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I just love chickens. To me, they are one of the most comical and entertaining animals on a homestead. One of the things chickens love to do most is scratch. What is scratching? Simply put scratching is when a chicken uses her feet to “scratch” or “rake” at the ground to bring up bugs and worms to eat. [spacer height=”20px”] (FYI: A hen can spot a worm 30 yards away. I have held them up and within seconds one of my ninja hens will come from nowhere and pluck that worm from my fingers.) [spacer height=”20px”]
When they are looking for worms and bugs, they really go to town. Scratching and pecking. So you can just imagine the damage they can do to a plant in just a few seconds. [spacer height=”20px”]My first year with chickens was an eye opener. I was just amazed at the amount of ground they could dig up in a short period of time. This can be a good thing or a horrible terrible thing.
MOST DEFINITELY NOT.[spacer height=”20px”]
What happened instead was they scratched and uprooted my new plants tossing them in the air without a care as to what I might think about it.[spacer height=”20px”][thrive_leads id=’4306′][spacer height=”20px”]
So, then why on earth did I choose to permanently house my chickens right next to my garden? Well simple, I have learned to make them work for me and not against me.[spacer height=”20px”]
Normally I only free range my gals at certain hours of the day. Usually from 3 pm until they decide it’s time to roost which is usually night fall. I do this for two reasons…..[spacer height=”20px”]
- This ensures that my eggs are always in the coop where I can find them. FYI: most free ranging hens will lay their eggs when they want and where you want.
- It also assures me that my hens are safe in their coop and run during twilight and daybreak when it is still a bit dark out. (If you still need to predator proof your coop, you can read How to Create a Predator Free Chicken Run here) When they are free ranging, I check on them more often. Hens have a one track mind especially when they are scratching for treats and can quickly find themselves in trouble without even realizing it.[spacer height=”20px”] [spacer height=”20px”]
So, if chickens will loose track of time, forget where they are and unintentionally kill plants without a care as to how I feel about it……how do I safely and effectively keep free range hens next to my garden???[spacer height=”20px”]
Teach your hens to work for you and not against you. [spacer height=”20px”]
Over the years I have learned how to get my gals to scratch where I want and when I want. They are amazing bug eaters and I cannot tell you how much my garden has thrived since I have included my hens in my soil prep.
Chickens love slugs and grubs which in our area is a garden destroyer. So having my gals eat as much as possible for as long as possible has completely changed my summer harvest from dismal to amazing!
How To Free Range Your Chickens Next To Your Garden
- Limit the time your hens are out. As you read above this is important for your hen’s safety and your egg’s safety as well. You can enjoy or sell your eggs if you can’t find them. Letting hens out later in the day will keep those eggs in the roost where they will be protected until you collect them. [spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]
- Have a rooster. Roosters get a bad rap, but when it comes to protecting your flock nothing does it better. Not only will they warn the hens of impending danger but they will warn you as well. Learn the sounds of your hens and rooster to stay on top of things. Don’t have a rooster and want to add one? Read here on How to Safely Add a Rooster to your flock for tips on how. [spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]
- Protect your garden. Once my garden is in I keep a fence around it at all times. This keeps my hens out and my plants safe. Make sure your fence is chicken proof. I sound this amazing poultry netting that is perfect. It is electric, but I have found the openings are so small my hens cannot fit through so they don’t even try. Another plus is it also keeps out everything else. Rabbits, groundhogs, deer, even raccoons have all been kept away with this fencing. So happy I invested in it. [spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]
- Use your hens scratching skills to your advantage. I allow my hens in my garden from September-May. This is helpful because my chickens will actually till up the soil and take it down to a fine dirt which is perfect for planting in. It still amazes me what they can do to clumpy soil. After a few days of scratching, I can jump in and grab any rocks that are exposed. [spacer height=”20px”][spacer height=”20px”]
- Chickens love manure! In the off season, I will use my garden as my compost bin. I usually put the manure around my garden in small piles and let my hens take it from there. They will scratch, rake and break down large chunks of compost so it can be worked easily into the soil. [spacer height=”20px”]
- Chickens also love bugs. In Northwestern PA where I live, bugs are a problem for my plants. I used to have the worst time controlling pests and have lost many tomato crops due to infestations. Since I have enlisted the help of my flock, my garden as thrived. The chickens are now eating the bugs and controlling the population so I no longer have to resort to chemicals in order to keep my plants safe.[spacer height=”20px”]
- No more wasted produce. A great thing about having my coop next to my garden is when I have an over abundance of vegetables and it ripens quicker than I can get to it, I now have a place other than the compost heap to put it. My chickens LOVE produce from the garden! They will wait patiently for me to bring them treats. Zucchini, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins and melons are their favorites.[spacer height=”20px”]
Learning to house your hens next to your garden will not only benefit you but your hens will love you for it. Tilled up soil is heaven for a hen and she will spend hours scratching for her own food. This will not only keep your hens happy but will save you money on feed as well.[spacer height=”20px”]
Happy gardening Peeps![thrive_leads id=’3072′]