Just like many people feel a house isn’t a home without a cat or a dog, we are of the mind that no garden is complete without a flock of chickens to share it with.
For us, there’s nothing more heart-warming than the sight of hens scratching and rustling around in the garden, spreading their wings to bask in the sunshine, and chasing after you for treats.
But how do you create a chicken-friendly garden? One that is both safe and secure for your hens, and for the flowers and plants you’ve lovingly cultivated, as well as attractive for you, and any visitors.
Here, we share our tips on how to make a chicken-safe area for your hens to enjoy and what plants, trees and shrubs are beneficial for chickens, and which to avoid, so that you can create a garden that you and your hens will love.
Create an attractive, fenced-off area
Chickens are well known for eating their way through their keeper’s gardens if allowed. Which leads to two obvious questions.
Firstly, how do you keep your garden looking attractive and stop your feathery friends from munching on the area you’ve spent time and effort creating? And secondly, how can you make sure they don’t eat any plants that are bad for them?
One way to keep your garden safe is to simply keep your hens’ coop and run in a fenced-off section. You can still make this area look attractive by planting climbers such as clematis or honeysuckle at the base of the fence. If your outdoor run has a roof, you can do likewise and plant climbing plants that go over the top to provide colour and interest, as well as provide shade for the hens.
Since they grow upwards, these plants will be safe from the hens’ appetites and using a climber like a honeysuckle will attract insects which they also like to eat. A fenced area will also help to protect your hens from potential predators such as foxes.
Planting fruit trees and bushes in your hens’ area also has similar benefits to climbing plants. They look nice, most of the leaves and fruit are out of reach of the flock but they also provide shelter not just from the elements but also from aerial predators like birds of prey.
Harmful and beneficial plants
There are other potential threats to hens, some of which can come from plants that are dangerous if consumed by chickens. These include things like ivy, foxgloves, delphiniums, hyacinth, and rhododendrons.
The good news is that hens are generally very good at staying away from things that are bad for them. However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure these plants aren’t accessible to your hens if possible.
There are also lots of lovely plants you can grow that are good for hens and which, if planted around the outskirts of a fence can help to enhance the appearance. For example, a planter filled with herbs on the exterior of your fenced-in area will look pretty and bring in bugs that hens love to eat.
Herbs and plants that are particularly beneficial to hens include: comfrey, as a source of protein and calcium; rosemary, which helps to repel nasty insects; thyme, which is good for their respiratory system; sage, which is an antioxidant; and lavender, which can be calming.
As well as plants, hens like to eat grass so if you’ve sectioned off a corner of the lawn for them to roam around in, it may well not be green for very long.
To keep it still looking attractive, particularly in the wetter months when it can become muddy, you can use bark chippings although it’s important to make sure they are natural and untreated with any pesticides or fungicides. Mixing the chippings with sharp sand can also be a good idea as it helps with drainage.
And while hens do like to eat grass, we caution against tipping mounds of grass cuttings from your mower into your hens’ run. Eating too much at once can be harmful to hens as it’s richness can cause them digestive issues. However, putting in a few handfuls of freshly snipped grass using scissors can be beneficial and improve well-being so start small and monitor your hens’ reaction and health.
What kind of home is right for your hens?
If you’re new to hen-keeping and haven’t yet set up your flock’s housing, there are many different types that vary in design, price, quality, and size.
There’s a whole host of options for you to choose from: you can convert a shed or outbuilding into a coop, build your own, buy a purpose-built plastic or wooden hen house or have a coop with a run already attached.
Our advice is that it’s far better to pay more for a sturdy, well-built house which will last for years, than buy a small, cheap, thin-walled coop which will soon fall apart and need replacing.
And in terms of size, as much space as possible is always best; hens are sociable creatures and need enough room to interact. But as a minimum, we’d recommend 30 square cms per bird inside and 1 sq m per bird outside for ex-caged hens and 2 sq m per bird for ex-free-range hens, plus an area to free range in.
They’re a wonderful addition to any garden and enrich their keepers lives in so many ways, not only providing delicious fresh eggs but also by being affectionate and loving creatures that bring so much joy and entertainment.
The BHWT holds regular rehoming days throughout the country for people who want to adopt hens.