9 Best Ways To Keep Chickens Away From Mulch For Good

Chicken (hen) in farmyard with other chickens in background

You have a beautiful, manicured yard; the grass is trimmed perfectly, hedges are manicured, weeds are a distant memory, and the chickens are throwing mulch everywhere. Oh snap, chickens aren’t supposed to be tearing up your mulch beds! Just how can you keep your chickens away from your newly placed mulch?

To protect sizable areas of mulch from chicken damage, you can fence the area or cover the ground with wire mesh or flexible netting. Chickens dislike the feeling of mesh under their feet and they cannot scratch the ground with the covering in place. This keeps them away.

There are other methods of keeping chickens away from mulch. Things like automatic sprinklers, predator decoys, and several more. Keep reading to learn about the 9 ways to keep chickens away from your mulch beds!

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Why Chickens Love Mulch Beds

Fresh mulch in flower beds and around trees is the accent that seems to finish off a well-manicured lawn. When you own chickens, you know they can mess up a yard pretty quickly, especially where mulch is involved. What is it about mulch chickens find so attractive?

Their love of mulch is not the only interesting thing about chickens. These animals are fascinating! Although, we’re here to learn why they dig in your gardens.

Mulch on the ground is like ringing the dinner bell to chickens. Insects, grubs, worms, spiders, and other little “crawlies” like to hide out under mulch beds. To chickens, these are some of their favorite foods. 

Mulch acts as a weed barrier too, but some weeds still try to grow through it. When chickens scratch the mulch up, often they will find tender seedlings underneath, which they will eat as well. While this can be a good thing, these messy diners never clean up after themselves and leave mulch scattered all over. 

Chickens instinctively scratch the ground in search of things to eat. A thick bed of mulch just makes it easier for them to get down to the dirt. They don’t have to dig through thick grass or established plants to get to fresh soil. 

Nothing beats a good dirt bath for a chicken. It may seem counterintuitive when you think about it, but chickens get dirty to get clean. A dirt bath helps to get rid of parasites such as mites, fleas, and lice, and can help absorb moisture and oils, essentially “cleaning” the chicken. 

Texas Parks and Wildlife addresses how and why chickens like to take a dirt bath. Chickens scratch the ground until they reach loose dirt. They lie down and toss the dirt onto their wings and back. 

The dirt penetrates the skin, clogging the pores of parasites. Then the chicken gets up and shakes the dirt off. Many parasites end up dropping off too. 

How to Keep Chickens Out of the Mulch

Three free range chickens at backyard garden near Dallas, Texas, America. Marans breed barred feathering laying hen chick pecking in natural settings at vegetable allotment

With all these reasons chickens love mulch, I bet you’re thinking you’ll just let your little yard birds enjoy the mulch since it’s so beneficial to them.

What? No, you want to keep them out of the mulch beds. Okay, keep reading and we’ll discuss several ways to keep chickens out of the mulch. 

Spray Chickens With Water To Keep Them Back

Chickens hate to get wet, so spraying them with water will make them run away. You don’t have to hit them with a full blast like you’re a firefighter putting out a 3 alarm blaze. Just a little sprinkle like you are watering your plants will suffice. 

The problem with this method is once they have dried off, they will probably try it again. Now eventually this will train them to stay away, but this isn’t a completely failsafe way to keep chickens out of your mulch. Who wants to stand watch over mulch beds with a water hose all day like a guardian of the garden?

Lucky for you, automated products can be your sentinel against wanton chicken destruction so you can get on with life. Havahart 5277 Motion-Activated Animal Repellent & Sprinkler is a motion-sensing sprinkler, which will spray nuisance animals with a harmless spray of water when they get too close. 

This is a humane, non-toxic, automated way to keep chickens away from mulch beds and any other zone you want to keep chicken free. 

Use Chicken Wire or Deer Netting Over Mulch

One of the main reasons chickens love mulch beds is the need to dig or scratch at the ground. Take the ability away and chickens won’t bother the area. You can accomplish this with chicken wire, hardware cloth, or deer netting. 

