Chickens love scratching around the backyard and finding tasty plants, bugs and worms to eat. They are also beneficial for the garden as well with their manure. However, there are a few things to know before allowing your chickens to roam freely around your vegie patch and garden.
Firstly, chickens are destructive to vegie patches and gardens as they are full of plants that they love to eat and freshly tilled soil to dust bathe in. Particularly when you have just planted seedlings or have seedlings sprouting. Chickens are entirely selfish and really don’t care that you are growing vegies for your table or plants and flowers to enjoy. All they see is a tasty plant morsel that they want to eat right away. If you are putting in a garden bed then make sure that it is surrounded by chicken mesh to keep your feather friends separate from the garden. At the end of the season when your vegie patch has finished producing then you can take down the chicken mesh, remove any toxic plants (e.g tomatoes and potatoes) and allow the chickens to clean up the patch. They will also provide pest control and some nutritious fertilizer at the same time that they are cleaning up your vegie patch.
Keep in mind that there are some plants that are toxic to chickens. These include rhubarb leaves, horseradish, onions, unripe tomatoes and green potatoes. The leaves and stems of tomatoes and potatoes are also toxic to chickens. The following flowering plants, vines, ferns and trees are also toxic to chickens – Azalea, hydrangea, hyacinth, rhododendron, tulips, foxglove, lupin, periwinkle, caster bean, bracken ferns, ivy, lantana and oak trees to name a few. Chickens are smart and generally stay away for these plants that they know are toxic for them. Just be aware that they are in your garden and if included in the run with them and there is nothing else to eat then they may have a peck which could cause them to get sick.
Chicken manure is a great way to provide nutrients such as nitrogen and minerals such as potassium and phosphorus for your garden. Despite it being great for the garden, it can’t be added straight to it straight away because it’s high in ammonia and this will burn and kill plants. It is important to compost the chicken manure to allow it to cure and age. This reduces the ammonia content and leaves a wonderful nutrient dense fertilizer for your garden. Chicken manure can contain harmful pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella which can make you sick. When handling chicken manure, make sure that you wear a mask and gloves. When finished, then dispose of the mask and wash the gloves and leave them in the garden shed. Always wash your hands again to be on the safe side.