Chickens & Gardens

Master_Eeyore(7b)February 27, 2004

OK, stupid question time. I am interested in getting 2-3 bantam hens to put in my garden to eat the slugs and insects. The garden is small (8x48). There is a 6' privacy fence on one side, and a 4' lattice fence on the other. I have dachshunds and rhodesian ridegebacks, and don't want them to hurt the chickens. (they are on the outside of the garden) However... I don't want to be cruel to the chickens, either. What is your opinion? Is keeping 2-3 chickens enough to keep them socially happy? Is that a big enough space to keep them happy? Do they need to be able to fly and flap their little wings? I promise I am not crazy, just don't want to be cruel, and I know nothing about chickens.

Thanks in advance,


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Bantam hens can fly a short distance if startled or if they simply want to, so your fences might not be adequate. You could trim their wings to keep them from flying; it might help, might not. Chickens are by nature very curious and if they see something that catches their eye, they may not let fences stop them.

Dogs and poultry generally do not mix unless your dogs are very docile, obedient, and laid-back to begin with. Dogs love to 'charge' the fence and scare the chickens. (I keep about 20 hens and a couple of roosters, several ducks, and a few turkeys and have two older dogs who, despite years of me screaming and swatting, etc., still charge the pens. And the dogs know better; they just can't resist their natural instinct).

The dimensions of the garden you are talking about do not sound too small, considering you are interested in bantams. But you should still provide them with a small shelter of some sort to get out of the rain, cold wind, blazing sun, etc., and at least one nest box that is up off the ground a little. Then you can get their eggs when they start laying. Food and water containers are essential even though they will eat many insects. Also, they will often eat your vegetables, especially anything bright colored. Mine have stripped strawberry plants of flowers and berries, stripped huckleberry plants, tomatoes, tomatillos, ornamental peppers, small green beans and peas.... even stripped every flower and bud off of all the begonias and pansies in pots on my back porch, and took half the foliage just for fun. And my birds are very well-fed, so it's not as if they are eating my plantings because they are hungry.

Something else to consider is predators other than dogs. Cats love to attack poultry, especially smaller birds. Had some smallish game hens once, and despite one game hen's extremely agressive protection instincts, it was not enough to save a few of them from a marauding neighborhood cat. Raccoons love to kill poultry. Absolutely love to. They will kill several chickens at one time, just taking a few bites out of each before going on to kill the next. Shooting or trapping is the only remedy. Possums can be predators but not as commonly as raccoons. Snakes will swallow eggs whole. And of course neighborhood dogs that roam will find your hens, and may also prove to be a problem.

Poultry in a garden or just scratching and pecking around your property is very picturesque, very nice that they eat so many insects. But they will also eat your vegetables, flowers, seedlings, etc., and make poops wherever they wish. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if they do it where you want them to.

Don't know if this helps or harms, but that is my experience with hens in my yard and garden. I let my chickens out of their pen to roam the yard when I am outside and able to somewhat monitor them. If not, they would consume half the things I have in my yard.

Good luck with your hens!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2004 at 2:43AM
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Thanks for your advice - I had no idea they would eat my garden!


    Bookmark   February 28, 2004 at 2:06PM
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I had my girls and boys out today, and they cleaned up some of those big disgusting termites in some firewood. They also cleaned up the seed that falls out of the bird feeder. They made a beeline for some miniature roses I have on the back porch, ate two little blooms before I got the three pots up out of their reach.

They were scratching around in my herb bed, which I had not yet raked, looking for insects under the leaves, and I noticed that they did not eat any of my herbs. I have several mints, parsley, lemon grass, thyme, rosemary, a small lavender, garlic chives, lemon balm, and licorice mint. They didnt seem interested in the plants or the new shoots at all. Which is good!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2004 at 7:36PM
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pamcleod(z4 NH Lakes)

Yes, it's true :-( . I got chickens partly for the same reason, and they are now fenced out of my gardens. Then again, I have almost 30 and they are full size birds. However, they are allowed to forage right up to the garden fenceline.

