There are many gar­den grem­lins but chick­ens are the worst!

Your Chickens - - Contents - By Michelle Dunn

Feath­ered pests

Chick­ens have many ster­ling qual­i­ties, but re­spect for my gar­den­ing ef­forts is not one of them. For­get snails, slugs and cater­pil­lars, chick­ens are def­i­nitely the most de­struc­tive things in my gar­den.

The two worst prob­lems are dust bathing and search­ing for worms. Un­for­tu­nately, both of these ac­tiv­i­ties are at their eas­i­est and most en­joy­able in loose soil - any­where freshly planted in a gar­den.

Dust bathing and preen­ing is a nec­es­sary part of chicken main­te­nance. They do it to keep their feath­ers in good con­di­tion and to dis­lodge mites and eggs from their skin. Un­for­tu­nately, they don’t stick to just one dust bath. Any loose, light soil with room to flap about in is ir­re­sistible to chick­ens, and they sim­ply don’t care that you’ve just planted del­i­cate seedlings in that area.

Worms - well, the­o­ret­i­cally there is no rea­son why worms are more likely to be found in loose soil than in com­pacted soil, but it’s harder to scratch in com­pacted earth so chick­ens seize the op­por­tu­nity to scratch about in loose earth on the off-chance that there is some­thing tasty con­cealed there. This year I planted hun­dreds of bulbs, and was sur­prised that so few of them came up. In­stead of a solid wall of scent and colour, I had a few mis­er­able look­ing leaves and no flow­ers at all. Closer in­spec­tion re­vealed that the chick­ens were at fault - they’d scratched the loose earth away from the bulbs as they were search­ing for worms.

Over the years I have tried pretty much ev­ery­thing to keep a gar­den and free-range chick­ens to­gether, and have come up a few strate­gies. It’s im­por­tant to be aware of your chick­ens’ favourite routes around your gar­den, and the chief dan­ger ar­eas. I have a raised bed sur­rounded by gravel, and the chick­ens al­ways hop up onto the bed to avoid walk­ing on the gravel. This means there is no point plant­ing any­thing apart from es­tab­lished plants in the raised bed, as the chick­ens scratch away there on a daily ba­sis. In the gravel, how­ever, I can plant pots of seedlings and bulbs, know­ing that the chick­ens won’t cross the gravel to reach them.

Small plants can some­times be pro­tected by plac­ing stones around them to stop the chick­ens scratch­ing at them, but young seeds need to be pro­tected with mesh un­til they are es­tab­lished.

ABOVE: Bar­ri­ers can pro­tect young seedlings from your chick­ens. IN­SET: Chick­ens use this raised bed to avoid walk­ing on the gravel.

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