Keeping The Girls Busy

I know that the other day I said that I wasn’t going to let the hens out to free-range. I’d planted some grape vines. I put down wood chips. It all looked so tidy. But, the girls gazed longingly at the grass. They crowded their pen’s door when they saw me. I had second thoughts about my harsh stance. The flower beds are still bare, with only the green tips of the peonies showing. There is a fence around the raised vegetable beds protecting the seedlings. How much damage could a dozen hens do in an hour?

It turns out, that the answer is a lot. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a flock of young and healthy chickens. The old hens barely scratch the ground, but the Gems are vigorous foragers. Dirt and mulch flew through the air. Greens were eaten. Dust baths were hollowed out of lawn. Big piles of poo were left.

Usually I wouldn’t care if I don’t have a sharp edge around a garden bed, or if the bark mulch isn’t perfectly contained. However, this year, I have been asked to be on a garden tour. I tried to convince the organizers that there are many nicer gardens in town. A landscape architect on their committee came out to look at my property. I pointed out the failings. She gushed about how much she loved it. The garden tour is a benefit for a very wonderful museum. I couldn’t say no. So, on June 1 and June 2 there will about 700 people walking through my backyard. I think they’d like to see something other than dust wallows and shredded plants. The hens will be staying in.

I have ways to keep confined chickens content. There’s the compost pile that is frequently replenished with interesting and delicious refuse. There’s the kitty litter box filled with sand and DE for dust baths. There’s the occasional pumpkin and melon to demolish. In the summer, I have another trick. I put a block of wood in a sunny, hard, packed dry dirt spot in the run.

After a day in one place I turn it over. Underneath is damp ground. Bugs and worms surface!

However, it doesn’t matter how much their pen is like a chicken playground, they’ll continue to want to come out. But I’m not going to let them. I have enough work in the garden as it is. Lucky for them, much of it is weeding, and I’ll be tossing them clods of dirt and dandelions.

Meanwhile, the goats are asking to help.

I don’t think so boys. Why don’t you play on your stumps?

I’ll be posting more information about the Garden Tour soon. It’s open to the public, and tickets do sell out, so I’ll let you know when they go on sale. Do think about taking a drive out here that weekend. It’s worth a trip. The town of Concord has Louisa May Alcott’s house, Walden Pond and Revolutionary War buildings. We’re near Minute Man National Historical Park. My property will be one of eight on the tour. If you do come by, don’t forget to say hello to the Beast. She’s the one animal here that doesn’t wreck havoc. I’m sure she’ll be swimming demurely past the blooming water lilies.


  1. This sure sounds familiar. We are part of Austin’s coop tour tomorrow and it’s been a losing battle trying to keep the garden looking nice with 6 hens intent upon destroying everything in sight.

    I also tried the wood trick recently with a log and found that it was swarming with mites in a number of days! So that trick is out for us, at least for the time being.

    • At least people expect to see chicken damage on your tour. BTW, I would LOVE to come down for the tour next year. Maybe if I could wrangle a chicken keeping talk down there it’d be worth the flight…

  2. What a place to live! Funny, I’m trying to read “Walden” now. It’s been difficult, I’m not sure I’m understanding Thoreau. Sometimes it sounds like he’s being sarcastic but I’m not quite sure…

    Definitely visiting the area sometime in the future!

  3. I really chuckled to myself on this blog. “How much damage can a few hens to in an hour, turns out a lot”. Don’t we all know it, been there done that. ;-)

  4. Well this might not mean much to you, but I bet any kids young or older that get stuck with their parents going on these tours are going to remember your garden. Because flowers might be pretty but you can’t really interact with them, and with a kid, espically a bored one who has had enough of the “pretty flowers”. They are going to see your goats and chickens and dogs and fish have a good old time. I ams sure their will be more than one who afterwards will be telling their Paw Paw’s and Grandma’s ” I saw flowers but this house had goats and chickens. Funny chickens, and do you know you can find eggs in a chicken nests Paw paw ? And they funny chickens with puff balls on their heads. So those kind of memories the kids will remmeber more than any flower or arrangements they will be seeing.

  5. This post cracked me up. And the pictures are perfect. Can’t wait to see the pics and report of your tour. Seven hundred people? Your grass will get quite a workout in one weekend! Kit is right though. Your garden — the one with all the animals — will be the highlight of every child on the tour. I wish I could be there.

    Thanks for the tip about the block of wood. Everybody knows bugs collect under boards, but using that to the chickens’ advantage is something I wouldn’t have thought up. (Smacking forehead.) I’m going to be soooo ready for my girls when I get them!

  6. You disappoint me, Terry! Forget that garden tour and let the girls out to free-range!

  7. I glad to have read about you keeping your hens in their pens. I had to start doing the same thing. I miss seeing them free range. I had stop letting them out for their protection. A new dog and a fox is the reason we are having to keep them in their pens. I can handle the dog, but not the fox. The fox got one chicken two weeks ago. Since them the fox has tried twice to grab a hen within 10 feet of me watching. Thank you for the new ideas to help keep them happy.

  8. The concord museum has the *best* school program I’ve seen! I’ve met a lot of docents, and been to gajillions of museums, but, really, it’s amazing how well they bring boring old HDT to life in an interning way! The woman portraying Mrs Emerson was truly fabulous. She whispered to get their attention (it worked), and lectured them on keeping animals in an unnatural way….floored the kids and made them think!