I have heard people suggest ducks as a great alternative - they are not so hard on garden plants and don't scratch like chickens.

Other ideas I've heard: keep the chickens cooped in a run and let them out into the garden for only a few hours a day (at dusk so they return to their coop at dark). Or, build a narrow run around the perimeter of the garden just for the chickens - like a moat. They would eat many of the insects that try to crawl in from outside.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2004 at 2:12PM
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I should have mentioned that it is good to turn a flock of chickens loose in your garden immediately after turning the soil---I let mine out after tilling under the cover crops two or three times a year, and they find all sorts of insects, seeds, etc.

My birds are not bantams, mine are all 'heavy' breeds, big fat-bottomed hens, my favorite kind. No skinny Leghorns.

I have never tried letting my ducks into my garden, as their pen is at the farthest point away from the garden, and on the opposite side of my house. I have two white Pekins, a couple of black Runners, a mallard, and one that is just sort of brown. But ducks are awesome little birds, too, so much personality, so ducks might work for Master Eeyore. Dont' know what they would do to leafy vegetables, though.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2004 at 2:35PM
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chicken_lady(z3/4 Maine)

I have bantams, have had them for a number of years now. We let ours run "free range". They are flyers, you have to put netting over their fenced in area in order to keep them put. They do eat alot of bugs, but as already mentioned they will eat the garden to as well as doing major excavation in your gardens too. They love to do "dust baths" and can end up digging out major craters in which they take them. Also they would much rather hide thier nests then go into a nesting box. When they do this one day you wake up and there you have a Mama with a bunch of chicks running behind her! We have had to resort to running a strand of electric fence around the veggie garden just to keep the chickens out of it. I live on about ninty acres, mostly wooded, in the middle of a very rural wooded part of the state and we have all those wild critters around us, but the only animals that have ever raided the garden are our own chickens! We built a new coop last fall and have started moving the younger hens into it along with two of our roosters. They will have a large enclosed pen. We will tear down the old coop which has started to fall apart anyways. The older hens and extra roosters will most likely end up in the freezer (they make excellent soup) Have to admit that I will miss the hens and chicks running around the yard tho, but we've had problems with hawks during the day the last couple of years(and this winter owls at nite snatching chickens that roosted in the trees) and it is against the law to injure or kill birds of prey even if they are killing your livestock.

Just some of my experiances, hope it doesn't discourage you!


    Bookmark   March 14, 2004 at 1:10AM
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babanna(z5 NY)

for that small a space you might be better with call ducks...they will eat bugs but not your whole garden! And they are really cute and cheap. You still need a little house for them and no matter if you get ducks or chickens I don't know how your animals will treat them. My labs leave our birds alone and seem to enjoy keeping on the prowl for predators....actually one lab went nuts over a hawk that had attempted a capture at one of my little ducks and saved our duckie! LOL!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2004 at 4:20AM
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chicken_lady(z3/4 Maine)

My dog also protects our chickens. If he is in the house and hears them put up a commotion he runs to the door and whines to go out and then will run to the coop and check it out and then run along the perimiter of the yard barking to let any intruders know that he is on duty. He also runs and barks at any hawks or even crows that fly over. He's an excellent protector but let any of those free range chickens get to close to one of the spots he has buried a bone he will jump into the middle of them with a big gerruff and send them flying in all directions! It's comical to see! lol


    Bookmark   March 15, 2004 at 12:14AM
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madspinner(z7 WA skagit)

I have a chicken house and pen on one corner of my garden. Soon they will get another small yard and clipped wings. Eventually, when the garden is more established, I am hoping to let them out in the garden now and then in the evening for bug and weed patrol, but that won't be for awhile.

I would trim wings on bantam chickens, as they can often fly really well. Fat chickens don't fly so well, but mine are still getting a wing each trimmed to throw them off balance and keep them in their fence.

Predators can really be a problem. Especially wherever the chickens spend the night needs to be secure.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2004 at 8:55PM
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