July 23, 2013 | 5 Comments

I have to chuckle every time I read an article like this one about how great chickens are in the garden.  They are going to eat all the bugs and give plenty of fertilizer (which is true) and your garden will be better than ever.  They mention the “possible problems” – but really leave you with the impression that these are just possibilities.  It’s no big deal – it probably won’t happen anyway right?


I’m here to tell you a fact about free range chickens.  They will dig and dustbathe anywhere.  And they really prefer dirt that has been loosened up – like what they find in your vegetable garden, flower bed or even potted plants.  I think that they believe we dug that spot up and made it nice and fluffy just for them to enjoy!  In case you’ve never seen a chicken dustbathe, let me describe it for you.  They scratch and dig until they’ve made themselves a bowl about 3 inches deep and big enough for them to lay in comfortably, then they lay and roll in that bowl, tossing dirt up onto their backs and fluffing it into their feathers.  It’s really good for them, reducing mites and other creepy crawlies.  But it isn’t great for the green beans or pansies that they decided to dig right next to.


Another happy benefit for them, they are right next to some great leafy plants that look oh so tasty.  My hostas and sunflowers seem to be particular favorites of theirs.


Some things we’ve tried and failed.

  • Providing a “better” dusbathing spot.  If we give them the ideal dustbath, they will abandon the garden, right?
    • WRONG! The garden has all those tasty worms and plants too.  And anyway, that fancy schmancy dustbath is full of other chickens, so somebody will still end up in the garden.
  • I’ll mulch the garden.  That prickly stickly mulch can’t possibly be comfy to dustbathe in, right?
    • WRONG! Did you forget silly chicken keeper that they use woodchips as their bedding and nesting material.  They’re quite used to it and it certainly doesn’t bother them, thank you very much.

The only things that have really worked for us:

  • Fences


  • Coop the chickens

That’s it – that’s all I’ve found.  I like to joke that I like my chickens better than I like my gardens, so I definitely won’t be cooping the chickens.

If you have some other amazing way of keeping your chickens out, please fill me in.  I can fence my garden, but my flower bed is pretty much a lost cause.  Right now I have a makeshift “playpen” that I threw together out of chicken wire over my 4×4 raised bed.  It’s not pretty, but it keeps them out until Mr. Fix It gets around to putting up a better fence this fall.


5 Responses to “Free Range Chickens vs. The Garden”

  1. Jenny

    I don’t know how it will work when the girls are full grown but right now we have a tractor that is the same width as our garden beds. We have wide beds 5′ wide by 60′ long and we don’t intend to be using them all at once. Ideally, we’d like to put the tractor over a bed that has just been harvested and allow them to scratch up all the weeds and insects. We’d also like to let them loose on a bed that has a chicken friendly cover crop that they could eat and scratch up hopefully tilling what is left into the soil. Like everything else, these techniques are not as easy as they sound so I don’t know how it will actually all work out. They have taken many dust baths, creating many little holes, but since the bed is empty right now (except for weeds) I really don’t mind.

    • Becky

      That’s a great way to do it. Back when we had 6-8 hens in a tractor (before I started letting them free range full time) they could take a 6×15 area of our lawn from green and grassy to bare dirt in about a week.

  2. Elizabeth Randell

    I recently added a foundation bed in front of the porch. My chickens pass by it daily so I knew I would have to do something to keep them from getting into it. I took plastic fencing material and laid it flat on the ground around all the plants (small boxwoods) and they have left it alone completely. I think they don’t like getting their feet tangled up in it. After a couple of months I have been able to cover the plastic up with mulch and they still leave it alone. They have totally destroyed another foundation bed on the side of the house, scratching up all the mulch and irises on a daily basis. I have also read that this same idea using metal wire fencing instead of plastic around fruit trees and beds to protect them from deer and livestock. I’ll be trying that one in a few weeks as weather permits.


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