When you own a flock of backyard chickens, it is important to keep your yard looking beautiful, while, at the same time, providing beneficial vegetation for your chickens. Here are some tips for landscaping a chicken run and for landscaping your yard for free-range chickens.
Landscape Your Chicken Run
If you don't have the ability or the space in your yard to allow your chickens to free-range, you can still create a well-landscaped chicken run for them. Landscaping inside your chicken run makes the area look aesthetically pleasing to you and any neighbors. A landscaped run can also protect your chickens from predators and help them feel safe from predators beneath the plant foliage. Plants can also provide a cool, shady spot for your chickens to rest during the summer. Plants will also provide natural homes to attract bugs, worms, and other insects for your chickens to eat. This provides them with entertainment to prevent boredom that can cause your chickens to peck at one another.
Not all vegetation is appropriate to plant inside your chicken run. Some plants, such as honeysuckle, English ivy,eucalyptus, and bulb flowers are poisonous to chickens and can cause illness and death in your flock. Other types of plants that are edible to your chickens will be gobbled up by your flock in a short time. So it is important to plant the type of vegetation your chickens will leave alone, so the plants can grow and thrive in the run. According to one chicken owner, some good choices of this type of vegetation are butterfly bushes, juniper bushes, roses, and hawthorn, which will grow edible berries that will fall off in the fall.
Be sure to protect newly planted plants and bushes with chicken wire cages until the vegetation's growth is established. Make a chicken wire fence by cutting a length of chicken wire, several inches taller than the plant, and bend it into a circular shape around the plant. Fold the top of the chicken wire over the plant to fully enclose it, creating a cage. Then use a couple tent or garden stakes to secure the cage to the ground.
Landscape Your Free-Range Yard
Happy chickens will be healthier and produce more eggs when they are free to roam and explore a fenced-in and predator-free backyard area you have created for them. It is recommended to provide at least eight to ten feet of space for each chicken, but providing more than this is even better. And allowing your chickens to roam free will help fertilize your entire yard from their droppings, as chicken poop is considered to be a beneficial "black gold" fertilizer. But it is important to protect some areas in your backyard from chicken scratching and digging to keep the space beautiful.
Chickens naturally scratch at the earth as they search for bugs and seeds to eat. They also may dig holes in the soil where they will give themselves a dust bath. If you have any bedding areas containing plants and mulch, your chickens will likely dig up the plants and scatter the mulch, unless you install deer or bird netting over these areas. You can buy a roll of deer or bird netting at gardening and home improvement stores.
To protect your garden beds, unroll the netting and place it over the top of the soil or mulch in your garden. To cover an area wider than the width of the netting, lay down two or more lengths of netting, side-by-side, overlapping the netting by approximately six to twelve inches. Then, secure the netting to the edges of your beds with garden stakes, edging rocks, or landscaping staples. Make sure the netting is not loose in any areas, but is secured onto the ground tightly, so your chickens don't get their feet caught in the netting.
Then, when you need to plant anything in your bedding areas, cut an X-shaped opening in the netting, push aside any mulch, then plant your vegetation. Be sure to protect any newly-planted vegetation from your chickens with chicken wire cages until the plants can take root and grow large enough to survive on their own.
Use these tips to help landscape your backyard and chicken run in a chicken-friendly manner. Work with a landscaping contractor if you need assistance.