The good news is that your yard and garden can co-exist beautifully with chickens, dogs and other pets. But it takes some planning and flexibility to make it happen. That was the message from Tim Phelps, landscape architect, who talked to a group of chicken and dog owners at CLUCK the Chicken Store this week.
Tim, the owner of Sprout Landscaping and Garden Design, led an informal roundtable discussion focused on how to make a backyard a pet friendly environment. Since the weather was absolutely perfect, we were able to meet in the coop garden and enjoy the sunset and the coming of evening, although the traffic on Highway PB reminded us that we werebn’t exactly in an idyllic pastoral setting.
Naturally, chickens pose the biggest problems for a yard or garden, since they are often happy to rototill any plants they don’t devour. And, unlike dogs, they’re a little more difficult to train, based on their owners’ desires. But, even though they don’t generally respond to commands or learn much in the way of boundaries, Tim had some recommendations on channeling their energy, or at least channeling the direction they want to travel in your yard or garden.
First, begin to think like a chicken and try to view the world of your yard from their perspective. Begin by watching, and paying attention to what your chickens do in your yard and where they want to go. Observation is the first step to wise planning.
Then create paths, play areas and hideaways for your chickens that follow their natural inclinations. You will be surprised how well paths, open areas, dirt patches and other chicken-friendly features can channel chickens away from the plants you want to protect and toward the areas that are more suited to chicken use.
Creating chicken-safe zones may involve digging up plants that are growing in vulnerable areas and moving them to places less frequented by chickens.
If there’s a particularly attractive element in your yard (for example, the scruffy area underneath your winter bird-feeding station), you may want to simply turn that into an area where your hens can dust bathe to their little chicken hearts’ content. Bird feeders are particularly attractive to chickens because they love hunting for the seeds that get knocked off the feeder. Tim’s advice was to just cede the area to the chickens and move any valuable plants to a different part of the yard. Trying to protect them will just end in frustration and failure, he thought.
Another interesting strategy Tim suggested is to use sticks or stones to create barriers that discourage your chickens from straying off the beaten path and into a protected area. The challenge is to see your yard and garden from a chicken’s-eye viewpoint.