Will Chickens Destroy a Garden?

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Yes, chickens will destroy a garden in a variety of ways, if they have access to that garden. If you have a small number of chickens in a very large garden you may not notice much damage, but chickens can and do destroy mature plants and can be particularly damaging to young plants and seedlings, they can even damage (and enhance) your soil.

Chickens in the garden destroying garden beds
Chickens in the garden, agents of destruction. Hens and roosters will scratch in your garden beds, dig up seedlings, eat leaves and fruit. Chickens love red chilies and the leaves from chili plants (hot pepper plants.) Ducks love to eat these habaneros too.

How Do Chickens Destroy Gardens?

Not only will chickens eat a lot of fruits and leafy plants, but they also like to scratch in soil and dust bath. Your garden beds full of young seedlings won’t last long with a flock of free-range chickens.

Chickens destroying lawn grass in the garden
Chickens can destroy lawns if they decide your grass would be a good spot for a dust bath.

Your backyard flock will also enjoy scratching up the mulch you laid, exposing your soil and the tiny life forms therein, to heat, drought, soaking or wind. Chickens can ruin good soil. But their waste products can also enhance it, so long as you handle it well.

Chickens and rooster in a garden scratching through leaves
Chickens also love to scratch through fallen leaves, looking for bugs.

Of course, chickens are omnivores, they eat bugs, small rodents, and possibly small reptiles and amphibians. They can eat pests like grasshoppers, but also garden friends.

Can You Stop Chickens Destroying Gardens?

The only way to stop chickens from destroying your garden, is to keep them out of your garden.

There are multiple ways to do this. Either keep them in a coop with a good sized run, full time, build a chicken-proof garden area with high fencing, or chicken-proof your individual garden beds.

Keeping a chicken out of a raised bed to protect fruit
This raised bed contains raspberries. Chickens can’t get into the bed to scratch because of the wire mesh you can see forming a wall around the bed. This chicken-proofing can also act as a trellis or support. The chickens will jump up to reach the ripe red fruit (chickens are really attracted by red) but most are out of their reach. We pick raspberries early in the morning, before the chickens (and wild birds) can get to them. Bird netting would be helpful, but we get a good handful of berries every day with just this set-up. Tip – for more, and bigger raspberries, give them plenty of well-rotted manure every few weeks, or whatever fertiliser you can make.

As we grow all of our vegetables in raised garden beds, this is the method we use to keep chickens out of the vegetables, a fence, net, or barrier around every raised bed.

In the parts of the garden (we have 5 acres) where the chickens do free-range, we choose to grow chicken-proof plants, for instance tall fruit trees or strong-smelling herbs that chickens won’t touch.

In our experience the chickens do not eat basil, mint, or oregano. All three grow extremely well in a tropical (or sub-tropical) food garden. Chickens love tomatoes, we let some spooner tomatoes grow wild around our property, just for the chickens. If you grow some tomatoes in full sun, some in part shade, and some in deeper shade, you can have a succession of tomatoes almost year-round. Our first tomatoes of the year just gave up in the heat (late October -November, but others, in shadier spots, are just starting to produce. Summer starts in December in October, so by late spring here, its too hot for tomatoes in sunny positions.

Obviously, chickens can fly, somewhat, so if you’re relying on fencing you will have to keep one wing of each hen clipped, so that they don’t fly.

Chickens and Mulch

Chickens scratching up much
Thanks for the mulch! Said the chickens. But their waste products are feeding the lemon tree, so long as we can keep the soil surface protected from sun, wind, and rain.

Chickens will get into garden beds that have been mulched and scratch every bit of mulch out of the bed, if given a chance.

You can go some way to stopping this by putting a raised edge around your mulched bed. We use rocks.

A circle of rocks will stop some of the mulch from being scratched out, but not all.

Some mulches seem to deter chickens from scratching. We have one bed mulched with tea tree mulch (Melaleuca alternifolia), they don’t scratch in this one at all, maybe it’s the smell, maybe it’s the texture.

Tea tree mulch is a more expensive mulch, but may be worth paying for if you have destructive chickens and aren’t planning on using chop and drop in that garden bed.

Other beds mulched with straw, wood chip, or sugar cane, have been destroyed by our free-range garden chickens.

Because of this tendency of chickens, we use landscaping fabric (weed mat) and gravel mulch anywhere we really can’t have a mess brought on by chickens.

How To Stop Chickens Destroying A Garden

Silkie chickens in a garden
Will silkie chickens destroy a garden? Yes, but not as badly as regular chickens. Silkies are smaller, quieter, and have nicer manners. Their eggs are good to eat, but will be smaller and less frequent. Silkie hens also spend a lot of time being broody, but they’re great pet chickens for a small garden.

Chickens will jump to eat plants and fruit.

Don’t think your plants are safe if they are out of your chicken’s reach. Chickens will jump if they spot something tasty, particularly red fruits like tomatoes or raspberries. Chickens love to eat raspberries!

Will Guinea Fowl, Geese, and Ducks Destroy a Garden as Chickens Will?

Guinea Fowl, geese, and ducks are not as destructive in a garden as chickens. These birds can destroy gardens in different ways.

Geese and ducks can dig muddly puddles and trample small plants. They are heavy birds with big flappy feet. Geese mow grass and eat a lot of grass seeds. They’ll certainly help keep your lawn down.

Guinea fowl really aren’t too destructive to garden plants, but they are good fliers. Expect to find them on your deck or roof, making a mess.

Garden Plants Chickens Won’t Eat

We’ve found that chickens won’t peck at strongly scented herbs, like mint, oregano, basil and tulsi (holy basil). All of these plants grow easily and aren’t destroyed by the chickens.

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