Keeping Chickens Out of the Garden
When we first set up our raised bed gardens we did not see the need for a fence - the height of the beds would keep out any of the nibbling herbivores who might visit our gardens. Fortunately, we do not have to contend with visit from browsing deer. For aesthetic reasons, we did put up a fence; an old picket fence from another location on the property that had already seen many years of use and copious amounts of weathering and rot. This fence lasted two years before a section of it was smashed into by a kindergartener driving our golf cart.
We came to realize the value of a fence when we set-up a free-ranging flock of chickens. Upon discovering the raised bed gardens, the birds liked to scratch about in the mulch between the beds and hop up into the raised beds to scratch around in that soil too; and with the missing section of fence, they could come and go from the gardens as they liked. This foraging is welcome (free pest control!) at any time other than during the planting season when our flock must stay out of our raised beds to give the seedlings an opportunity to sprout and grow. What we needed was a fence that would allow us to control when the chickens entered the gardens.
Mom saw a photo of a fence surrounding a vegetable garden in an article in Mother Earth News and showed it to Dad. The fence was comprised of rectangle frames and poultry wire, and while separating the garden area from the rest of the yard, it still provided an unobstructed view of the gardens. We are fortunate to have an uncle who knows Dad’s affinity to carpentry and gifted us with used cedar deck boards. Over the winter, this reclaimed wood became our fence. For this project I was conscripted to help Dad plane the wood; a noisy, dusty job; but one that yielded plenty of sawdust to line our hens’ nest boxes!
To enclose our raised beds, we built 16 fence panels of six feet by two and a half feet. Each piece is a rectangle frame made from the reclaimed cedar with a centre panel of hexagonal poultry wire with a 1 inch opening. We also have two gates on the east and west sides, as well as a removable panel on the south. The gates are each 4 feet wide.
Keeping the chickens from hopping up onto the top of the fence and then down into our gardens was a bit more challenging, especially since the birds were used to coming and going as they liked. Dad built some removable pickets and attached them to the top of the fence. Unfortunately, he used whatever available cedar he could find, which resulted in pickets that were still wide enough for some of the hens to fit between. We strung up some clothesline wire between the pickets to prevent the birds from hopping up. The picket-clothesline combination worked to keep out the larger Chanteclers, but the smaller and more tenacious Rhode Island Reds could still find gaps big enough to fit through. We finally kept these wily birds out when we stuck whatever we could find onto the pickets and through the wire: watering cans, buckets, rakes, shovels, bungee cords and Frisbees (the most effective). Very Redneck Chic!
Following the few tender weeks in spring, we removed the pickets. We can report that we’ve found fewer caterpillars and all the garden implements are back in their proper places. We like to know we are growing our produce within nature’s rhythms by making use of the food chain rather than creating an artificial environment stuck within a single trophic level and battling against any intrusions from any other levels.