So, in the next week my garden is going to turn from a dismal lump of dead dusty soil to a deep mulch - 4 inches of manure followed by 6 inches of woodchip.
I also have chickens - only 3, but I don't have a big garden.
With woodchip mulch and summer coming I am obviously thinking vegatables. However, my chickens LOVE young green shoots - anything small green and tender will be shredded instantly, and if it survives that it's rapidly uprooted with their feet.
How do you guys balance between getting the benefits of the chickens turning over the mulch and not having them wreck the veg plot?
I'm not sure how big your space is. I've moved my veg gardens all around the property looking for the best place to plant. I once did it directly next to the chicken run. They ate a lot of things but I did get some lettuce, surprisingly. Last year I moved it quite far away. They can still get to it, and I do see them around, they simply don't. Lazy things, they are. Plus they appear to have chicken ADD in that they always get distracted en route.
You could plant way more than you need with the expectation that it'll get eaten.
Make sure that they are well fed. And fence your garden with floppy fence, followed by a chicken undesirable crop. A hard wire placed at a strategic height before the floppy fence helps. Hot or not. Provide some good perching at least 25 ft from said fence. Will sit on junk tree instead of their insatiable need to sit high as possible on your fence. I say at least 25 ft away, and higher. Highest will satisfy them, but too far away to glide over that scary floppy fence. Get heavy (body mass) layers for free range. All said, a full chix is a happy chix.
Oh yeah, you wanted them to turn soil. Eh, don't let them. If it's a small garden, you can do it yourself. Let them turn and fertilize a compost pile instead. I see that being more productive than finding a way around to make them turn garden soil.
In Costa Rica on a mixed farm I built garden beds where it was impossible to do anything but install small holed malla (plastic fencing) around each bed to keep the birds out. Some were flyers and so even that was not 100% but it was purty darn close, especially when I had time to watch everybody when they were on the loose. I'm all for defense over possible annihilation. The malla fencing was about four foot tall. So, they could hang out with lots of choices: in the sturdy plant area shade, in the clear, dusty bowls between protected areas... under the heavy undergrowth of the edges...
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
posted 5 years ago
Bird netting. You state the space is not large. Some produce is lost to birds anyway. If you have chickens it is likely worth the investment to drape some netting over tomato stakes. If you do it right around the perimiter it could even keep out rabbits and other pests. A roll of deer/bird netting at your localtractor supply is ~$20 for a 50' roll of 4' cloth.
posted 5 years ago
also, provide distractions for them - free seeded cherry tomatoes (large sprawling plants) and big clumps of citronella were favorite spaces for my birds in their day time free space...they also enjoyed taking walks to the creek below... lol and they loved to dip into and flop around in the dirt under raised wooden table beds where the veggies grew, for the most part - out of reach. they especially loved it when I weeded and harvested and tossed them some greens... but, they never succeeded in destroying the critical beds. they are like children, they love to roam and investigate but need clear boundaries/supervision ...
My vegetable garden is completely off limits to chickens except by invitation. In my opinion, the scratching is even more destructive than the pecking. I have a very small suburban property, but still manage to use the paddock shift system with my ten chickens; each paddock is about a quarter of the available space (mainly lawn and shrubs) out back, and they stay in the paddocks for 7-10 days. In fact, the only reason I haven't converted my entire back lawn to growing beds is that the lawn is so appealing for chickens!
If you can't exclude them from the veg garden, I would at least keep them out until the plants are very sturdy and strong, and unable to be scratched up; two years ago, my chickens broke into the veg patch and discovered that the raised bed I built for carrots was the most amazing dustbath ever--not only did I lose every single carrot, they also pitched out half the soil in their enthusiasm.
I have six brown shavers and they range around a couple of acres. They go everywhere. They scratch all exposed ground, although they have limits like being pushed back by pumpkin vines as it expands over the ground. They have found pockets of things I've planted in far corners of the paddock, hidden by grass, which they've scratched up (artichoke seedlings). If they have access to something they will eat, they'll eat it to the ground with examples being sorrel and rhubarb leaves. They do not care about lettuce.
The only way I can stop them doing damage, is to put bird netting around all the garden beds. They will not fly over soft fencing and therefore won't get over it, but will fly onto hard fencing and get over that. For example, they will never fly over the bird netting as long as it's over 4 feet high, but they will flap onto the top of a wooden fence that high perch, and then fly over.
When they were younger they'd be too dumb to know to do half the things they do now. But being around 2 years old, they've had time to teach themselves some tricks. So with younger chickens you might get away without fencing, and they'd certainly do less damage.