How do you free range your chickens and protect your vegetable gardens?
Fences and small breeds of chickens.
Don't they fly over the fences?
We fenced in the vegetable gardens with 3' fencing until the plants were big enough that the chickens wouldn't uproot them. The fencing was more of a psychological barrier than a physical one, I suppose. They can fly 5' to their roosts, but outside won't hardly get off the ground. Actually our ladies seemed more interested in scratching in the loose dirt and eating the occasional bug than in eating plants. I had given them damaged tomatoes, big tough lettuce leaves and zucchini (yes, a new use for zucchini!) but they didn't go into the garden and help themselves.
Good to know. I can do a bit of fencing, but didn't think that would keep them out. They ranged far and wide, all through the garden in the fall, but nothing much was growing there then.
Lock them up where you want them to roost for a couple of weeks. Every night put out a little (hand full) of scratch. When you turn them loose on the garden or pasture them won,t stray very far.
They are always locked up at night in their house where they sleep. They're very friendly and tend to sort of loosely follow me around the property during the day, with the dog, even a long way from the house. I think if I'm working in the garden, which is a constant in the summer, they'll be there too.
I'm going to make tall large tomato cages from fencing that I hope will protect the tomatoes. I'm worried about the strawberries and early sprouting veggies. I think, once the veggies are big, it won't be so much of a problem. I will probably have to fence or net the berries...
I like your hopeful attitude, runningtrails! My chickens like nothing better than to decimate my veggie garden. Small veggies, large veggies, scratching up mulch until they have cheerfully uprooted all the plants around their dust bath. Happy, happy girls! A six-foot tall fence stops the RIR hens, but the Silver Spangled Hamburg roo flies right over it. Best of luck to you! Let us know how it works out.
My chicks arrived last May and didn't start any free ranging until at least Mid-July, but probably more early August. I had tomatoes and squash and zucchini close to the chicken coop. I also had my main garden quite a ways from the coop. The tomato plants got trampled pretty quickly and a lot of the vines were on the ground, so any tomatoes that made it were on the ground also. The squash and zucchini plants were in very good shape when the chickens started wandering to them, and they would nibble the veggies. Sometimes, I would go to get a squash and only find half of each squash:
) By the end of the year, the squash and zucchini plants were in rough shape.
Luckily for the main garden, the chickens didn't even find that until after harvest. Next year I know they will be over there as they explore a lot more now. I will have to put up some sort of fence, but I would also think that a three foot fence would keep most the chickens out.
I am also planting a LOT of extra melons, because chickens will eat watermelons down to the rind. Hopefully I will have a lot of extra watermelons to feed directly to the chickens!!!
I might have to keep them penned until the veggies are up and growing big. We do have a very large pen for them but I do so like to see them roaming around and happy. Maybe I'll put a small fence across the end nearest them. We have two very large gardens. One is 1/3 of an acre and the other is a wee bit smaller and closer to the hens.
My main garden is a long way from the coop. I'll have to put the tomatoes and zucchini and watermelon over there. My hens are red sex links - half RIR and half White Rock. They don't fly much or very high, so hopefully a small fence will keep them out. Maybe I'll use willow for that...
We free-ranged our large breed chickens and I put short 3' fencing around the areas I didn't want them to go. They could easily fly over the fencing but they didn't.
I also have problems with them going down the long drive and on the road. They haven't made it all the way to the road yet, but have headed in that direction, and been turned back, a few times. Maybe I will look into fencing off a portion of the property for them to "free-range" in.
re nostalgicfarm's mention of watermelon--my chickens love all kinds of melon. The first year we had chickens I had planted cantelope in one patch. We also fed them leftover melon from the store. Late summer, a couple of cantelope plants came up 30 feet from the melon patch. Then a honey dew plant came up. You guessed it. Chickens turn out to be remarkably efficient seed sowers!
I had fencing around my garden one year and they flew over it and got stuck inside the garden, forgetting how they got in. fencing is useless unless you have something over the top as well. They have destroyed many of my veggie gardens. Now they have a very large area attached to their coop that is fenced with a roof. Fall and winter they can free range,,but come summer maybe once a week as long as I am here to watch them. Last summer they ate all of the tomatos off of 7 plants!!!. They were gorgeous green tomatos,,never had a chance to ripen.
Sounds like mine will spend the summer in their large pen. It's quite large and they have lots of room to roam around and roosts to sit on. They will have some shade too. It's sandy in there and they love to dig holes and roll around in them.