Keeping chickens out of flower beds

deanna_in_nh(5a/4b)April 16, 2010

We've been wanting chickens for a long time, and today was a GOOD DAY--we were gifted with a chicken house for 8 hens! The kids are so very excited.

So now I'm doing the nitty gritty research. We desperately want our chicken to range free because we have a terrible tick problem. We will be trying some guinea fowl to eat the deer ticks. This morning there was a tick on the hallway wall. This wall is INSIDE the house. We have so many ticks they're just waiting on the walls to jump on the next body that swings by. We find deer ticks all summer, as well as tons of dog ticks. I checked my winter sowing jugs last week and came in with a tick on my arm.

I really need these chickens/guinea fowl to range free. I have just been reading that they can destroy your flower beds. My beds are very new. (Well, actually they're old, but they're empty since they were 85% weeds when we moved in here.) I am planting all my winter-sow seedlings now. I'm very worried that my new flower beds will be a memory after the chickens arrive.

I have read about solutions like electric fences. Don't want to do that. So far the most promising solution is to put sharp bamboo kabob sticks in the ground around the plantings to make it an uncomfortable place for the chickens. I'd have to keep the kids and the dogs out of the beds this year, too. The beds will look like they're undergoing acupuncture as I'll need sticks just about everywhere.

Has anybody tried this? Can you give me suggestions for keeping chickens out of the garden beds?

Also, do chickens peck once plants are established, or only when plants are new and there is a lot of dirt around?

Thank you to all the chicken mamas who can help me!

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memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)

We have chickens at the ranch. Eight hens won't do a whole lot of damage. They scratch the dirt around the plants to find the bugs within. If you are using mulch they can move a lot of it around and can sometimes bury small plants. I do use electric fencing. The dogs will learn with one zap. The kids can be taught not to touch it, if they don't listen they'll learn too, my grandson did. It's not going to kill anyone. If you use a battery charged fencer the zap isn't too bad and won't hurt them. A 120v fencer hurts. I place my electric tape about half the height of the chickens and one zap will teach them too. It will also keep goats and cattle out of the garden if you have that to deal with. I don't think sticks are going to matter to the chickens they'll just scratch around them. The only other good option is a fence and the chickens can fly, so they will sometimes fly right over it. My fence is 4ft. and they have no problem getting over it. Good luck! Having chickens is a lot of fun.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 3:33AM
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Mine do get in around my beds and make a mess scratching arounf and like Memo said move the mulch (pine straw) around. They will eat and scratch up seedlings though. Sometimes I chase them out of it and sometimes I let them get the bad bugs. That was when I had three (which one just died the other day) but now I have 8 soon to be 10 and I do not want them all in my beds either.I was going to try the 32x10" white wire edging to see if that is enough to deter them. I put fertilizer down and I don'twant them to eat it.

Here is a link that might be useful: wire border fence

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:34AM
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I keep chickens and have for years. Also guineas.

They do eat ticks, fleas, bugs, insects, even small snakes and rodents. Once your plants are established, they do no damage. They keep the soil "cultivated" and their poop fertilizes your gardens for you. No, it doesn't stink the place up.

As for immediate tick remedies, try this. It works for us. We even do it when camping.

Buy a box or two of CHEAP laundry powder. I buy GAIN at Dollar General. Smells nice too. But you can buy any brand of laundry detergent. Spread it around all over your yard and around your house as if you were spreading fertilizer or weed killer. It won't hurt your plants and won't poison animals or humans, but it does get rid of ticks...and fleas. If you have a fertilizer spreader, you can use that. I have a hand-held one and it works great.

When we go camping, I spread the laundry detergent around the camp area and the ticks are gone. It also gets rid of fleas. It kills them!

When we bought this place, there was a BAD flea problem in our basement where our laundry area is located.They liked to ate us up alive! Whenever we went down to start a load of clothes, the fleas would jump on our legs! We tried bombs, sprays, powders, you name it! It did not completely get rid of them. I also didn't like using all that stuff. It was dangerous to the health of us and our pets. Since I began using laundry detergent, from time to time, there have been no further infestations. They will instantly go away! No kidding. If I see a flea, I immediately sprinkle laundry detergent around on the floor by the washer and dryer. It gets rid of them throughout the entire basement! Works on ants too. Just sprinkle a little where they are coming into your house or under your cabinets (wherever you see them trailing through) and ants are dead and gone. They also carry the powder back to their nests.

The same happens outside too. It kills all kinds of insects, but doesn't hurt earthworms or frogs or toads or other wildlife.

Good stuff Maynard!


