Backyard Birds: Poultry in the Veggie Patch?


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Bigmac2342 writes: “I want to add chickens to my homestead. I have a garden with all the usual garden-type plants and vegetables, and I’m wondering if I should let my flock pasture in the garden for pest control and general foraging, or will they eat/destroy my plants?”

First of all, shout-out to Bigmac 2342, for commenting your concerns on my blog post. It’s much appreciated. I hope you get those chickens for your homestead ASAP. You won’t regret it.

Now, as to your question to allow them to forage in your vegetable garden, the short answer is no. I would not put any poultry in my vegetable garden, period. Now before anyone freaks out, I’m not saying not to allow your chickens to be outside, to forage for their own food, or to use them for pest control. On the contrary, chickens should be outside most of the time, doing all of the things mentioned in Bigmac’s question.

The issue is the location: the vegetable garden. While it may seem like an ideal spot for natural pest control, having chickens in an active, producing garden can post health concerns. Let’s remember that though chickens are green, mean, bug-eating machines, they’re also known for being huge poopsters, capable of spreading disease and fecal-based illnesses.

Not only should you be concerned with chicken poop in your vegetable garden, Bigmac is also thinking in the right direction, that chickens are notorious for destroying plants when they forage. Because they scratch with their sharp claws to expose bugs, worms, etc., chickens can (and will) uproot plants easily. They also eat most plant material, especially those garden goodies, like tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and zucchini. I can tell you it’s frustrating to find a row of heirloom tomatoes, with bright, ripe fruit polka-dotted with peck marks in all of them (It’s somewhat soul-crushing!).

7/13/2018 12:44:36 PM

We let our hens free range in the (completely fenced and safe from predators) garden in the off season and they do a great job of tilling the soil and eating any bugs that might try to overwinter. Their chicken yard and coop is adjacent to the main garden and we have an opening from there into the garden which we keep closed off during the growing season, then leave open during the late fall and winter. I did try to allow a few birds in the garden (supervised by me while I was working out there) during the growing season, but once they figure out how to get at something they like it's really hard to keep them out. They can be very destructive (and a lot smarter than you'd expect)! I tried the same experiment with guinea fowl- lost most of my garden veggies to the voracious beasts! I do give my hens plenty of fresh greens and any bugs I catch, so they have a nicely varied diet. And watching them play "keep away" with a great big grasshopper is so funny! :D

7/12/2018 11:13:37 PM

I have tried letting chickens into our small (5000 sq ft) garden with bad results. 4 years ago the whole flock was wiped out by raccoons -- fences are no barrier to them and in fact trapped them in an area they could not escape. Since then we have let later flocks free range outside the garden, with much better results. We lost a couple to trespassing dogs shortly after putting our own dog down, but no other problems. We have also switched over to no-till gardening using straw for mulch. The chickens would happily destroy those beds getting to the bugs. We do let them in in the winter after the last harvest.

m @ moonfarmers
7/12/2018 3:15:54 AM

hi, this summer i’ve been letting our four new chickens free-range in our garden... as an experiment. for the most part, they eat the weeds and not the garden plants, but after they’d eaten the first corn plants back to leafless stalks, i made a small fenced in garden for the corn. in some places I've used little garden fences (18” high) keep planting circles safe until seeds mature. for other seedlings, i’ve overlaid chicken wire to prevent their scratching. also, they do well besides container gardening projects, picking out weeds and bugs and leaving the herbs and veggies alone. overall, they are fine, friendly, and the healthiest birds i’ve ever seen and follow me around while gardening. they don’t seem to eat any yellow produce: tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, bush beans, etc., so i’ve been growing lots of those. typically they step on plants but don’t harm them: my squash, cucumbers, chickpeas, kale, lettuce, strawberries, beans and melons are growing fine. my romanesco resprouted from the base after forming seeds and they did eat a lot of new growth, but hasn’t affected the plant’s health. if you have a small flock and want to try it, what’s the harm? well-fed birds laying incredible eggs. (i used to have a larger flock on a separate property and simply fenced the free-range birds out of the garden. but i didn’t like gardening in a cage, so i did some research and decided to experiment.)

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