If you want to keep free-range chickens but at the same time would like to maintain a reasonably tidy garden, there are several tricks you can employ:
- Choose bantams with feathered legs such as Cochins, as these don’t, or can’t, scratch up your lawn quite as much as other breeds. (Pictured, a Cochin rooster and hen.)
- Lay chicken wire flat on your perennial or annual beds in the winter. The plants will grow through the wire but the hens won’t be able to scratch them up.
- If dust-bathing in your beds becomes a problem, you could try tempting your birds away from them with an irresistible box of dry sand or peat. If you place it in a sunny position they may prefer it to the flower beds.
- If your hens take to laying outside rather than in the cozy nest-boxes you have provided, do not let them out of their run until mid-morning, by which time most should have finished laying. Some birds may, however, wait to visit their favorite spot, in which case you will have to spy on them. They won’t go near it if they know they are being watched.
- Fertilize your plants with the manure your chickens produce—around 4 oz (100 g) per bird per day. It is high in nitrogen, which keeps foliage green and makes an excellent lawn feed when diluted in mater. However, it is high in ammonia it will burn plants if applied directly to beds. Instead, add it to your compost to allow it to break down first. It will also help to heat the heap and aid decomposition.
Image credit: Hagen Graebner
Note: This text is excerpted from Keeping Chickens by Jeremy Hobson & Celia Lewis (David & Charles, 2007).
Build your own chicken coop by following any of the 16 plans in Backyard Chickens Guide to Coops & Tractors. It also includes plans for 3 tractors, or portable chicken coops.
Learn all about raising chickens for eggs or meat with the beautifully photographed, comprehensive The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit, which was written by an organic gardener.
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