9 Ways to Use Chickens in the Garden

The idea of keeping chickens in the garden is (frankly) ridiculous. Chickens left to free range in a vegetable garden will decimate it in no time. That said, chickens can be a great asset to the garden.

Ducks can be an asset in your garden, too!

Hen peeking through vegetation.

Raising chickens is great fun and they give you eggs. Egg layers in and of themselves are a great addition to any homestead, large or small. And is there anything better than fresh eggs? 

But what if, in addition to the eggs, your backyard chickens could provide an extra hand (or foot, as it were) in your gardening efforts?

Taking advantage of their natural desire to forage is a smart way for gardeners to get a little bit of free labor in the garden, and your chickens will love it!

Chickens in the garden help eliminate pests

While you won’t want your chickens in the garden when it’s newly seeded or actively growing, you can let your hens scratch and peck their way through your garden areas before you plant your crops. Chickens eat all kinds of bugs and grubs, helping to eliminate pests in the soil

Use your flock as a rototiller

When you’re prepping for growing season, it’s a great chance to let your flock’s natural urge to forage. Give them access to your garden bed (they’ll even jump up into raised beds) and let them go to town. Chickens love to have new soil to turn over, and their busy feet will break up the soil surface as they seek out little tidbits to eat. 

If you’re planning to add any natural amendments to the soil—manure, compost, blood meal—sprinkle it on the ground before you move the girls in and they’ll distribute it for you. 

If you planted a cover crop in your garden beds, let the chickens work that area, knocking down the plant material and scratching it into the soil.

brown rooster, white hen in a chicken garden

Compost turners

If you have had a compost pile for any amount of time, you will know how it teems with bugs and grubs (and here in Hawaii, cockroaches — ick). It’s a veritable chicken buffet!

Those creepy crawlers are a great natural source of protein for hens. And in their efforts to find those delicious little nibbles, they’ll scratch through your pile, helping to break it down even faster. Their scratching can help reduce the number of fruit flies in the compost pile, too.

If you turn your compost regularly, you can let the chickens do part of the work for you. They’ll scratch around in it, helping to aerate the pile. When they’re done (or while they’re working) you can flip the compost over and create a fresh mound.

Compost spreaders

If your compost is ready for use and you’ll be spreading it in an area that doesn’t need to be protected from chickens (like a newly planted garden), all you need to do is dump the compost in a pile where you want it. In no time flat, the chickens will have it spread out for you.

You can also use a tactic that works well for me: Place a compost ring inside the chicken run. I have fruit trees in their area, so I set the compost ring next to the tree and add waste as I have it. When it’s full, I remove the ring and let the chickens go through it, spreading it right there, so I don’t have to move it anywhere.

Chickens shred


Chickens that are confined to one area can still be a big help in your gardening system. When the garden generates lots of leaves and small trimmings, toss some into the chicken pen and let your girls go to town.

Entertainment for them, and nice shredded yard waste mixed with chicken manure for you. (Once it’s all shredded, you’ll need to set this lovely mixture aside for a month or so to age in order to avoid burning your plants with the fresh chicken manure.)

Be aware that grass clippings in the chicken coop are a bit of a grey area. Some people think that cut grass can lead to sour crop, but others have had no issue. I’d use caution here.

Flock of chickens on green grass

Let them tackle tough yard areas

We have an area of very aggressive grass with lots of clumping roots that we need to eliminate. I like to move a few of my hens into a portable fenced area, so they can happily scratch and gobble up what’s there, all the while loosening the roots and eliminating a ton of work for us.

Turn kitchen and garden waste into eggs

It’s good to be reminded once in awhile that through the miracle of Mother Nature, your flock is transforming kitchen scraps and garden waste into something edible in a single step.

You could compost those scraps, but by feeding them to the chickens, you save on feed and get an egg for the breakfast table the next morning.

Making manure

Your local nursery sells bagged chicken manure, but if you keep a flock of hens, you have ready access to fresh chicken poop. They’ll poop on the move, of course, but the area where they nest at night is essentially a manure collection area. 

