Ok, so having fowl in the garden may not be for everyone, BUT there are a number of reasons for keeping chickens in your garden, along with some other garden fowl benefits. And just to be fair, here we will provide a rundown of both sides of the coin by including the reasons against garden fowl too.
Garden Fowl Pros
Nikki’s viewpoint: Whether it’s in the form of geese, ducks, turkeys, guineas, peacocks or, of course, chickens, there are many advantages of fowl in the garden. And while I cannot speak for all of them, I can most certainly attest to the many reasons for keeping chickens in your garden.
They’re more than just birds. Caring for these creatures will no doubt result in an inevitable attachment to them. I grew quite fond of a particular hen and rooster (Ethel and Reuben) in my years with them. They became so much more than chickens. They were family. Just like people, they can actually be very personable and friendly with distinct personalities all their own. Many types of fowl also get along well with other animals and their antics can be hilarious to watch.
They’re useful. Raising chickens, as well as other fowl, provides your family with free eggs! In addition, you’ll find that their droppings make an incredibly rich fertilizer. Again, this is free! In fact, chicken manure can be used as an organic fertilizer for home gardens. While fresh manure can damage plants, it takes little effort to compost and the final outcome is well worth the reward.
No need for pesticides or herbicides. Because they tend to eat pests like beetles, aphids and larvae, your garden will remain free of chemical controls. And while they’re foraging around in search of food, they eat many weed seeds that might otherwise overtake the garden. Some, like geese and ducks, make excellent “weed eaters” too, as they tend to feed on weedy plants around the landscape.
They can be easily contained. Although free-range chickens and other fowl in a garden can be messy, you can always fence off the part of your landscape you wish to remain neat and tidy. Oftentimes, this is enough to prevent unintentional damage to tender plants as they scratch around for bugs. This is also helpful while the garden is producing, as it keeps them away from your ripening tomatoes and other fruit. Some of these birds, as with the case of young turkeys, learn quickly that the fence is a barrier and will generally respect this the remainder of their life.
Containment is also a good idea for keeping your birds safe at night as they roost. Always provide your free-range fowl with a covered, fenced in area for nighttime roosting.
Make great alarms. Okay, maybe the rooster crowing at the crack of dawn isn’t for you, but these birds actually provide good alarm systems for would-be predators. Some, like guinea fowl and chickens, are great “guard dogs,” warning others whenever foxes, snakes or even unfamiliar people are nearby with continual, loud clucking and cawing noises.
Cons of Garden Fowl
Shelley’s viewpoint: Despite the advantages of allowing chickens free range of your garden, there is definitely something foul about keeping fowl in the garden. Read on to learn more about the drawbacks of chickens in the garden.
Poop. Let’s get the scoop on poop because, to me, it is one of the major downsides of having fowl in the garden. Chickens are not discriminating about where they poop. They poop a lot – and messily, and it doesn’t smell pretty. Which means poop will be everywhere, right in your garden path and everywhere else they are allowed to roam, so you can forget about walking in bare feet in your backyard. If you’re ok with having your garden look like a Jackson Pollack painting, that’s your prerogative, but please remember to have a garden hose nearby to spray down your shoes.
Predators. A chicken that is free range is out in the open – and vulnerable. The list of chicken predators is many and includes owls, hawks, foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, as well as dogs and cats. Chickens are not inexpensive to keep and it would be a shame for them to go missing or get killed.
Nothing grows where a chicken goes. As a gardener, you must be ready to meet and overcome the challenges that pests and diseases bring to your garden. Do you really want another obstacle to maintaining healthy plants? Chickens can be just as damaging and destructive to your plants. They love pecking tender greens and fresh tomatoes on the vine, will scratch up your seedlings and established plants, and scatter your well-placed mulch, for starters. If you love a bountiful and tidy garden, you will decide these are reasons against garden fowl in the garden.
Free range comes with a price tag. The cons of garden fowl continues with a hit on your wallet. As we just learned, you may have a lot of fresh eggs, but you won’t have any fresh veggies if you let your chickens have free range of your garden. And buying veggies at the grocery will cancel out the savings on buying eggs. You could put a fence around your garden or utilize wire mesh or a hoop house to protect your plants, but there are costs to these methods. Not to mention you may have to replace some of your flock due to predators.
Not so gardening Zen. I don’t know about you, but my garden is a place of peace and tranquility. I don’t want to be in my state of gardening Zen and be snapped out of it with a very loud and repetitive COCK A DOODLE DOO or BWAK BWAK BWAK! If I’m stressed, my plants will be stressed because I will skip over the minor and major details of their care with all the noisy din and distraction. OK, I will get off my squawk, I mean soap, box now….
Garden Fowl Benefits vs. Disadvantages
So do the benefits of having chickens outweigh the downsides?
(Nikki) In my opinion, yes! The companionship alone that I developed with my chickens was reason enough for me, but undoubtedly, the other benefits are great too. I never had issues with any plants, and the eggs and poop were always welcome. (Shelley) Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh eggs just as much as the next person, but the drawbacks of chickens in the garden are just too many. I do not like fresh poop underfoot or having my fresh veggies violated.
As you can see, differing opinions mean this is simply an individual choice, but it never hurts to give it a try and decide for yourself.