds that are well adapted to your climate.
"In southern shikoku there was a kind of chicken that would eat worms and insects on vegetable without scratching the roots or damaging the plants." Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution. I would consider Fukuoka-san a very sober and reliable observer but keep in mind that he talks about southern Japan where they have plenty of rain and lush natural growth even outside their gardens.Also, he refers to the chicken in past tense in a a book written in the 1970ies.
>Sepp Holzer< describes in his writings the concept of growing food plants preferred by the animal over the regular garden crops in order to keep them away from the vegetable garden. This would be a very good starting point,I think. My only personal experience with chickens are childhood memories that they have to be physically separated from gardens. Greetings ,antonis
I previously lived on a 9+acre farm and had 33 chickens; I kept them secured from my garden after coming home to find they had eaten my whole canning garden which at the time was in full production. Although their pen had a 5' fence; it did not hold them and that is the summer I learned my chickens could fly. I gave them plenty of fresh greens every day, plus all the weeds they could hold....but eating everything fresh was way more appealing to the girls. I now live in town on less than 1/3 acre but plan to add 4 chickens and 2 ducks to the yard. I will allow them to forage daily but keep them separate from my garden and flowers.
Some of you may be interested in this show that the BBC aired on edible gardens. The focus here is a small-scale backyard setup, but she keeps her chickens in a separate pen, and gives them her trimmings, and adds their waste to her compost:
I was watching a YouTube video where a woman had put some kind of netting over her fruit trees to keep the birds from eating the fruit..... If you made a fence to partition your chickens away from the garden in the gardening season, and the put a tree net up over the area where your chickens roam, maybe that would help, and it could help keep critters out as well?
Lots of dry hay or straw, chemical free for the coop and yard. When you start smelling ammonia in the coop, it is past time to clean it and change the straw. Also, just sit and watch them. Chickens are some of the most interesting behaving animals around.
love this. :)
great site



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