And friends, that is some good sh*t. Collect it all and allow it to rest for a month or so before you add it to an actively growing garden. You can also transfer it to a fallow garden and let it sit over the winter months. By the time spring arrives, the soil will be beautiful and full of nutrients from all of that poop.

End of season clean up

As winter approaches and gardening season comes to an end, you can finally let your girls be garden chickens. Invite them in to gobble up any remaining parts of garden plants that will otherwise be damaged by frost. 

chickens in the garden, one brown one looking at camera

Originally published in September, 2014; this post has been updated. 

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

35 comments… add one
  • Patty Hodel Jan 5, 2021 @ 1:15

    Loved your post and everyone’s comments cant wait to get chickens again.. you have given me food for thought.

  • victoria hrudka Nov 24, 2017 @ 13:16

    What about the mice that seem to add to chicken area’s ???

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 2, 2017 @ 17:04

      You mean with the compost? I have cats and don’t find them to be a problem.

  • Sarah Apr 20, 2017 @ 13:53

    Awesome article

  • Jenny Aug 20, 2016 @ 23:27

    You obviously haven’t got silkies! They only dig where I have already turned the soiland it is easy digging ( we are on sand anyway). They certainly don’t eat scraps! Only freshly picked vegetables and fruit. But they give lots of love and company!

  • Kathy Jun 24, 2015 @ 17:36

    The biggest trouble that I have is making sure that they lay consistently in the cooler months. After 10 years of experiments, Ive pretty much got it down pat – https://bit.ly/1A8mLB1

    • Rheal Feb 13, 2016 @ 14:56

      I live in Canada central Winnipeg Manitoba to b exact. It gets damn cold out here its nick named Winnterpeg for a reason I have heat lamps in my coop,but still see a significant decline in eggs in winter. got any secrets you would like to share? please feal free

  • Gracie Mar 21, 2015 @ 7:46

    We learned at recent WestinPrice mtg that digging too deep in your garden is what brings the majority of weed seeds to the surface, let your girls do the hard part, as they won’t go that deep.

  • Marsha Watlington Mar 11, 2015 @ 5:26

    I’ve thrown kitchen and yard scraps in with my chickens for several years. I use the dirt from the coop in my garden. The problem is, the soil is full of weed seeds. I thought my chickens would have eaten these seeds.

  • Lee Ann Lynn Mar 7, 2015 @ 0:54

    I have a half acre i let my chickens free range on in good weather. That’s nearly every day in the summer. There is now very little grass out there. Hehe they are little lawn mowers with wings.

  • Dena Feb 16, 2015 @ 4:15

    I was wondering, since some foods are toxic to chickens, do you leave those out of the compost pile ? because my girls would eat anything I put out there, even if it’s bad for them ?

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 18, 2015 @ 15:07

      I have kind of a casual attitude about this. I mean, I wouldn’t put POISON in there, but I don’t worry too much about it. My hens tend to just not eat what they don’t like. And avocados are supposed to be toxic, but wild chickens here eat ’em all the time.

  • Candi Jan 26, 2015 @ 17:36

    We have a crazy, lazy semi-system….. We put the cow manure and all yard waste in the compost. Everyday we throw all the kitchen scraps on top of the manure. Anytime we clean out a coop, hutch, or barn, run-in, etc – we add it to the ever growing, compost-pile. Our chickens spend almost all their time as the cherries on top! Not only do they have enough food at their feet to last them til spring…. They are happy, busy, chickens turning and churning all that compost. I love chickens.

  • Ruth Ann Lee Jan 21, 2015 @ 13:58

    Our flock knows just what to do, when we move firewood, they are right there, looking for snacks. We split wood last fall and there were some pieces that held larvae of some sort. The hens did not care , they pushed us out of the way to get some yummies!!

    • KarenBlu Mar 28, 2015 @ 3:56

      Awesome and funny.

  • Bramble Jan 20, 2015 @ 17:30

    I made my chicken tractor out of pvc pipe. Covered it with that new plastic web fencing, and tied it all together with plastic ties. My hens loved it. They were a great help digging up hard areas in the garden.

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 20, 2015 @ 17:46

      We’re in the planning stages of making something similar!

