The downside of keeping chickens is that they will get into your gardens and will happily destroy it by making dust baths, and creating a wonderful buffet (for them).
Chickens that find their way into your garden may think they’ve died and gone to Heaven, what with all the fresh seeds, fruits, vegetables, and all the loose soil for dust baths that they could ever want. You’ll find out quickly that they love fresh tomatoes at the peak of their ripeness just as much as you do. They can devastate flower beds by eating the seeds and making dust baths.
It may seem like you have to choose between having a garden, or chickens, but this is not the case. Chickens and botanicals can exist in perfect harmony with just a little extra work. There are many things that can be done to thwart the ambitions of adventurous poultry.
Chickens have a different sense of smell and taste than humans.
Some things we like are detestable to chickens. We can use this to keep chickens out of areas we don’t want them in:
- Paprika – a common kitchen seasoning, it is cheap and readily available. You can sprinkle paprika around anywhere you do not want chickens to loiter, and they will get the message loud and clear. It will not hurt your plants at all. It’s also a good deer-repellant.
- Black Pepper – another common kitchen spice. Ground, or peppercorns, scattering this around your plants will keep chickens away and make them look for entertainment elsewhere. It also will not hurt your plants. It makes a good ant-repellant as well.
- Salt – the opposite of pepper in the culinary world, one of the least expensive seasonings there is. Sprinkling salt crystals or ground salt around the outside edge of your garden will deter curious chickens, but be careful too much salt in the soil will cause plants not to be able to grow. Just put it around the edges of your garden. And while it may keep chickens away from your flora, rabbits love salt, and will happily supplement their diet with it, along with some of your plants.
- Cinnamon – one of the earliest known spices, it was traded in Egypt over 4000 years ago. It’s pungent aromatic aroma may attract people, but chicken, as well as other pests, hate it. Sprinkle it around the garden and you shouldn’t have any poultry problems.
- Garlic – another old favorite, it doesn’t just keep away vampires. Chickens will avoid it like the plague, even though it can be used to protect them from red mites. You can plant garlic in and around your other plants, and that should keep the chickens at bay.
- Cayenne Pepper – this is a no-brainer. It burns chickens’ eyes as much as it does yours. It can be especially useful to keep them from making dust baths where you don’t want them. Just scatter it in the loose soil, and the birds won’t scratch it up more than once. It does burn, but is totally harmless. Your chickens will get over it.
- Curry Powder – a spice mixture made up of pretty much everything that chickens don’t like. Scatter it around your plants, and the chickens will look somewhere else for something to do.
Plants To Ward Off Chickens
There are plants and flowers that chickens hate, and will go to great lengths to avoid.
Peppermint will send the chickens packing, and also repel rodents, ants, and other pests.
Chickens also hate rosemary, perhaps because they know it is the preferred cooking spice to use with roast chicken….who knows? I just know they won’t go near it.
If you want something that looks pretty, try planting calendulas in your garden, along with the other things. Planting calendulas is almost like putting a fence up as far as chickens are concerned.
Here are some other plants that chickens hate:
Peeling Away The Chickens: Use Citrus!
This may sound weird, but for some reason, chickens do not like citrus at all.
Save your orange, lemon, and lime peels. Cut them up and scatter them in the garden. You can also spray the garden with lemon, lime, and/or orange juice. The chickens will stay far away. Another benefit is that it will attract more butterflies and bees, which will increase the pollination for the whole area.
Protect Your Plants Using Rocks
You can slow chickens down a lot by putting rocks around your plants and all through the garden. If the chickens can’t scratch, they are less likely to invade your garden. But don’t use gravel or pebbles. The birds will just scratch right through them.
You want to use large stones like bricks, large flat stones, or even cinder blocks. Cover the ground as much as possible. It will also help a lot if you provide your chickens with their very own dust bath, near the coop. Then they won’t be as likely to search one out.
The Water Defense
Chickens don’t really like being sprayed with water.
You can keep them out of areas where you don’t want them going by putting in motion-activated sprinklers. It’s good for the plants, and the birds will soon learn to stay away from that area.
You can find plastic owls, hawks, eagles, wolves, foxes, and such at almost any retail store. These can be put up as ‘scarecrows’ in places where you don’t want your chickens to go.
