Keeping chickens in the garden can be a fun and enjoyable experience. These clucking creatures have a lot of charm. But before you make the decision to keep them, it can be a good idea to find out all you can, and to make sure that you are properly informed about what it means to keep chickens in the garden – the benefits, the downsides, and all the practical information you need to know.
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Why Keep Chickens in the Garden?
Chickens in the garden are useful for a wide range of reasons. First and foremost for many, of course, chickens are kept for their eggs. Some will keep them for meat as well.
But for gardeners, there are a few more key benefit to keeping chickens in the garden – they are useful for fertilization – and their manure can be used in a garden in a range of different ways.
They help gardeners by scratching up, aerating soil and helping to incorporate organic matter and reduce compaction issues in growing areas. They also help in a garden by by eating a range of pests like slugs and caterpillars, and keeping pest numbers down. It is also useful in knowing about keeping livestock in a polytunnel.
When keeping chickens in the garden, there are many other things that you need to know. While chickens can be very useful in a garden, they can also potentially be difficult at times, and there are certain times when chickens can be pests in a garden themselves.
Of course, if you want to keep these creatures then you need to know their basic needs, and preferences, to keep them happy and healthy. But beyond these things, you also need to think carefully about how to integrate a new flock into your overall plans for your garden as a whole.
You need to consider where you can find synergy between chickens and other elements in your garden design, and where and when chickens won’t be beneficial within a certain part of your design. For example, it is worth adding fruit cages if keeping chickens in the garden to prevent them from getting too near your crops. For further information, follow this guide on polytunnels for fruit cages for chickens.
Problems with Chickens in the Garden
As I learned myself when keeping chickens in the garden for the first time, hens can very quickly eat everything in sight – including all your crops if you do not keep them fenced out of key growing areas.
New chicken owners may often imagine that chickens will just nibble around the edges of their vegetable garden, for example, but soon learn that these can be voracious creatures that, if you give them access to the wrong areas at the wrong times, can decimate your garden – stripping whole plants, plucking seedlings out of the ground, and generally destroying your hard work.
Time Zone Gardening
When you are thinking about integrating chickens into an overall garden design, you will of course need to think carefully about the benefits chickens can potentially confer and the problems they can bring.
Thinking about the inputs, outputs and characteristics of chickens can help you to see where and how you can integrate them into your garden design.
Of course, whenever you are designing your garden, whether for chickens or other livestock, or for the plants you wish to grow, you should be designing with your specific location in mind. You should design keeping in mind the conditions found in your particular garden.
Remember that the conditions will alter throughout each day and throughout the year with the changing seasons. So it is important to design not for a static situation, but keeping change in mind.
When talking about chickens, this means that you need to consider how chickens’ needs will vary throughout the course of the year.
Primarily that means thinking about how to keep them cool enough in summer, and warm enough through the winter months – but there are also other seasonal changes worth thinking about when successfully integrating chickens into your garden design.
For example, you might like to think about allowing chickens access to growing areas at certain times of the year, while excluding them with effective fencing or other barriers during the key time periods.
Easy and Affordable Fencing
Most of the time, it is common to have parts of a garden for food production that chickens cannot access all the time, even if they are allowed seasonal access at certain times within the growing calendar when their presence can help rather than conflicting with the needs of your primary crops.
Of course, keeping chickens out of certain areas at certain times means creating easy and affordable fencing. Often, a simple chicken wire fence is used, though there are other options – such as a wattle fence made with natural branches, for example.
Perimeter Duty for Hens
When creating fencing and runs for chickens in a garden, it is always worthwhile thinking about how the hens can help with pest control. One idea that it can be interesting and useful to implement is having a fenced chicken run around the edges of your vegetable garden.
The hens on perimeter duty will peck around and help keep pests away from the crops growing in the area they ‘guard’.
What Equipment Do I Need to Keep Chickens?
One of the first questions you will need to ask if you want to keep chickens in your garden is what they, and you, will need. The core things that you need to think about are:
- Housing, usually a coop, for your hens.
- A safe place for them to roam, or an enclosed run depending on how ‘free range’ they will be.
- A feeder and a waterer to provide what the chickens need to eat and drink.
