I am a backyard chicken farmer. The first word you might disagree with me over when I tell you about my backyard chickens, is the word farmer. But, my question to you is, “What is a farmer anyway?” We started this chicken journey as a homeschool project and it continues to be that–with the fringe benefits of chicken therapy for my special needs son, and of course, the eggs.
But, as for the case of the stolen tomatoes, well, that was my first lesson in how there is no way to have free-range chickens ranging for bugs, and an unprotected garden.
Some of you may know this already, but I was a bit green around the ears in the art of raising backyard chickens.
I found myself quite at the mercy of my chickens.
You see, at first, we my eldest son built a chicken coop. He did a really good job, with minimal direction, and well, I can’t move the thing without male assistance; it is well-constructed. Plus, he put up a fence around the coop, to help us with unwanted predators, AND he built two gates. I am very proud of him. My special needs son, who was unable to do any of the physical labor, still to this day, loves and squeezes (probably a little too hard, but they adjusted) them everyday. He makes sure they are fed and watered, and is always full of stories about their antics (real or imagined).
So, the chickens have been a good homeschool project, complete with many practical and biological lessons.
But, then, the chickens figured out how to fly, and further, they learned how to fly over the fence. Who knew chickens could fly?! I certainly didn’t! We kept putting them back in their pen, and they kept flying back out.
Well, as you might guess, on the other side of the fence was my garden.
I had plenty of greens, squash, the green beans were coming up, and my tomatoes were growing really well! But, of course, this is why they flew over the fence in the first place. The, er, garden was greener on the other side of the fence.
So, they flew and helped themselves to a little snack. Only they did not eat the weeds, they ate my garden, bit by bit. At first, I didn’t notice, but an occasional chomp on a leaf. Thinking I was facing new insects, I pulled out my organic spray, but to no avail, because the plants kept disappearing. I even contemplated deer, which I knew I could not stop, but I saw no hoof prints in the soil. Hmmmm.
Meanwhile, one day we strolled out into the yard, and lo and behold, 2 chickens were eating away at my garden. The thieves were shooed out of the garden with feathers flying and lots of clucking. Case solved, but the problem wasn’t solved.
You see, they became more insistent on chowing down my garden, and since they discovered that no one was going to stop them, they demolished my garden within 2-3 days.
I was flabbergasted.
Thus, began the war on my garden. Against my very own chickens.
I vowed to somehow keep them out of what remained of my garden, with the goal in mind to resurrect it. The problem was, the cold (even in Texas) was beginning to arrive, and what pollinating insects were left, did not have much to work with. Plus, even though everything was eaten, the chickens did not want to stay out of my garden. But, I still had several large tomato plants and some strong eggplants, and I vowed to protect them.
So began my backyard chicken wire barricade.
I closed in the tomatoes and eggplants with leftover chicken wire. I had hopes to protect my plants, and despite the mismatch of wire pieces, they were surrounded, and still not really large enough for the chickens to fly into. My barricade worked at first. Until the birds figured out how to dig under the wire. Sigh!
So, I secured the plants with more wire, and old sheets.
But, I learned my second lesson.
Backyard chickens are smarter than they look.
They remembered that my plants were there. Oh, they tried and tried; they would dig their way in, and I would re-secure them out. Even my special needs son was my look-out, yelling for me every time he caught a chicken in my “garden.” I ran out ready to chase the scoundrels from my precious plants.
At first, they ignored me. But, when I ran over, picked them up, and put them out of my privacy fence, they began to realize over time that I meant business. Soon, they ran from me before I even reached the garden. It became a game of sorts—for them. I just wanted them out of my plants, and they just wanted a snack.
Don’t get me wrong, I did harvest a few tomatoes.
But, soon enough, it became too cold to keep the tomatoes growing on my plants. The eggplants were already picked (what few were left) by this time, and I hid the few remaining tomatoes, by tying down sheets on top of them so they would ripen. Between this and the cold, I began to win my battle with them.
I was, however, frankly tired of warring with the chickens over my tomatoes, who seemed to needlessly seek out any opening under the sheets. I began to wonder: Is this really worth the effort?
But, in the end,
We did enjoy our harvest of a few more green tomatoes and eggplants; but do you think I planted a garden this year? NO WAY! I am not attempting another garden until I have a secure chicken coop.
Case File closed.