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:
- 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.