Two years ago we fenced in the raised beds to keep the chickens out and save my garden during the growing season. This was good protection for the food plants, but they still got into all my flower beds and pooped all over the deck. I decided that total free range just wasn't going to work around here.
So last year we made a huge improvement and fenced in the chickens. The fence borders my raised garden beds and encompasses the barn and chicken house. The enables me to easily throw weeds and over-ripe fruit and veggies out of the garden and over the fence to the chickens. When I'm in the garden they pace up and down the fence to see what treats may be coming their way! Don't feel sorry for them being "cooped up" - they have lots of nice open space plus an acre of so of woods with a spring. What more could a chicken want?
Well.... I decided the chicken yard is boring. They have a cute big house but their yard - and what I can see of course - is pretty boring for me to look at. So I decided I needed to put some plants in there, not only to dress up the area a bit bit, but perhaps serve double duty to provide them some extra food and/or some bug control. The photo at right is year one, where I tried to put a few plants around but that wasn't enough to make me happy.
Last year I put forth a little more effort. I spray painted some 5 gallon buckets and stuck planters inside of them. The buckets are tall enough that they can't easily eat what grows in there so long as it's an upright plant. I did make an effort to grow things that either they wouldn't eat or wasn't toxic to them.
I grew some tansy in those buckets up against the coop wall as it helps control bugs and adds vertical interest. The chickens don't bother trying to eat it. I'll be adding in the chicken yard. In my experience it is best to plant in containers as it's not as fun for the chickens to try and dig up. They may try, and sometimes they succeed, but I've found this is your best bet. The taller the container the less likely they are to show an interest. If you look at the photo at left, I took chicken feed bags, put a couple of bricks in the bottom then added 5 gallon buckets with holes in them. The edge of the bag is not a place a chicken can stand on so they just left them alone.
Right now I'm planning out what I'll grow in the pots and in a couple of raised beds I've created in the chicken yard. Through research and past experience, here are some plants
* Nasturtium (both flowers and leaves are edible and they're believed to be a natural wormer with antibiotic properties
* Mint (which comes in many flavors and is a perennial here). Mint is supposed to deter mice.
* Bee Balm, which is a member of the mint family, grows tall and has pretty flowers
* Lemon Balm
* Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme!
* Lemon Grass
* Pineapple Sage (a personal favorite; grows very tall and has gorgeous red flowers late in the season)
* Day Lily
* Black Eye Susan vine
* Day Lilies
Our chicken yard has several fruit trees and berry plants: peach, apple, cherry, nectarine, figs, mulberry, blackberry, raspberry, goji berry and strawberries. These provide shade and places to hide, and the chickens eat the fruit that falls.
We keep the compost bin in the chicken yard. All the kitchen waste goes in there including veggie scraps, paper napkins, egg shells, etc. along with the old straw we rake out of the coops, droppings we scrape from the roosts and the like. They LOVE to get in the compost bin looking for treats to eat and hunt for the worms that are breaking down the compost materials. While they're in there they add more poop and efficiently mix up anything that's added to the compost so I don't have to turn or stir it up too often.