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:48AM
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We will try that! What a good idea. Thank you.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:59AM
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Chickens can easily hop over a 10" fence and if something looks yummy to them that's on the other side of it, they will be over it. I laid down chicken wire on the ground and covered it with about 1/2" of soil and that stopped them from scratching up my flower beds. I could snip out a bit of it to plant large plants and I poked smaller slips right through the holes in the fence. They will eat tender young plants or new growth on older plants though so the electrical fencing may be your best bet. Another alternative would be to enclose a large enough yard for them that they can "free range" inside a protected area. Ours is 85' x 104' with the coop smack in the middle of it. It sits about 10" off the ground and offers shelter from overhead predators. There are some trees, tall grass areas and dust bath areas with sand. The feeder is hanging 8" off the ground under a small shelter. With a yard that large the chickens are virtually 'free range' but are still confined so they can't get out and wreck any cultivated areas in the yard.

With ticks being that much of a problem I might be inclined to fight back with chemicals, even though I prefer not to use them. But ticks can pose such a serious threat to you, your children and your animals I wouldn't want to take any chances with them. When it comes to protecting my children, I don't care about fighting fair.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 11:05AM
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Thanks for all the responses. Annie, I'd love to let the chickens roam established beds. This year almost all my plants will be small seedlings that I have wintersown. Do you have any ideas? We are getting small chicks this summer, about to place an order. How long before they are big enough to start damaging small seedlings in the yard? (Let's hope my seedlings grow fast.)

Also, any suggestions on your favorite chickens? So far we're certain for NH reds and guinea fowl. What are you favorites?

And, I'm going to try that soap powder idea.

seamommy, you said they can jump over a 10 inch fence, right? Fencing will be my last option. About how high does it need to be?

Also, should I provide them with a sand/dust area for dusting which will discourage them from using the garden? Our back porch is about 3 feet off the ground with it open underneath. Do you think they would like going under there in the shade to do "chicken stuff," whatever it is they do?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 12:59PM
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Put rocks around your seedlings. Chickens don't like to scratch in rocks. Cats either for that matter.
You can move them out a little farther as they grow.

And, now you know why the old Cottagers of yesteryear put rocks around their flowers and trees. It wasn't just for decorations!

I use a lot of rocks and thank goodness we have plenty of them here in Okie. I happen to love rocks, so it's a double delight for me to use rocks in my gardens.

Yes, leave some dry, barren places for the chickens dirt/sun baths. It needs to be in a sunny, hot location. They will find their own spot, and when they do, leave it for them.

When chicken are young, they can fly and hop over fences, but when they get older, egg laying age, they are too heavy and can't fly very well. Too heavy for the lift-off! :)

Guineas like hard shelled bugs. They do not like worms or soft caterpillars, etc., like chickens. But they love ticks and fleas (hard bodies). They also, unfortunately, love flying hard bodies, like bees of all kinds, including wasps and anything else in the bee family. They nearly wiped out my honey bees. They can jump four or more feet straight up into the air to get a bee.

Keep them penned in a run with a top on it until they are adults. By then they will be too heavy to fly over a fence. They are fair game to animals when they are young, esp. If they are already adults, then it shouldn't be a problem.

Remember the rocks.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 2:29PM
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What about a goose or two? Are they destructive as well?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 5:06PM
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Geese poop their weight every day judging by the mess they leave behind. At the farm I work at we have guinea hens and chickens and while they roam quite a bit they don't seemed to feel that flying into fenced off areas is worth the trouble. The Guineas do fly every where but they aren't destructive to the beds. Yolana

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:33PM
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Too funny, Yolana. But you have made me come to my senses.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:46PM
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We had two geese. They were the cutest things. They only ate grass. Nature's lawn mowers. Their poop wasn't as much of a problem as was their wading pool. I had to empty it twice a day and fill it with clean, cool water. It was set in the shade. But, they were worth it. It was so much fun to watch them swim and noodle around in the water. We sure enjoyed them. They were a beautiful pair. We loved them and spent a lot of time with them.

Darned Coyotes got them both - first the female and then the male a week later - in broad daylight with me in the yard!

Here they are:

1. Dancer (larger male in front) and Peetrie (the much smaller female). A beautiful adult couple.

2. Dancer and Peetrie - Dancer still had some of his baby downy feathers. Peetrie matured much faster.

3. Dancer and Peetrie enjoying a cool drink in the shade of the willow.

4. Lovely Peetrie. Look at her beautiful new adult feathers.

5. Here they were as babies with their fuzzy, downy fluffy feathers. Such sweet little babies. This was their first swim in this tiny 8" X 12" dishpan.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:48PM
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Annie, I'm figuring out how to take care of the chicks. I've been told we need to have a heat lamp. What do you do with day-old chicks? In know in the "olden days" they might stay with their moms until feathers came in, but I was wondering what you do with your young chicks since they usually came in one day old.

