Letting Chickens Till Our Garden

One major reason lead us to choose against letting our chickens free-range: stories about how they destroy flower beds and gardens. Instead we went with a ‘middle of the road’ option: An A Frame Chicken Tractor (read all about how we built it ourselves right over here!). This coop is mobile, thus allowing the birds access to fresh grass each day, but also keeping them exactly where we want them to be.

Overall, our chicken tractor has worked out really well! A plus side is that we can put the chickens on the garden now that it is dormant. Let me tell you, the amount of scratching they did was amazing! All of that searching for grubs and seeds allowed our garden to be tilled…and we didn’t have to do any of it! Let me tell you why this method of tilling is so beneficial to gardens and flower beds.

Allowing chickens to till a dormant garden as so many amazing benefits! You’ll find a discussion about those in this blog post. Learn why we rotate our chicken tractor around the garden, before and after pictures of the soil, and tips for implementing a similar system onto your homestead. You’ll even find a few additional gardening and chicken posts in a list at the very end of this entry.

Why We Let Chickens Till Our Garden

1. Fertilization

As the chickens eat, scratch, and till your garden…they’re also pooping…which means fertilizer for you!

Chicken poo is full of nitrogen, so you’re naturally adding that to your soil as they rotate around the garden.

You should also be aware: chicken poo is very hot (this means extremely high in nitrogen), so I recommend rotating them to a new spot in the garden at least every-other-day, if not each day. This will ensure that no one spot is receiving way too much nitrogen at one time. Soil that is too hot (filled with too much nitrogen) can actually burn up seedlings! Which is not super helpful when trying to garden.

2. No Tiller Needed

Chickens naturally turn, aerate, and loosen the earth as they scratch the soil in search of grubs, seeds, and insects. This means that no manual tilling is required!

I don’t know about you, but this sounds extremely nice…even more so for my husband since he’s the one who runs the tiller.

Using chickens for tilling is a great option if you cannot afford a tiller or do not have the capability to till by hand.

I suggest rotation the chickens around the garden 5-10 times in order to aerate the soil really well.

3. Pest Control

Rotating your chickens in the garden prior to planting will help with pest control for the upcoming season.

They will scratch the soil and eat up any nasty bug eggs that may the lying below. Say good-bye to baby potato bugs, squash bugs, and all sorts of other insects!

I do not recommend keeping them in the garden after planting because they will eat up any seeds or sprouts they can find!

I even like to rotate the around the perimeter of the garden during the spring and summer because they will be able to reach come bugs that are close enough.

Our Soil: Before and After Chicken Tillage

Note: These pictures are after just one rotation around parts of the garden. The soil will look even better after 5-10 rotations!

Here you can see that the ground to the left has never had chickens rotated onto it and the ground on the right is where the chickens have tilled.
To the left: tilled by chickens. To the right: no tillage by chickens.

How You Can do Something Similar

Now that you’ve seen the benefits to bringing chickens into your garden, let’s talk about a few ways you can implement this system.

1. Free-Range

This is the easiest way to go about it, but it can also create the most chaos. On one hand, free ranging doesn’t require you to move the chickens every day, but it does mean they have access to everything all at once.

They may till the garden…and the yard…and the flowerbeds…and consume quite a few other things you’d rather be left alone.

Free0range chickens are also more vulnerable to predators like foxes, coyotes, owls, and hawks since they have no netting or shelter to protect them.

Many, many people allow their chickens to free-range and are just fine with it, so it may be a great fit for you! Just keep in mind the pros and cons in order to determine if this is the way for you to go.

2. Electric Poultry Netting

This is a great option for those who don’t want to build an entire mobile chicken tractor and also aren’t fans of chickens roaming here, there, and everywhere.

Keep in mind, chickens can fly up and over chicken netting. I do not have personally experience with this tool, so I can’t say so other people keep them inside. Some say their chickens never even attempt to fly out if they are given enough space inside to roam.

I suggest you do some research on this one and learn from other individuals who have actual experience with it.

3. Chicken Tractor

This is the method we utilize. We find that it gives us the most peace of mind because our birds are safe from predators and it keeps them exactly where we’d like them to be.

Learn more about how and why we Built Our A Frame Chicken Tractor here!

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