Chickens: Your Garden’s Best Pest Control

Chickens are not only excellent pest police, many are docile and cuddly, too.

As Sonoma’s only completely pesticide, herbicide and fungicide-free nursery, we at Sonoma Valley Wholesale Nursery 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. Our chickens are now such talented pest control champions that I must search high and low for the little mollusks.

Gone are the days of discovering vast areas of our nursery overrun with snails. If I see a snail today, I simply call my chickens over, tilt the snail-infested container, and treat our chickens to a protein-packed meal.

For the home gardener, chicken-enforced pest control won’t be quite as simple, but for every situation there is an adaptable solution that can work.

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

Train your chickens

Like a loving dog, my chickens come to me when I call – not because they love me; because they love what I have. I’ve trained them 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. Our birds love grubs, and Sounder the Rooster makes sure his girls all get a fair share. Cultivate a “call-to-eat“ relationship with your birds by sprinkling a small amount grubs and walking backward a few feet at a time.

Observe your birds

All birds behave differently, and not all will eat snails. Our lavender Orpingtons love grubs — but not when I want them to eat snails. The Araucanas, Plymouths and Leghorns seem to be our best pest police. But you must be a cop, too. This is not a case of letting your chickens out and taking a coffee break. It’s more like Huck Finn watching Tom Sawyer paint the fence. If your birds start eating your plants, 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 using 1-gallon, 5-gallon or 15-gallon plastic nursery containers to cover your plants temporarily while the chickens go to work. U-shaped drip stakes, readily available at your local irrigation store, can anchor your containers. We sometimes protect an area with cardboard secured by U-stakes – the sound of chicken claws dancing on the hard surface is music to our ears.

Paul Martinez loves his chickens as much as the chickens love Paul

Care for your chickens

Your pest-control colleagues deserve the best. We treat our birds to ample organic feed, clean well water, vegetable greens grown especially for chicken grazing, and “dust bathtubs.” Why on earth would a chicken need a bathtub? Well, they primp like the rest of us, and will naturally want to do this in your cultivated 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 from your garden. Loosen up the soil in the hole and add goodies like diatomaceous earth or wood ash to enhance your chickens’ cleanliness.

In addition to protecting your garden from pests and weeds, chickens provide rich, healthy eggs…and endless entertainment.

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

We’d love to introduce you to our friendly chickens, so come out anytime to Sonoma Valley Nursery to say hello and share your ideas. We’ll show you what a handful of chicken crack can do.

Paul Martinez is the owner of Sonoma Valley Nursery, Sonoma’s only environmentally sustainable nursery. sonomavalleynursery.com

 Sonoma Valley Nursery, 19655 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476

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