It's amazing how much all of you people teach me!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 11:03PM
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I use a regular light bulb - heat lamps are TOO HOT!
My light is on an extension cord with a metal-cone shield around it like the heat lamps, but it is not a heat lamp. I have had it for a long time. I think you can still get them at lumber yards and hardware stores - maybe WalMart too. I have it strung up to the ceiling and hung on a large teacup hook over their cardboard box. I laid aluminum window screens on the top to keep them in and safe. The lamp lays right on the top of the screens. It should not be too close to the chicks however. No closer than two feet anyway. You have to check it often until you figure it out. Much depends upon their brooder box (container). They need room enough in the box to move away in case they get too warm. Don't set the lamp over their water.

I just use a large, carboard box for my Brooder Box (a lawnmower came in the one I am using now). No need to buy fancy equipment. They grow too fast to put out money for a few weeks worth of use, unless you are going into the chicken business for earnest. Put the box in a safe place where other animals cannot get to them and where they are out of any drafts and weather. In the bottom of the cardboard box, sprinkle just enough pine shavings (or you can use cedar shavings) to lightly cover the bottom (about $9 per bag). This is their litter and it is also their bedding, so it needs to be changed regularly, as you would any baby. Once a day or every other day, clean it out and put in fresh shavings. It scares them, but as long as you talk to them calmly when you care for them, they will eventually calm down. You can put the soiled litter in your compost pile. Their droppings are tiny beads, about the size of a pea, but very odoriferous.

Change their water several times a day. Clean it out with Clorox bleach and water once in awhile to keep down germs and other icky stuff. Make sure they have fresh, clean, cool water, even on cool or cold days. They can go longer without food than they can without fresh, clean, cool water.

If the chicks huddle together under the lamp, then it isn't warm enough.

If they huddle together away from the lamp, then it is too hot.

If they are scattered all around in the box, pecking and softly peeping, then the heat is perfect. If they are peeping loudly, then something is wrong. Check all of the above to see what is the matter.

They do prefer to huddle together when they sleep however.

As they get older, each week you can raise the light lamp up a little. During the day if it gets warmer where they are kept, and more and more as they grow bigger until they don't need it any longer - when they get their real feathers. I have noticed that chicks get so accustomed to the light that they are afraid of the dark, so I keep a nightlight on in the chicken house.

If you ever need to move them or take them to the vet, box them up in a pet taxi or cardboard box with a lid on it after sundown, at night and in the dark. (you can use a flashlight.) Chickens don't put up a fight in the dark, even the meanest old rooster in the world. That is why foxes and other predators raid the henhouse at night. Easy pickins! The hens don't even make a sound.

If you go to a feedstore, you should be able to find little booklets on raising chicks and chickens. Also, there are a hundreds, if not thousands of websites you can go look at. Everyone does it a little differently, but the basics are all the same.
Mine are only three weeks old. Already they are flying about in the bottom of the box. They hop up onto the top of their watering pot (which gets pooped on - ugh). They also have started to hop onto my hand or arm when I reach in to change their food and water. I have just this week begun to give them very finely clipped bits of tender grass and chickweed. I use kitchen scissors. Chickweed tastes like juicy lettuce. They love it and fight over it, even though I put plenty in the box for every chick. This is normal chicken activity.

You learn as you go. You make mistakes, but you become "The Mom" very soon.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 12:15AM
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Fantastic info! Thanks so much, Annie!

Just found I don't have to worry about picking chickens. The person who gifted us with the house has also ordered one each of six different types of chickens for us. We'll find out when they come.

My job is now getting guinea fowl!

Annie, would you rather me send you a private message when I have more questions or post here? Your help is so fantastic!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 11:40AM
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Certainly - you can send me emails. :)

I will do my best to help. If I don't know, I will tell you.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 12:33PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Hey Deanna,
Welcome to chickendom. You are lucky to have a mentor like Annie- we learned on our own.

I recommend "Chickens for Dummmies". It's cheap and well-written with common sense advice for new chicken owners.

My chickens savage my garden. They don't eat my bugs, they eat my lilies, lettuce, pepper plants, and anything else they can get into. They love to take lengthy dirt baths in my flower beds and dig nice foot-wide depressions to loll about in. I put hog wire or chicken wire over my veggie beds and plant through it now to keep all of my varmints at bay: Sam the cat, the three egg-laying ladies, and the nocturnal visitors (oppossums and raccoons).

Three foot tall fencing has been the best defense.

I hope your girls are better behaved than mine!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 1:51PM
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You are hilariously funny, although I know the situation isn't. Thanks for making me laugh out loud.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 4:17PM
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