A Seasonal Guide to Your Free-Range Chicken Garden
Your chicken garden should change with each season. Even if you live in a mild climate you still experience subtle season changes and have seasonal chores. You'll want to know how your garden will change with each season, how the seasons may affect your chicken flock, and how chickens imprint your garden each season.
Each season has its own set of chores you must do to keep a chicken garden in peak condition. What your chickens contribute to the garden (or your home) is a little different in each season, too. Regional variations always come into play.
Add to your chicken flock in spring
The days get longer and warmer in spring. Signs of spring start popping up with faithful blooming bulbs and other early spring blooming plants and flowering trees.
Clean out flowerbeds, mix your aged compost into your flowerbeds and vegetable garden, and cut down ornamental grasses. Prepare to plant your spring vegetable garden with seeds or seedling. Start your tomato plants. Clean, oil, and sharpen your garden tools. Finish your garden pruning. Protect your young perennial plants emerging in the warm soil from your chickens by installing temporary fencing.
If you're starting a flock or adding to your flock, spring offers the best selection of chicks at your local feed store or online hatcheries. If you have the capability to breed your chickens, this is the best time to do so. Carefully, and with caution, introduce young pullets to an outdoor environment (do this slowly so they acclimate). Early spring is a good time to worm your mature hens.
Enjoy summer's bounty in your chicken garden
You'll spend more time in the garden during summer's warm, long days. And it's not all work; summer should provide you with more time for socializing and enjoying the beauty and serenity of your garden.
In summer, your chickens should be in their peak egg laying cycle and happily spending a lot of time free-ranging in the garden. Don't forget to provide shade for your chickens and plenty of fresh water. Summer is a good time to integrate young pullets or adopted hens into your flock, but acclimate them carefully. Thoroughly clean your chicken coop and storage area often in summer.
During dry spells of summer, you might have to irrigate your garden — for both the plants and your chickens. Protect edible landscaping from your best foraging chickens and wildlife with netting and temporary fencing. If you have a chicken tractor, you can mow your lawn organically, and be sure to let your chickens turn over your compost pile. Towards the middle to end of summer, you'll want to prepare seeds for fall vegetable planting.
Put your chickens to work for you in fall
Fall can be unpredictable — it could be dry or wet, it could bring cooler temperatures or be an extension of summer. The onset of fall gives you a long list of to-do items in the garden (in some climates, fall is a second planting season). Chickens can be great assistants with your garden chores: They can aerate and turn flowerbeds, clean out spent gardens, and clean up your vegetable garden if you’re not having a winter vegetable garden. As you put leaves and garden greens in your compost pile, have your chickens help turn over your compost. Then add a thick layer of mulch to cover and protect your flowerbeds.
Expect your chicken flock to lay fewer eggs in the fall. They may begin to molt with the decreasing daylight length. Fall is another good time to worm your chickens. Thoroughly clean your chicken coop, and prepare to winterize it if necessary.
Protect your chickens in winter
Most of your plants and trees go dormant during winter. Deciduous trees and plants will have dropped their leaves and if you live in a harsh winter climate, you'll need to prepare your pots and sensitive plants for winter temperatures as needed. This is when you should prune your roses and other plants, trees, and shrubs. You can usually taper off irrigation to your garden and fruit trees. Without leaves, the garden structure is easiest to see in winter. Make note of any changes and projects you want to incorporate in the spring.
Your chickens don't mind winter and will continue to enjoy free-ranging, searching for morsels of food and insects. Feed your chickens some warm oatmeal for a treat now and then. Have your chickens help you turn your compost. Don't expect many eggs as your chickens may lay less, and they may still be coming out of their molt and replenishing new feathers.
Closely monitor your chickens to make sure they have access to fresh free-flowing water and plenty of layer feed for energy. In colder climates, it's a good idea to heat your chicken coop slightly, or move the coop into a garage to protect them from harsh temperatures. Use common sense with your chickens when winter weather turns nasty — if extreme cold, ice, or blizzard conditions occur, it's obviously unsafe for them to be outside their chicken coop. Severe weather aside, if you live in an environment that gets snow or cold, it might be best to confine your chickens in their chicken coop for protection.