- Food and water to fill these with.
If you have a cockerel or want to raise chicks, there are many other things to think about, but these are the basics you will need to have in place for laying hens.
Chicken coops need to be large enough to accommodate the number of hens you plan on keeping in your garden. You should research space requirements for the particular chickens you wish to keep, as these can vary somewhat with breed and age.
They need to have a roosting bar or bars, ideally raised up a little above ground level, with a ladder ideally, for easy access. There should also be nesting boxes for the hens, in which they should lay their eggs.
What Do You Feed Chickens?
Chickens need a special pelleted feed, or a combination of grains carefully chosen to provide them with the right nutrition.
You certainly can create a homemade diet for laying hens that will make up the bulk of what they eat – but this is not necessarily the best choice for complete beginners as it does have to meet their needs. So most who are new to keeping chickens will choose a commercial feed.
In addition to their main feed, chickens will also forage for a proportion of their diet. The better their forage area the more nutrients they can obtain through foraging and the less commercial feed they will usually consume.
Do Chickens Eat Garden Plants?
As we have already discussed above, chickens can consume garden plants. Sometimes, we wish for them to do so, when this is part of an area where we would like for them to forage. Sometimes, however, this can become a problem if chickens eat in an area of the garden where we do not wish them to eat.
Chickens won’t eat all plants, and will like some better than others. Of course, you should plant areas that chickens can access with plants that are either for their consumption, or which they will tend to leave alone.
Make sure there are no plants that can do them harm. Hens don’t often tend to eat plants poisonous to them, but can eat toxic species on occasion. So make sure you know what is safe for them to keep them healthy.
How Do I Protect My Chickens From Foxes or Other Predators?
Keeping chickens safe also means making sure we do all we can to protect them from foxes and other predators. That means making sure that coops where chickens spend the night, and runs or enclosed areas where they spend the day, are secure and don’t allow predators in.
Remember that this can mean having high fencing that also extends over, and under the coop or run, so that foxes cannot climb over or tunnel under.
What Ailments Do Chickens Suffer From?
Before you keep chickens, you will also need to understand what can go wrong and the ailments that they can suffer from.
Make sure that you understand the everyday pests, problems and illnesses that chickens can ordinarily suffer from, and make sure you are aware of the complexities of keeping chickens these days with bird flu…
It is important to go into the whole thing with your eyes open – understanding the joys of keeping chickens but also the downsides and challenging things too.
Keeping rescue hens can be a wonderful thing to do – though sadly these hens can be in a terrible state when they first arrive and so it is important to be aware of what they may have wrong with them and how you can nurture them back to full health.
Keeping Chickens in a Polytunnel
Keeping chickens in a domestic polytunnel, or allowing them access to a commercial polytunnel at least some of the time can be a wonderful idea. Chickens and a food producing polytunnel can be two systems within a garden that can work hand in hand. Just remember that there is a lot to learn before you take the plunge and start keeping chickens in your garden. Furthermore, to keep your chickens safe in the garden, be sure to know how to stop foxes, especially for problems about digging up your garden.
1. Is it OK to let chickens in the garden?
Yes, it’s OK to let chickens in the garden, but with some considerations:
Chickens can help control pests and fertilise the soil with their droppings.
However, they might also scratch up flower beds, eat plants, and create dust baths in the soil. It’s essential to monitor their activity and possibly fence off certain areas you want to protect.
Can Neighbours complain about chickens?
Yes, neighbours can complain about chickens, especially if:
The chickens are causing a noise disturbance, particularly if you have a crowing rooster.
There’s an odor coming from an unclean coop.
Chickens are escaping and entering the neighbour’s property.
Local regulations or housing agreements prohibit keeping chickens.
What is the new law for chickens in the UK?
Regulations can vary by local councils. Common considerations include:
Welfare standards to ensure chickens are kept in humane conditions.
Restrictions on keeping roosters in densely populated areas due to noise.
Requirements for coop size, location, and design.
It’s essential to check with your local council for the most up-to-date regulations and any recent changes.
GOV.UK. (n.d.) Department for Environment Food Rural Affira (DEFRA) [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs [accessed 09/10/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.