One of the most popular question that I am often asked is, can I free range my chickens in my yard and not have it ending up looking like a complete dust bowl? The simple answer is yes. Over the years I have developed some tried and true techniques that should help to help keep both your flock and you happy.
Amount of Space and the Size of your Free Ranging Chickens
The first thing that you should think about is the ratio that exists between the amount of free-ranging space and the size of your flock. If you have a small space and many chickens, the garden will not be able to support your entire flock without sustaining considerable damage. When there is plenty of space and only a handful of chickens, then the effects on the garden will be minimal.
If you are limited on outdoors space, there is a solution. Try limiting the amount of chickens that you allow out at one given time to free range. Allow only some of your flock to explore and rotate their free ranging schedule. Lastly, consider putting a time limit on free-ranging.
Fencing is your Friend
One of the easiest ways to corral chickens is with fencing. Remember, chickens can fly up to six feet in small bursts. I have found that a temporary four foot high fence can deter them as long as there are goodies for grazing on both sides of the fence. You definitely do not want to have a “grass is greener on the other side situation”. For this, the chickens will hop your fence. Some people clip one of their chickens wing feathers to prevent this.
Chicken Wire for the Win
Remember that chicken wire was designed to keep chickens out, but not predators. Chicken wire is a good way to set limitations. It is versatile, easy to cut, inexpensive and comes in handy.
Chicken wire can be used to “fence” off smaller areas. I find using garden bamboo stakes run between the opening in the wire and down into the soil help to keep the wire in place and shape the area you wish to protect. Chicken wire can also be used to envelop particular plants that you wish to protect, especially new ones. Try creating mini dome from chicken wire or cages to deter the flock elsewhere and keep your plantings safe.
Plant a Free Ranging Chicken Garden
Create an area for free-ranging specifically for the chickens. If you create a space like this near their chicken coop, they may just be apt to stay close to home. There are many benefits to this and I would encourage you to check out my gardening with chickens for a list of tips, suggestions and chicken safe plantings to get you started. It is fun and easy.
Enjoy the Garden with Chickens
I am a huge advocate of spending time in the garden with the chickens. Usually, the chickens are free to roam the yard and gardens when I am out there. They serve as garden companions and I serve as a chicken babysitter. This works for me, as usually I can keep an eye on them and intervene when they are getting into mischief. My favorite time to spend with the chickens is in the evening after dinner. This allows for a couple of hours of free-ranging and I love the fact that the chickens return to the coop as the sun sets. They put themselves to bed for the night. I just have to lock them safely in the coop.
Finally, try selecting plantings that chicken avoid. These includes roses, hops, thorny berries. If you can also opt for larger plantings, that is good too. The larger the planting, sometimes the less damage that is done. Remember, I always say, chickens peck first and ask questions later. The chicken beak is equivalent to our hands. It is their most valuable tool. If a planting is in the area where the explore, consider it fair game.
Distraction Can Work Wonders
If the free ranging chickens end up somewhere undesirable, try redirecting them with a handful of treats or scratch where you would prefer them to hang out. Simply alert the flock to your presences and the goodies you carry. Like the Pied Piper, they will happily follow you, waddling all the way, to where you prefer their presence. Toss out the goodies and for now, this is where they will explore.