Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard

by Jessi Bloom


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


“If your garden fantasies involve chickens, Jessi Bloom is here to make those dreams come true.” —The New York Times

Many gardeners fear chickens will peck away at their landscape. But you can keep chickens and have a beautiful garden, too! In this essential handbook, award-winning garden designer Jessi Bloom offers step-by-step instructions for creating a beautiful and functional space while maintaining a happy, healthy flock. Free-Range Chicken Gardens covers everything a gardener needs to know, from the basics of chicken keeping and creating the perfect chicken-friendly garden design to building innovative coops.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604692372
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/03/2012
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 542,392
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jessi Bloom is a best-selling author, award-winning ecological landscape designer, and speaker. She owns N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Services, based in the Pacific Northwest, which is known as an innovator and leader in the field of permaculture, sustainable landscape design, construction, and land management. Her work has been recognized by government agencies and industry organizations and makes headlines in national media. She lives near Seattle with her two sons on their permaculture homestead, which is full of functional gardens and rescue animals.

Kate Baldwin is a food and lifestyle photographer in Seattle, Washington, whose work appears frequently in advertisements, magazines, and books, and can be seen at

Read an Excerpt

When I first got chickens, I made a lot of mistakes. In the first few weeks of letting them roam freely in the garden, you’d often find me chasing them around in circles, trying to get them to go where I wanted, which is about as easy as herding cats. Our first chicken coop provided adequate shelter, but ended up being better housing for rats than birds. And I wanted to collect breeds just like I collect plants—at least one of every kind, please—ignoring my husband’s warnings of becoming a chicken hoarder.

Fast forward, and now our girls will come when called and even hop inside visitors’ cars as if they are ready to hit the town. Their housing is clean, rodent-proof, and an impenetrable barricade from night predators. Their days are spent weeding the garden beds, mowing the lawn, and chasing insects, between regular dust baths to groom themselves and lounging in the sun. It’s a great arrangement for everyone.

Chickens are easily one of the most useful animals we can have in our lives. Unlike other pets we keep, chickens provide us with food—fresh from our own backyard. For gardeners, chickens can be a resourceful tool as well as a companion, but there is much to know so the birds don’t wreak havoc in your garden.

There are not many resources available for gardeners who would like to know what’s involved in keeping chickens, or for chicken owners who want a beautiful garden with free-ranging hens in it. This book takes you through the basics of starting with chickens, from how many to get, to what breeds will be best for you, to acclimating them to your garden and routines. It also covers the essentials of keeping your chickens protected, even training the birds. The heart of the book has you looking at your garden as habitat for your flock, starting with the basic elements of landscape design, then selecting materials for fencing and hardscapes, onto choosing chicken-friendly plants, and reviewing sample garden designs. One chapter is devoted to innovative coop design, followed by profiles of predators and information on health care. Each dimension of the book is explored with photos and illustrations.

While doing research for the book, I interviewed gardeners with chickens from throughout the country, and I found that they all did things differently. Their gardens varied, and they faced different challenges. In each chapter, I’ve included a story on a chicken keeper who has a successful system of chickens in the garden. It’s my hope that this book will inspire gardeners to become chicken-keepers and create a partnership with their chickens in having a functional and beautiful outdoor space.

I live on a small piece of land north of Seattle, Washington, with my husband and two young boys, amidst lush gardens, dogs, ducks, turkeys, a goat, a horse, and about a dozen chickens who roam freely, greeting visitors and tending the gardens. The girls free range during the day and roost at night in a small barn with other animals. The roof water from the building is collected in a 300-gallon cistern and overflows into a trough, then into a small pond. We’ve kept all different breeds of chickens and have offered sanctuary and a home to many rescued animals. The chickens are our "pets with benefits": they provide food, fertilizer, and garden help, and they also teach my children lessons about where their food comes from and about caring for the birds.

Our gardens are completely organic, with a mixture of native plants, ornamentals, and edibles planted together in different beds, layers, and garden rooms. Our chickens rarely eat plants that are not meant for them to eat, and have never had damaging levels of parasites or serious disease. We have very few predator problems because of the coverage from plants, fencing, and protective animals we keep such as dogs. We’ve always let our chickens free range, and we have adapted by protecting particular plants when necessary and arranging for the birds to help us with garden chores by using a chicken tractor, which is a bottomless portable pen.

The chickens offer a sense of humility and peace, which helps keep me grounded. If I’m having a bad day, I only need to spend a few minutes with them before I feel good again. Their silly antics make us all laugh, and their sense of family is inspiring to watch. They have complex social lives and distinct personalities, and they really do take care of each other but still have occasional tiffs. I couldn’t imagine having a garden without chickens.

With food politics currently in the media forefront and self-sufficiency becoming mainstream, victory gardens are being built again everywhere, and across the country citizens are banding together to legalize poultry in their backyards. More and more, chickens are becoming part of our gardens, providing us with fresh eggs, but their strengths as garden helpers are often overlooked.

Chickens are terrific gardening assistants with natural soil-building capabilities, and they help to manage pests and weeds. Much like other pets we keep, they are easy to care for, can be trained to come when called or to do tricks, and some people even bring them inside their homes much like other domesticated birds. Owning chickens has become appealing to a wide audience, from young families who are homesteading to baby boomers with empty nests who are looking for new hobbies and interests. Seasoned gardeners are now looking into getting chickens and wondering how to take full advantage of their benefits while protecting their gardens and hard-earned crops.

Chickens have long been an integral part of human society and the food chain. Easily the most useful animal we ever domesticated, chickens require very little care and land compared to other livestock. They are one of the oldest domesticated animals, originating in Asia, with history dating back at least 5000 years. The Wild Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which looks similar to a Brown Leghorn but smaller, is thought to be the oldest ancestor of today’s domestic chicken (Gallus domesticus).

Chickens are gallinaceous: they stay close to their home residence and roost there at night, unlike many common wild birds that migrate. This trait makes them ideal for living symbiotically with us and enables us to allow them to free range. Letting them live as they would naturally is good for their health and well-being, but needs some planning.

Table of Contents

introduction: 6

1 chickens and gardens-working together: 10

Incorporating Chickens into Your Garden

Chickens and Sustainability

Chickens and Your Lifestyle

Being a Good Neighbor

Seasonal Considerations

2 chickens in your garden: practical considerations: 36

Benefits of Free-Range Chickens

Keeping Your Plants Safe

Keeping Your Chickens Safe

Chicken Training and Acclimation

3 designing a chicken-friendly garden: 60

Creating a Plan

The Chicken Infrastructure

Other Permanent Elements

Choosing the Right Plants

Extra Elements for the Chickens

Sample Garden Plans

4 landscape materials for chicken gardens: 92



5 plants with purpose: 112

Plants for Chicken Gardens

Food and Forage

Medicinal Plants

Poisonous Plants

Chicken-Resistant Plants

Colorful Seasonal Plants

Native Plants

Plants for Fragrance

Plants as Noise Barrier

6 innovative chicken housing: 146

Space Requirements

Mobile, Modular, or Stationary Coop?

Coop Necessities

Interior Design

Optional Items - Chicken Coop Style


Greenhouse Chicken Coop

Tractors and Arks

Geodesic Chicken Dome

Broody Box or Sin Bin

7 friends and foes of hens in the garden: 178

Predators and Pests

Predator Control and Deterrents

Other Garden Fowl


Poultry Diseases and Parasites

Troubleshooting Common Chicken Problems

Injury in the Garden

When a Chicken Dies

afterword: 203

conversions and hardiness zones: 204

resources: 206

acknowledgments: 209

photo credits: 211

index: 212

Customer Reviews