Here’s How to Keep Chickens Out of Mulch

As a chicken owner, one of the great joys we have is watching our chickens run around while free-ranging and seeing what they get into.

flock of New Hampshire chickens
flock of New Hampshire chickens

Watching them peck and scratch through the grass, catch bugs and worms, and investigate their environment is a ton of fun.

That is, until your chickens go where they aren’t supposed to go, and get into what they aren’t supposed to get into.

Chickens are curious, and highly motivated by food, so they tend to make a beeline to your landscaping or your garden, if you have one.

Chickens are especially notorious for scratching and kicking mulch out of the way in their quest for tender seedlings and juicy bugs.

It’s funny if it doesn’t happen to you, but if you’ve worked hard for your plans, you’ll definitely want to keep your chickens out of the mulch.

It’s easier said than done, but I know a bunch of ways that you can do it, and I’ll tell you about them down below.

What’s the Big Deal with Chickens Getting into Mulch?

At first glance, you might not think it is such a big idea that your chickens are getting into your mulch beds. What’s the problem with that?

Like I said above, there’s no problem with it if you don’t care about what the mulch is protecting or what’s growing in it, but if you do, your chickens getting into it is usually bad news.

This is for a couple of reasons. First, if your chickens are poking around in the mulch, they’re almost certainly looking for something to eat and chances are they’re going to eat whatever you’ve planted in or near the mulch.

This means all sorts of fruits, vegetables and herbs that you might grow in your garden, of course, and you should also know that chickens eat many kinds of ornamental plants and flowers too.

And mind you, I’m not just talking about young and tender sprouts here: chickens will be more than happy to eat leaves, buds, flowers, seeds and all right off mature plants.

Also, even if your chickens aren’t attacking the plants themselves, you probably put the mulch down to help the soil retain moisture and to shade the delicate roots of certain plants.

Protect your Mulch from your Chickens!

Chickens are notorious for kicking and pecking soil out of position, allowing your soil to dry out quicker than it would normally and letting the sun scald delicate young plants or roots.

And, to be honest, this is just the way it is: Chickens do this instinctively and they can’t exactly be blamed for it.

But for all practical purposes, it’s your fault if you let your chickens free-range and don’t take steps to keep them out of your mulch!

But enough of that, time to get down to the business of solving the problem!

11 Ways to Keep Your Chickens Out of Your Mulch!

1. Wire Ground Covers

If you’re just trying to protect decorative mulch, mulch that is left over from last season or any bed that only has seeds or young seedlings in it, wire ground covers might be just the ticket.

These are basically chicken wire or finer mesh panels screwed in place on wooden frames that you can lay down end-to-end to cover your beds while allowing the ground beneath to get both rain or other water and sunlight.

These should be substantial enough to keep chickens out of them, and until the plants get tall enough to start poking through the wire, your chickens won’t be able to disturb them.

You don’t have to buy these things, either since they are very easy to DIY with chicken wire or other mesh that you already have and any scrap framing lumber.

2. Row Covers

If you have taller plants, a longer garden layout or just want more substantial protection to keep chickens from trying to reach through the wire and steal a few choice bites, purpose-made row covers are probably the solution.

Most seasoned gardeners and farmers are already familiar with these things since they are commonly used to keep insects and other birds from reaching the plants beneath.

They generally work well, and they don’t have to be particularly heavy-duty to keep chickens out.

If you’re quite crafty, you can make your own from lightweight plastic tubing and connectors along with appropriate mesh fabric or other material.

Or, if your time is worth more, you can buy them from most nicely stocked nurseries, farm supply stores, and garden centers.

3. Put Up a Fence

The most straightforward if not the simplest solution to keeping chickens out of your mulch areas is to put up a fence.

This works one of two ways: either you fence off the mulched area, such as a garden, or you fence in the chickens to contain them to their own part of the property.

Either is workable, and it all depends on your property and your objectives. But there is one obvious problem with this arrangement- chickens can fly, or at least jump pretty high! This is another factor you’ll have to account for.

Some chickens are particularly “flighty”, or capable fliers, and can clear four-, five- or even six-foot fences without much trouble.

Other chickens, particularly the heavier breeds or the ones that have had their wings clipped, might only be able to hop a couple of feet off the ground.

You can build this fence to suit based on the abilities of your birds, but do think it through: chickens are smart, and will easily hop from one higher vantage point to the next, eventually clearing your fence if they can!

4. Start a Decoy Garden

This is one of my favorite techniques for keeping chickens out of my mulch areas and out of my garden in particular.

This is a technique my great-grandfather used, and although I was not old enough to actually see it in action my family has talked about it ever since with admiration.

All you need to do, if you want your chickens to keep out of your mulch, is plant a decoy garden.

This is, as you’d expect, a smaller garden that is designed to entice your chickens away from other plantings!

But don’t plant a duplicate of your existing garden or other mulch beds: instead, fill this one with things that you know your chickens like, and you can let all the bugs and critters that you normally try to get rid of stay in it because your chickens are going to get rid of them.

This is also another great opportunity to put in another food station, water dish, dust bath and other things your chickens like that will not only enrich them but encourage them to hang out here instead of breaking into your other garden.

Works like a charm, for just a little bit of extra effort, and you won’t have to spend a ton of money or change up your property aesthetics to pull it off.

5. Place Fake Owls or Hawks

I’m always surprised how many people forget about this one. Chickens very naturally fear many predators, and they will run from them or at the very least stay away from them when detected.

Accordingly, you can grab an owl or hawk decoy and place it in your beds or in your garden to keep your own chickens out of it. The nicer the decoy the better, and bonus points if it has motion-activated head movement.

