A Nest for All Seasons A Nest for All Seasons: Beneficial Plantings for Chickens

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23 March 2012

Beneficial Plantings for Chickens

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Today's post is all about beneficial plants for your chickens - and by for your chickens I mean, yes for your chickens, but also "plants for YOU that chickens won't destroy".  You have chickens? Excellent! Jo in me today as we chat about a few dos and don'ts in the planting world of chickens!

First and foremost - chickens are great weeders. They can take a weedy spring bed and get all those tiny pesky weeds out just by scratching around with those ferocious claws for bugs.  This bed is always a pain in my behind in the spring, but this spring, not so much.  The chickens clawed their way around the established plantings, creating an almost perfectly weeded bed for me.

Of course the phrase "established plantings" is important in that last advertisement for chickens.  You see...as good as they are at weeding established beds...well they can take that wrath out on UNestablished beds as well.  Case in point...

Now luckily, the only thing I had in this bed were little succulent cuttings, so no real loss, but I learned a lesson.  If I am growing things from seed I need to keep those chickens in the coop while they get established or be vigilant about keeping the chickens out.

How to encourage the chickens to stay away from beds??  I've found a few things that help (but they are certainly NOT foolproof, so beware!):

1.  Minor Fencing  -- Chickens are not the most enterprising of creatures, so even a small border fence can help create a boundary for them.  This has worked thus far in my veggie garden.  (crossing my fingers...)

2.  Creative Food Tossing -- This has been my favorite method so far.  Simply throw their scraps under bushes that need weeding.  NEVER through ANYTHING anywhere NEAR newly seeded plants.  The chickens start to associate certain places with good food and they keep returning there.  That is how I was able to get that 1st bed weeded for free up there.

3.  Maintain Dirt Baths -- Chickens bathe in dirt (weird I know).  If you create an environment with loose, bare soil, they will dig little burrows in it and "bathe".  If your seedbeds are mainly empty dirt, your chickens will scratch them up.  Put a bunch of stakes or other uncomfortable markers so the chickens don't like it there.  This also ties into the creative food tossing because once the chickens have scratched up an area, they usually like it for bathing if the dirt is pliable enough.  try to encourage them by turning the soil over where you want them to hang out (this works about 50% of the time).

4.  Overplant and Don't Get To Attached -- You have chickens.  You get eggs.  They work hard to give you those eggs, so give them a break.  they need space too.  Prepare to lose a few seedlings and have a few in reserve.  The benefits far outweigh the losses (in my opinion!)

So what plants are GOOD for chickens??  Anything that has a large root system or grows from a bulb/tuber etc.    
Irises stand up really well to chicken bathing...they are tough cookies:

If the bulb is small (say crocus), plant a little deeper than normal and they should be good.  
Chickens don't dig up plants to eat them -- they just want the bugs.  

Plant small bulbed flowers deeper than usual.

On to other great plants for chickens!!!  I have been exceedingly pleased with using ornamental grasses as bedding for the chickens.  The grass breaks down nicely and the chickens seem to like it.  Also great for chicken coops and runs?  Weeds.  I am so in love with my chickens because all those weeds I either threw in the trash (and felt horribly for doing so) or threw in the compost (and felt a wee bit scared that I was just propagating the weed species) -- they all now go in the run.  The chickens scratch up the big clumps of weedy grass, eat all the bugs, eat some of the greenery and trample the weeds into oblivion.  Then they poop on them.  Mix it all together and you have fertilizer stew for the garden.

See those giant roots in the coop?  Those are horrible tree/weed/bushes and I went on a rampage digging a bunch of them out.  Now they are little perches for the chickoos - I love it!

So those are my favorites - what are yours??  Next on the list of chicken plants is growing grain for them...check back next year for an update on THAT one!


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