    • Angela O. Barbar Aug 19, 2023 @ 2:57

      Please explain what a chicken tractor is and how to build one. . I’m new to raising backyard chickens and I’m basically going on what I remember from Grandma’s farm when I was a kid. Thanks so much.

  • Tamara Dec 7, 2014 @ 13:39

    I clicked on this link expecting to see a small harness and someone trying to get chickens to all pull in the same direction at once.

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 7, 2014 @ 13:51

      LOL, Tamara!

      • Angela O. Barbar Aug 19, 2023 @ 2:57

        Me too

  • Marge Nov 30, 2014 @ 10:54

    Interesting comment about grass clippings, I have been using them for a couple of years without problems. The girls sure love digging and scratching the new mown grass clippings.
    I prefer straw but I have found that it will mold if allowed to build up. I take it out of the yard and spread it on a pile for later use in my garden
    I think chickens are the greatest and most rewarding birds. The girls become quite fond of me and like to be petted and held.

  • Jaimie Sep 11, 2014 @ 19:45

    This is the end of my first year raising chickens and we even got four babies this year. I am so excited to put my hens in my garden after the harvest is over. They are going to get good and fattened up for the winter!

  • Ric "The Turtle" Ryan Aug 21, 2014 @ 15:40

    Totally loved this as I had been considering chickens and ducks for a while.  This post sold the deal especially as I have an area I need cleaned up and they are the perfect candidates for the job.

  • kathy May 23, 2014 @ 6:01

    my garden is far from my chickens.( we only have 4) . we have trying to figure out how to keep them in the garden cant free range due to stray dogs. im very interested in your portable fence. could you share how you built it?

    • Kris Bordessa May 23, 2014 @ 7:05

      Actually, we’re using hog panels that we will (eventually) be using for pigs. It’w WAY overkill for the chickens, but it is working. You could replicate easily, though. It’s just four panels, about 4’high by 8’long. We’ve strapped them together at the four corners to create s square. Any materials on hand you could repurpose?

      • KayDee May 25, 2014 @ 2:27

        Don’t your chickens go over the top? Mine would! I only have 3 chickens so made a chicken tractor; lots and lots of ideas on the Internet for that. Since I don’t have many and live in the city, I made one out of wire cube panels (those versatile things you can make cubbies, bookshelves, etc out of), only 3 panels x 3 panels wide, only one panel high, secured with not only the knobs that came with it to attach them to each other but reinforced with zip strips. I live in the city so don’t have them out of the backyard for long periods of time; needed something extremely light and portable.

        • Kris Bordessa May 25, 2014 @ 6:45

          Their wings are clipped, so no. Brilliant idea with the wire cubes!

      • Michael Johnson Mar 28, 2015 @ 10:21

        go to http://www.kencove.com I think that is right they have an electric net fence that I use you can get the smaller one for like $90 then you just have to get a fence charger. Very portable and light weight it works great best thing I have done for my hens. I have my tractor in the fence and move it about once a week they are free range with limits. great product.

      • AmandaonMaui Jun 3, 2016 @ 18:04

        Do you not have issues with mongoose where you are? Here on Maui we have mongoose problems. They killed 3 of our chickens. We’re going to have to make our run/tractor with chicken wire to keep the mongoose out.

        • Kris Bordessa Jun 13, 2016 @ 6:45

          Yes we do! I’ve resorted to trapping and…dispatching. Keeping the gulch near our house clear of vegetation seems to help, too.

    • Stephanie Mar 11, 2015 @ 4:40

      We connected 1/2″ water line into 2hoops and attached them to 36″ high welded wire fence using zip ties. Our portable fence is round and lightweight and we just tip it in end and roll it to move it where we want it next.

    • Dawn May 21, 2015 @ 7:39

      We used 1/2 inch pvc for a frame and wrapped it in black poultry fencing with a tarp over the top for shade and protection from the Hawks 🙂

    • Sonya Jun 1, 2015 @ 3:31

      We made this portable run for our chickens and they love it! We use it all the time. Here is the link where we found the plans. https://homebabycrafts.blogspot.com/2013/04/plans-for-portable-light-weight-chicken.html

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