After you spread out your mulch, lay the wire or mesh down over the mulch beds, then stake it with landscape staples, or put rocks on the corners. Chickens dislike walking on the metal chicken wire and hardware cloth, so they will avoid the area. The mesh will prevent them from being able to dig under the mulch and they will go somewhere else to take their dirt bath. 

The metal does not hurt their feet either, chickens will just avoid stepping on it because they don’t like the way it feels. Feitore Deer Fence Netting, 7 x 100 Feet is an economical way to keep chickens out of the mulch. 

The downside to using mesh or wire fencing is when weeds or flowers grow through the holes, it can be difficult to remove the mesh or weed the garden. 

Mulch With Rocks Deters Chickens

There are definite benefits to using hardwood or bark mulch around your plants. It holds in moisture so you do not have to water as much and helps during droughts. Mulch helps to keep the roots cooler in the summer and warm in the winter, and as it breaks down, mulch adds more nutrients to the soil. 

Mulching with rocks provides several of the same benefits as organic mulch does, as well as a few different pros and cons. If you are strictly attempting to keep chickens off your mulched beds, then rock mulching is hands down the winner here. 

With a few inches of marble or lava rock mulch, you will still get a stunning look for your yard, but you’ll also deter the chickens from digging it up. Chickens will scratch in areas that are easy to dig into. Larger chunks of rocks are difficult if not impossible for chickens to dig into, so they will avoid these areas completely. 

However, use larger-sized rocks. Pea gravel is very small, so chickens could easily scratch through to the dirt below. You certainly don’t want to replace pea gravel every season because chickens are tossing it about your yard. 

Put up a Fence To Keep Chickens Out

If you have the space, you can separate the front and the backyard. The front can be the pristine, beautifully landscaped area, while the back is a chicken haven. You’ll need at least a 4-foot-tall fence for this.

Chickens can clear three feet while some breeds can escape six feet, but if they have enough room to explore, chances are they will not try to get over a 4-foot tall fence.

Alternatively, you can put up a 3-foot tall fence around the mulched areas. The reason most chickens won’t attempt this is that they want a safe trajectory down. If the fence is close to another object like a wall, shrub, or tree, they won’t attempt to scale it. 

Little chicks can slip through the small holes of chicken wire though. They don’t stray far from mother hen, and when she wanders away, the chicks will follow.

If you don’t want to use a fence, check out our guide on how to keep chickens out of your garden without using fencing.

Predator Decoys Drive Away Chickens

An Ornamental Owl Fixed onto a Garden Wall

Chickens are terrified of owls and hawks. Rightfully so because these are their natural predators. However, you can use this to your advantage to keep them out of certain areas. 

Predators such as owls like this Dalen Fake Owl Scarecrow Decoy or hawks such as the YOFIT Bird Scarecrow Fake Horned Hawk Decoy can help to frighten chickens away. 

The problem here is you will probably have to get a few different decoys depending on how large of a space you are attempting to protect. Then, once you have the set, you cannot simply leave the decoys alone forever. Move them around occasionally. 

Studies show chickens are smart animals, and if the decoys stay in the same place all the time, they will eventually become unafraid of them. Moving them around occasionally will keep your chickens on their toes. It’s recommended to move the decoys about once a week, so the chickens think the predators are on the move.

You can learn more about other things that easily scare chickens here!

Use Capsaicin (Hot pepper) To Deter Chickens

Spices associated with powerful scents can also deter chickens. They smell the spices and keep away from them. Some of these spices include cinnamon, paprika, black pepper, and curry powder.

Spread one or a blend of these spices around the perimeter you want to keep your chickens away from and it should keep them out.  

Spices containing capsaicin, such as cayenne pepper, can cause discomfort to their feet when sprinkled on the ground. This will make the offending birds run in the opposite direction. These spices won’t harm your chickens, but they should cause a tingling or discomfort to make them stay away. 

