To free range or not to free range: that is the question
Chickens are a vegetable gardener's best friend. They provide unlimited manure and "compost" your kitchen scraps for you. But should you let them free range or keep them in the coop?
Chickens are great natural pest managers. They love slugs and all other little critters and so will be very active in your garden digging, scratching and feasting on those pests who can decimate your crops in a night. However, in their active foraging for food, chickens can dig up your crops. It is for this reason, I recommend that chickens are never left unsupervised in your veggie patch.
Separate your vegetable garden
If you can, setting up your vegetable garden separate from your coop so that your chickens free range away from your vegetables is the best of both worlds. For example, maybe your vegetable garden is out the front of your house, or down the side (north facing is best) and your chickens live out the back? Or is it possible to divide your backyard with a tall fence which the chickens cannot jump over? If you can create a space for both your "loves" then they can coexist effortlessly.
Cover your crops
If it's not possible to separate your flora and fauna then the next best thing is to cover your crops. You can do this with wire baskets, cloches, a fence of pallets, or an arch or wooden box covered with netting. Have you read my blog about protecting your crops from possums? I talk about how to erect something like this in detail. Whatever you choose to do, try and come up with a solution that suits your garden to separate your birds from your brassicas.
Protect your birds
Free range chickens are great. It is their natural way of life and so everyone will be happier when they are allowed to roam your backyard. However, they need to be protected from predators. These can be neighbourhood cats and dogs, wild foxes or even eagles from above. Letting your chickens roam your garden when you are not there to supervise is always a risk. But it may be one you are prepared to accept. Either way, locking your chickens away safely at night is a must, as this is when most attacks occur. Remember to have your chicken coop fencing dug into the ground so that foxes cannot get underneath. They are known as cunning creatures for a reason!
Author: Diana Barnes, Growing Vegetable Down Under