Now, some people think this is a bit mean, and maybe that’s true, but I think it beats going to all the extra trouble and expense of putting up row covers, fencing and the like.

But like I said before, chickens are pretty smart and they will quickly get used to any decoy that doesn’t move and keeps the same position day in and day out.

Novelty is definitely a factor here, so long as you make it a point to move your decoy every few days, and maybe even take it down before replacing it periodically.

6. Add Large Pebbles to Mulch

Chickens love to scratch in the mulch, in the dirt, in their bedding and hay, and in pretty much all other loose substrates.

But, they don’t like digging in things that will tear their feet up or are hard to dig through, and will try their fortunes elsewhere when they run into the tough stuff.

We can exploit this quirk of chicken physiology and mentality by simply adding some sizable pebbles to our mulch.

Placed strategically, these won’t affect any plants that we are trying to grow and when chickens run into them, either by scratching or pecking, they will quickly get sick of it and then move on.

Now, you have to use a little bit of strategy here because larger chickens are not dissuaded by tiny pebbles, and large or small chickens might peck around and between larger stones.

Obviously, you can’t cover the whole thing in rock for optimum health and growth of the plants in the bed, but there is a happy medium you can achieve that will keep your plans happy while discouraging your chickens.

Experiment, and always err on the side of too little rather than too much: you can always add more later!

7. Try Herbal Deterrents

There are lots of kitchen herbs that chickens like and will happily eat up when they encounter them. Ask anybody who’s tried growing mint in a place where their chickens can reach!

But there are also many herbs and other plants that chickens don’t like, and will go out of their way to avoid.

This varies somewhat depending on the breed and the individual chicken, but as a rule of thumb, fresh lavender is a good option, and some people swear that certain ornamental flowers seem to drive their chickens crazy.

It might take a little bit of experimentation and a bit of extra effort to grow them, but consider planting live herbs around the perimeter of your beds or spacing them throughout.

With a little luck, you’ll find some that act as an invisible force field that will repel your chickens without hurting them.

As a last-ditch effort, you might consider scattering dried herbs around and see if that works, although they do lose their potency quickly and are vulnerable to blowing away or being soaked by rain.

8. Reposition the Coop

Before you go too crazy trying to block off or repel chickens, take a moment to assess where their coop is located on your property in relation to the mulch you’re trying to keep them out of.

If these beds are very close to the coop, it’s only natural that your chickens are going to move into it because it’s the path of least resistance between them and possibly finding a juicy morsel of food.

If it’s possible, consider moving the coop if you have a lot more room on your property. Most chickens tend not to stray too far from the coop, and only the most adventurous breeds will head off on a distant “adventure” before trying to come back at dusk.

Putting a lot more room between your chicken coop and the mulch, if possible, might be all that is needed to eliminate intrusion or at least substantially cut down on it.

9. Squirt ‘Em with a Spray Bottle

One of the most time-tested methods of behavioral modification for smaller animals also works on chickens.

Chickens, as a rule, don’t like getting wet and they don’t like being suddenly struck by something unexpected. Our birds are stereotyped as having a nervous disposition for a reason, you know!

Because of this, all you need to do if you want to keep birds out of your mulch is to stand guard duty for a little while when your chickens are out free ranging.

Stand guard duty, but armed with your spray bottle! You probably know what to do next: When a chicken comes too close or enters the mulch, spritz ’em!

I like using the “beam” setting on the sprayer as opposed to the mist setting, which chickens may find refreshing instead of annoying.

But, do be cautious: Don’t soak them, try not to hit them in the eyes and don’t use a sprayer that’s too powerful.

We want to startle and aggravate them, hopefully getting them to make the connection between aggravation and entering the mulch.

Naturally, the limitation of this method is it requires you to dedicate some time to it, and all of the regular “trespassers” have to get a few turns at getting sprayed before they get the picture. Nonetheless, it is a simple method that has a modest success rate.

10. Install a Sentry Sprinkler

For folks who simply cannot be bothered to spend the time spraying their chickens themselves, modern technology has provided the solution.

There are, and I swear I’m not making this up, yard sprinklers that can be automatically activated and even aimed when they detect nearby motion. I’m not kidding!

Basically, these things are like robots sentry water guns, and they do work for not a ton of money.

Positioning them to have the best field of fire, er, water, while covering the beds and not picking up false positives from chickens that come close but don’t enter will take a little bit of fine-tuning, but these things are surprisingly capable and affordable for the purpose.

They also work gangbusters against stray dogs and cats and other small mammals.

And not for nothing, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch them work!

Build a Chicken Tractor

11. Use a Chicken Tractor Instead

If you want to let your chickens eat naturally occurring bugs, plants, slugs, and other things on your property but letting them free-range is just turning into too much of a pain in the butt, maybe it’s time to switch them over to a chicken tractor.

Most chicken owners are already familiar with these things, but for those that aren’t, a chicken tractor is basically a mobile run and coop consisting of a caged area just off the coop that is on wheels

This allows you to move it gradually around your yard so that your birds can peck at, and fertilize, a different part periodically – all while staying contained.

If your chickens are content staying in a run, or your flock isn’t very big, a tractor might be the best possible solution to your woes, although they can be expensive if you’re not going to build it yourself.

how to keep chickens out of mulch pinterest

1 thought on “Here’s How to Keep Chickens Out of Mulch”

  1. Fine for chicken owners. How about the neighbors who want them out of their plants. I’m talking under my bushes. Water is too far away.

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