Chickens relish the destructive insects that can make gardening a nightmare. These bugs are an valuable food source for the birds because of the protein they provide. Chickens also make short work of the grass, weeds and weed seeds that plague the garden. There are several ways you can incorporate hens into the garden to keep the insects and weeds under control, fertilize the soil and supply you with the best eggs you’ve ever eaten.
Portable pens called chicken tractors are designed to be moved along in the garden and are optimized for chickens and garden pest control. They are usually built to accommodate only a few birds, so the structures are lightweight and easy to move. Chicken tractors are often homemade and styles vary. A satisfactory design provides shelter from the sun and rain with roosting places and a nest box for laying eggs. It should be easy for the caretaker to reach in to feed and water the birds. The fencing or wire mesh needs to be in decent shape to keep predators from getting your birds. Handles or pull ropes are provided to make moving the pen easier.
The coop pictured is 3’W x 8’L. This is an ideal size for three or four standard size hens. One of the roof sections lifts up, so the roosts can be cleaned. The loft holds two generous nest boxes that can be accessed from outside the tractor. Skis added to the bottom would make this easy to move.
Chicken Tractor between Beds
Any portable coop can be moved between garden beds as long as the coop is not wider than the paths. Chickens will scratch around, consume insects, eggs, and weed seeds. Moving them daily keeps manure from building up and gives them fresh forage each day.
Chicken Tractor on the Beds
This is a neat trick when carefully planned. Raised beds with solid sides are the same width as the portable coop. The coop is placed on top of the raised bed. The chickens till the bed up with their scratching, thereby eliminating many garden pests. The tractor is first placed on each raised bed in early spring to let the hens prepare the ground for planting. As each crop is finished, the coop is returned to the bed, and the chickens clean up the residue.
A more carefree approach is a permanent four-sided coop built in the middle of the garden. The garden is fenced and divided into four sections, one on each side of the coop. The coop has a door in each side that leads out to a section of the garden. In the spring before planting, and again in the fall when the garden is finished, all doors are open and the chickens are free to work their magic of fertilizing, tilling and pest eradication. During the growing season, the chickens are let out into whichever garden section could benefit from their presence. Chickens, with their constant scratching, can be hard on vegetation. They will peck a hole in every ripe tomato. They can be allowed in with mature crops as long as they are monitored and shooed out if they become destructive.
Chickens and Garden Pest Control
The symbiotic relationship of chickens and gardens reduces the gardener’s reliance on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Although the birds need food and fresh water each day, they will consume less feed when they have access to plenty of natural forage and insects.
Chicken Tractor/Diane Barnard
Cochin Chickens/Wiki Commons/Public Domain
Hen in Brussels Sprouts/Diane Barnard