Chickens have keen eyesight and are quick to spot potential predators. They haven’t survived all these millions of years by being stupid.
And the scarecrows are somewhat decorative.
They tend to keep other predators away as well, since most predators are territorial. If a real owl sees the fake one, it is likely it will move on to another area rather than challenge the issue. Even if you have an established predator in the area, it is very likely they will move on. They can challenge the fake one, and even attack it all they want, but it’s not going anywhere.
A Dog Can Help You
A good, well-trained dog is a valuable tool.
There are breeds that can be trained to watch over your chickens and herd them where they are supposed to be. Good breeds for this are:
- Australian Shepards
- Border Collie
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Great Pyrenees
- Old English Sheepdog
- Pyreneese Mastiff
There are dogs that need very little training to take care of your chickens. All they need to do is watch you interact with the birds.
They figure out the routine very quickly. They will keep your birds together, keep them where they belong, move them into the run and coops when it is time, protect them from wolves, foxes, coyotes, etc…, and even from flying predators, although this can be difficult for them.
When they see a hawk or owl, they will usually herd the flock out of danger. They will also protect the flock at night, so both you and the birds can sleep easy.
A Wire Fence for Garden Defense
The way chickens cross a fence is interesting to watch. They seldom, if ever fly over a fence. They can’t fly that high for that long. They will hop/fly to the top of a fence, then hop over. You can put a chicken wire fence around your garden to keep them out.
Chicken wire works by being flexible on top. The chickens cannot get a good stabile perch on top, so they will go back the way they came. It really works. Just don’t stretch it too tight, or put a wood topping on it. You want the top to flex a bit.
Fencing is not 100% effective, because there are some breeds that will learn to fly high enough, and far enough to cross any fence, but most breeds will not attempt it. Your fence only needs to be 5 feet high to deter most birds. Breed selection really helps here. Bantam breeds are perfectly happy to stay on their side of the fence, unlike adventurous Austrolorps, with their own opinions on how the world should work.
Some breeds may even attempt to dig under the fence, but this is rare.
Wire cloth works even better than chicken wire and is very inexpensive. It is so easy to put up, almost anyone could do it.
If you are more technically inclined, electric fences are outstanding for keeping chickens where they belong, but it is much more expensive, costs a lot to operate (higher electric bills), and is more challenging to install.
Keeping The Chicken Inside the Coop is The Best Idea
In my opinion, the absolute best way to keep your chickens away from your garden is in a coop with a covered run.
Unless you have a large area (field) and plan to have several large flocks, this is the way to go. Free-Ranging in a large area may seem like a good idea, but there are several drawbacks:
- You will lose a lot of birds to predation, theft, and birds just getting lost or running away.
- You will lose a lot of eggs because chickens lay eggs wherever they feel like it at the time, in your car when the windows are down, on the porch in your favorite rocking chair, in your gardens, if they can get into your house, in your nice living room sofa, in cabinets, etc… Nothing feels worse than getting into your car with clean clothes on and sitting on an egg. Trust me on this…
- Free-Roaming chickens do not observe borders and property lines. They will happily visit your neighbors and eat their gardens, take over their porch, and more. You could even get sued for the damage your birds cause to a neighbor’s property.
- They will go into the street and get hit by traffic. Unless you like chicken pancakes, this is not good…
Coops and runs can easily be built by anyone that can nail two pieces of wood together, or they can be purchased already made at feed stores, and places like Tractor Supply. All you have to do is assemble them. They are perfect for 6-8 chickens, and you can have as many coops and runs as you want.
It keeps the flocks separated. Another advantage is that should one flock get a catastrophic disease, there is less chance it will spread to the others. You can salvage at least some of your birds.
If you really want your chickens to roam free, the best way is to have a coop and run for them, then let them out in the early afternoons, but stay out and watch them. When evening comes, they will return to the coops on their own, and you won’t have to chase any of them.
Timing Is Everything
There are times when chickens in the garden can be beneficial. After the growing season, it can be beneficial to let your chickens into the garden to scratch it up, eat all the bugs, loosen the soil, and prepare it for the next planting.