Chicken proofing a backyard is quite a bit like baby-proofing a house. You really have to focus on the area from the perspective of the chicken. After you figure out the areas they like and the areas that you need them to stay out of it is fairly simple. We noticed at first they didn’t want anything to do with our raised beds, but then after a few days they began laying up in our beds, probably because the soil was cool and they could easily use it for a dust bed in the heat of the day.
Watching what our birds were interested in and crossing that with keeping our garden in check so they didn’t destroy everything, we quickly realized there were definitely some areas that we did not want the chickens “grazing”. So the choice we had was to build a pen for them and then move them around or continue to free-range them and use some sort of fencing to keep them out of specific areas. We chose to protect the areas that we want to keep the chickens out of and then continue to let them have the rest of the area for free-ranging.
We have a 6 ft privacy fence around our backyard and then trees along the back property line. We pruned the tree branches so the birds would not be inclined to nest within them, and then we clipped their wings. Now I know most people say that this is a practice that should never be used and I can respect that. However, you could argue the same about clipping a babies finger nails. The answer to both of these are the same, we do this to protect them. When the effect causes no harm to either of them, and the result directly improves their safety then what is the harm?
We found some inexpensive bird netting in the garden center of our big box store, and were easily able to section off areas that we wanted to keep the birds out. This was fairly simple, and now we have our main garden beds safe again. There are a couple other areas that they like to get into and forage, and so far this has not been a problem, but we are continuing to monitor them and sometimes need to chase them out of other areas that we haven’t sectioned off as of yet.
A couple other things we did to help keep the birds in their area is to provide scratch around the yard in different places. This gives the birds a place they can always find food, and also may unintentionally give the squirrels something to forage.
We are pretty satisfied with the results though most people would say, “why all the fuss, just fence in their area”. I would probably reply that I am not running a chicken factory. Chickens perform a valuable service for our yard. They eat most insects, do a great job of loosening the soil, and provide lots of nitrogen back to the soil. In addition to pruning our vegetable gardens, taste testing our berries, and annoying our two dogs. They are keepers, and we are hopeful to begin getting eggs in a couple weeks.
I guess the real answer is that when something becomes a pest we need to understand what is happening and why. If we can address the why then we should tailor our solution around that, if we cannot and we have to focus on the what, then maybe we made a bad choice and we need to undo a few of those decisions that led us into that. I think with careful analysis that most things can be addressed after we discover the why and this allows us to work in harmony with nature instead of exerting our dominance over it.
Chicken proofing an area may be the easy solution to keeping birds out of our raised beds. BUT, this doesn’t address the bigger issue that is going on. As I continue to observe, and analyze, I would love to find a way that our birds could live in harmony with our raised beds and that we do not have to restrict them.
Chickens will be chickens and they will find a way through our defenses, but I am hopeful by then we have harvested our garden beds and the chickens will be turned free to help return those plants to the soil. Thus is the way of nature, and everything turn, turn, turn.