Rain will wash the spices away, so you will have to reapply them afterward. You’ll also have to reapply about once a week if there is no rain because the powerful scents will eventually fade away. 

Use enough spice for the chickens to smell. A small sprinkle won’t do anything at all. Spread out about an inch wide line of the pungent spices for it to give off enough odor.

Constantly spreading spices can become pricey, as this is not a permanent solution, and spices can get pretty expensive. Spices can be a temporary deterrent in a pinch, but we wouldn’t recommend using this method for extensive areas over an extended period.

For a full detailed guide and more smells to keep chickens away, check out our popular guide on the scents that chickens hate and how to use them!

Use Citrus Peels To Deter Chickens

Another scent chickens dislike is citrus. Don’t throw away your orange peels or your juiced lemon and lime wedges. Use them to put an odorous barrier for your poultry. 

Before placing them around the perimeter, cut them into smaller pieces to release more of the citrusy odor that keeps chickens at bay. You can also soak the peels in citrus juice to strengthen the smell as well. 

As with the spices, rain will dilute the offensive odor so you’ll have to replace them or soak them in juice again. But this is a more economical deterrent compared to spices.  

Plant Herbs And Flowers That Chickens Dislike

Continuing on the subject of strong odors to keep chickens at bay, you can also plant herbs and flowers chickens don’t like. These herbs include:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Lemon balm
  • Marjoram
  • Chamomile
  • Sweet woodruff

Many annuals will also deter chickens such as:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Impatiens
  • Alyssum
  • Marigolds
  • Petunias 

Plant these herbs, annuals, or a mixture of both along the perimeter of the area you want to keep the chickens away from. A word of caution, though. Go for mature plants when doing this as seeds and small seedlings are an open invitation to most chickens.

If you plant seeds hoping to keep chickens away, they won’t get the hint and most likely will gobble the seeds with reckless abandon. 

If your chickens are very hungry or there isn’t much for them to forage on, they may nibble on these herbs and annuals. Often, extra measures such as a small fence or citrus peels added to the border of herbs or annuals will be more effective at keeping chickens away. 

Move the Chicken Coop

close up on chicken in side coop in back yard

Assuming you have a lot of space on your property, you can move the coop farther away from your mulch beds. Of course, this won’t work if you have a smaller yard. This method isn’t completely foolproof, but it may help. 

Chickens rarely stray far from their coop. They like to stay close to shelter in case they get frightened or chased by predators because they will run toward the closest hiding place when threatened.

If you have plenty of property where you can move the coop much farther away from your mulched beds, this will help a lot. Especially if there is plenty of food in their immediate vicinity. 

That’s All Folks!

Typically, raising free-range chickens while trying to maintain a beautifully manicured lawn is like putting an open can of tuna in front of a hungry cat, and expecting it not to eat. You’re going to be disappointed because mulch beds are nearly irresistible to chickens. 

If you follow some of the steps outlined above your lawn and your chickens can live in harmony. You may have to employ multiple techniques to keep them out of the mulch completely. 

If you use predator decoys along with plants your poultry doesn’t like the smell of, they will keep their distance. Also, if it’s a feasible option, rock mulch can be a striking addition to your yard, and chickens won’t dig in it.

Alternatively, if you have been thinking about putting in a fence, then now might be the time to invest in it. Whatever option you choose, we hope it works out for you and you can keep a good-looking yard along with the chicken haven. 

References: 

Campbell, Stu. Mulch It!: A Practical Guide to Using Mulch in the Garden and Landscape. Storey Publishing, 2012.

Garrett, Howard, John Ferguson, and Mike Amaranthus. “Mulch.” Organic Management for the Professional. University of Texas Press, 2021. 140-193.

Pollock, S. L., et al. “Raising chickens in city backyards: the public health role.” Journal of community health 37.3 (2012): 734-742.

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