Friday, 5 April 2013

Stopping chickens from scratching up your garden!

We have chickens. Quite a number of chickens in fact. Possibly a few more then the local bylaws might even suggest is prudent but then I've never counted them properly so I wouldn't really know!

I like to free range mine - its the good and right and proper thing to do. But I also like my gardens and as any one with chickens will tell you - Gardens and Chickens don't mix... There's a really good reason my husband  thinks ours should be called, Destroyer, Devastator, D9, Dozer, Destructer and so on!

Generally I let ours out each afternoon about 4 or 5pm to range around the garden and do their chookie thing. Its much easier to let them out at the end of the day and have them put themselves to bed (and just shut the gate) than it is to chase them all over the garden for half and hour as since they have their freedom, they are not about to give it up easily at 10am!

Every so often they decide that a particular patch of the garden is the PERFECT place to dig up entirely and they shovel most of the garden on to the path or onto the lawn and simply dig up a patch of my garden, plants and all.

There is actually a garden/path edge under all that mulch... somewhere...

Cute little chookie digging a hole to China in my garden....

Surprisingly, this does not enchant me. But over time I have found a way to have your garden and not want to eat your chickens too!

Here's what I did...

First I have to clean up all the devastation without resorting to using a recently constructed chicken feather broom....

Then I go to my fan palms (sorry about the bad photo - taken with my mobile in very low light) and I give it a prune. What I'm after is a supply of sticks that wont poison my garden or cost me any money!

So I cut the leaves off and throw 'em back under the tree and keep the stalks. Mine are spiky so I wear gloves to handle them.

These are the stick I get from the palms - but any sticks will do as long as they take a while to rot. I find Poinciana branches (that we have a lot of) rots to quickly and the chookies can move them as its quite light as well.

Then I place them on the recently devastated patch...

Careful to make layers of interlocking random sticks - if you put them in rows the chooks just dig in the gaps. If you leave a big gap, they will just get back in there. It needs to be quite dense with the stick layers.

I didn't take a picture of the finished patch but it had about 15 sticks covering this patch.
I leave them uncovered for a while so I can check what the chookies are going to do and where I might have left a chicken sized gap... 

The chookies used to get under the Frangipani tree and pull all the mulch over the path and destroy anything that might grow as a ground cover. Once I put the sticks in here (this is about three layers thick) and covered it in sugar cane mulch - they haven't been back into it!

I also did it down the side of the path and have planted some ferns in the gaps which protects them while they grow so they can eventually become a ground cover in the longer term.

Gardens and chickens can work but you have to be vigilant. As we live in Queensland and you simply cant have uncovered dirt in your garden as it will dry out in the sun and kill all the plants - mulch is a natural part of most people gardens in tropical Australia. By putting a pretty thick layer of sticks down and then covering it in mulch you are giving the garden a chance to grow undisturbed from the activities of the chickens.

I was just covering up the holes they dug with mulch but found they were really keen on coming back to the same place over and over. I tried small fences, but they just hop over it. I tried (aptly named) chicken wire over the surface of the dirt in garden but found it hard to weed and not so pretty to look at. They seem to be quite random about where they are going to dig - but then I'm not a chicken so it wouldn't make sense to me and so I find I am better off finding the patch that they have chosen to dig up this week, put them to bed without too many death threats (I think it affects their egg laying!) and not let them back out until I have "chicken sticked" that patch.

This works for me but creates a more "rustic" look than one of law and order!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for not using new or manufactured products
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for it being a free project!
Time cost: About an hour to settle down after discovering the newly created hole to China and your new never-seen-this-colour-before geranium bush dead and dying... 10 minutes to cut some sticks, 2 mins to put on the garden and a week to see if the chookies are going to go back to that patch!
Skill level: Pruning skills... and I found meditation helps settle down too!!! No not meditation on a book of roast chicken ideas either!
Fun-ness: Once the plants are back growing happily, its great fun!

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