Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Chicken deterrents

Fencing chickens out of the gardenIn addition to providing a list of plants chickens (probably) won't kill, Free-Range Chicken Gardens offered plenty of excellent advice about protecting more tender plants from chicken feet and beaks.  You can use these tips for the author's intended purpose of planning a garden that can coexist with chickens, or you can keep the information in mind while designing a forest pasture especially for your flock.  Either way, the most important piece of advice Bloom presented was the most general --- give your chickens plenty of extra room so they don't have to scratch any single spot bare!

More specifically, timing is essential if you want to mix chickens with less hardy plants.  Chickens should be fenced out of gardens when you've recently seeded bare soil since the birds love to scratch up soft ground, eating the seed and killing recently sprouted Trellisseedlings.  New transplants and seedlings don't mix well with chickens for the same reason, and it's a good idea to keep poultry away from perennial herbs in early spring; once those tasty leaves harden up a trifle, they won't be quite so enticing.  After plants are established, many can handle chickens as neighbors, but you'll want to move the flock out of the garden again when fruits are ripening unless you plant enough strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes to share.

Speaking of sharing, Bloom recommends refraining from giving your chickens tomatoes and other tasty garden goodies as treats if you don't want them to learn to pick the same goodies off the vine.  I'm not sure I buy this logic since chickens are attracted to the color red, but it's worth a shot if you really want your chickens to roam in your strawberry patch.

In addition to pecking, you have to consider chickens' tendency to scratch.  Let a chicken loose in a no-till garden, and mulch will end up in the aisles, on top of the plants, or in the next county over.  Adding aboveground edging to the sides of beds can help the mulch stay (roughly) where it was put.  Bloom also comes along behind her chickens and sweeps mulch back into place.  (This would drive me nuts.  As if there's not enough work on the farm without cleaning up after chickens?  But your mileage may vary.)
Chickens on a hillside
As I've discovered in my chicken pastures, hillsides can be a problem.  Plants tend to be less strongly rooted there, so chickens scratch them up in short order and then the soil starts washing downhill.  Bloom recommends either fencing your chickens away from the hillside, or using a dense groundcover to keep the hillside in place.  She also uses tough, scratchy groundcovers under shallow-rooted shrubs to prevent chicken scratching, with variegated Japanese sedge, pachysandra, ground raspberry, and cotoneaster being her top choices.

Chicken barrierIf you want chickens to be able to free range, you'll need to block off the more troublesome area, which is where Bloom's list of chicken barriers comes in.  Temporary fencing is the obvious solution around small trees while they're getting established or around constantly rotating gardens.  Bird netting can keep chickens from eating your blueberries and strawberries and you can use stones (or the groundcovers listed in the last paragraph) to protect the bases of perennials.  Sticks like the ones I use to deter pets from freshly planted beds will do the same with chickens, as will cloches or remesh (as in the photo to the right).

Another option is to simply raise the plants up out of reach.  Tall containers can work, and vining plants (tomatoes, squash, etc) grow up trellises away from chicken beaks.  (You may still need to protect the roots and trunks of the plants when they're young.)

Bloom's final word of chicken deterring advice is to install motion-activated sprinklers around your favorite plants.  This might be especially satisfying if your neighbor is the one with the naughty free-ranging birds....

Our chicken waterer keeps your flock hydrated with POOP-free water.

This post is part of our Free-Range Chicken Gardens series.  Read all of the entries:

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