I built my first hugel this summer. I was so happy with the results, and excited to see what came next. I planted pumpkins and they did amazingly well at first. Then things went down hill, the leaves started turning yellow and the pests came. I don't know why this happened, could be lots of reasons, but I forgot the water on one evening, and didn't discover it until the next evening, so I believe I probably washed away most of the nitrogen, and other nutrients I put into the soil. Before I found out if I was going to be able to fix the problem the chickens dug the hugel to the top wood layer. Since then I have lost count of how many times I have put the soil layer back on top of my hugel. I even made a chickenyard, so the chickens could be out without access to my hugel. Put the soil back on my hugel and planted bush peas, and threw in some chrysanthemums I have rooted from cutting. Finally I was going to get my hugelkultur established.
The chickens can get out. Once those little buggers figured out they can fly, there is no stopping them. I keep adding things to the fence, and gate, but so far the rooster and a hen or two get out a couple times a week.
Last night I went to see if I could see pea sprouts emerging yet, and I find a bare hugel. The only thing that seems to withstand the chickens are the two lavender plants (I planted them when I first planted the pumpkins. For some reason the chickens don't mess with them.) Part of me thinks the universe in sending me a message, I'm just not meant to have a hugelkultur. I'm just to stubborn for that. I don't know how I will keep those (insert curse word of your choice) chickens off my hugel, but I will find a way. Hind sight is 20/20. Before I fenced the chickens in, a 4' fence kept them out of my veggie garden, now they get into that too. If only I had just fenced the hugel, instead of the chickens. There is a part of me, the tired and broke part of me that says give up, but so far the part of me that loves to garden, and can't wait to see what the hugel will do that says keep going! I think it might be hard to hold my head up if I can't out smart a chicken.
Chickens love piles, as you have discovered. They also love wood chips. Mine dig wood chips and anything that is in a pile until they absolutely can't dig farther. Apparently level = heaven in chicken brains.
Maybe this was the year of the rampaging chickens? Mine rarely bothered gardens until this year. Built them their own garden late in the season & that helped some. They still scratch up the ground level hugels. I intentionally feed them snacks at the base of a tall hugel & they don't bother going uphill on that. Yet. They were digging too close to some newly planted walking onions so I poked many sticks into the ground to prevent damage. Ugly but very effective. Seems like sticks around a hugel would be a good deterrent.
Besides growing food hugels are excellent carbon sequestration. Don't we all deserve the benefits of that?
Argue for your limitations and they are yours forever.
Robins and some other wild birds do the same on my hugel beds. I have started using logs to make little mini-terraces so more of the mulch stays on the top of the beds. But the wild birds are a fair bit smaller than chickens. You might also focus on perennial woody plants. Perhaps those plants would manage better with the chickens? Especially if they were already at least 2 feet tall.
Do you want to work with nature to grow your own food and build a natural life? Check out Wild Homesteading's thread on permies to get started.