Chickens: Your Garden’s Best Pest Control

We have spent two decades experimenting with environmentally sustainable plant solutions. One wonderful discovery years ago was introducing chickens to control the snail and slug population.

Gone are the days of discovering vast areas of our nursery overrun with snails.  If we see a snail-infested container, we call the chickens over for a protein-packed meal.

Clockwise from top left: Supper is happily anticipated by the nursery’s flock of chickens. Right: Gio Herrera, six-year-old grandson of SVWN founder Paul Martinez, helps out at feeding time. Lower left: Two sentinels at SVWN keep an eye out for snails in the Tree area.

How can home gardeners successfully apply our chicken pest control methods to a home garden? Here are some techniques to try:

Train your chickens: We beckon our chickens by sprinkling a few handfuls of dried grubs (a.k.a. ‘Chicken Crack’), bread crumb trail-style, in a path leading to a snail-infested area. Cultivate a “call-to-eat“ relationship with your birds by sprinkling a small amount of grubs and walking backward a few feet at a time.

Observe your birds: All birds behave differently, and not all will eat snails. Some chickens will even start eating your plants. If they do, shoo them away and consider how you can protect the desirable parts of your garden in their presence. It won’t take long to understand the particular habits of your birds, and once you learn, those habits won’t change.

Protect your plants: Protection can be as simple as fencing off a few isolated beds with temporary fencing crafted from PVC or EMT pipe. If you want to clean an infested area surgically, consider covering your plants temporarily with 1-gallon, 5-gallon or 15-gallon plastic nursery containers while the chickens go to work. Use U-shaped drip stakes from your local irrigation store to anchor your containers. We often protect an area with cardboard secured by U-stakes.

Care for your chickens: We treat our birds to ample organic feed, clean well water, vegetable greens grown especially for chicken grazing and “dust bathtubs.” Chickens primp like the rest of us and will naturally want to do this in your garden. Prevent any collateral damage by using the cardboard and U-stick trick to protect your garden, then create a dust tub by digging a shallow hole a good distance away. Loosen the soil in the hole and add diatomaceous earth or wood ash to enhance your chickens’ cleanliness.

If you want chickens to participate in pest control, try these methods. And experiment. Observe your birds, invent ideas of your own, and let us know what works for you.

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