Keeping hens in the garden need not be a horror story – in fact, they can be true allies, as biodynamic gardening.
Given half a chance, chickens can create havoc in any garden, digging up newly planted flower beds, making dust baths in your once immaculate lawn which now bears a striking resemblance to a minefield, not to mention decimating your prized crops in a matter of minutes. But it needn’t be a horror story – with a little careful planning, your chickens tan be your perfect garden allies.
Chickens love nothing better than to be in the open air and sunshine, exercising, and satisfying their curiosity while finding their own natural foods which are far superior to anything we can buy for them.
So why not reap the benefits of their passion lot the great outdoors and put your flock to work? Not only will your feathered friends help on the labour front, they’ll help your pocket too.
If you’re to enlist the services of your flock, it’s only possible to garden organically. While chemical fertilisers and pesticides are potentially harmful to your chickens, your flock are low cost, energetic organic pesticides and fertilisers all in one!
Ag omnivores, chickens have a huge appetite for damaging insects, snails, beetles and even mice and snakes, all of which are good sources of protein for them. If you have fruit trees, your flock will clean up any fallen fruit and, in doing so, help break the life cycle of damaging insects and also diseases, the spores of which may overwinter in the decaying fruit. Bug patrol stints are particularly effective in the spring when damaging insects are most prevalent and again in the autumn when many species start heading underground for the winter.
There’s no doubt about it, using a power rotavator to break up the soil is hard work, particularly if the soil is heavy and, coupled with the noise, it doesn’t make for an enjoyable task. But have you ever considered using chicken power instead?
Mechanical rotavator breaks down the ‘crumb’ structure of fine garden soil, mixing together the layers that develop a natural soil profile. Chickens, on the other hand, scratch only at the surface layer without disrupting soil structure. They’ll boost soil life and fertility with their droppings that they’ll obligingly turn under as they work. Tilling also offers a hanquer of nutritious food (such as earthworms and insects) and fresh greens (such as chickweed and dandelion leaves) as a reward for their hard work.
If you have a severe annual weed problem, instead of using stale seed beds (where weeds are encouraged to germinate, then destroyed), employ chicken power. Emerging weed seedlings won’t stand a chance against the incessant scratching of chickens – they’ll quickly deplete the seed bank in the surface soil layer, thus reducing subsequent weed seedlings dramatically, which means less weeding for you.
If you grow green manures, refrain from digging them in and instead send in your flock. Not only will live birds benefit from nutritious greens, if crops such as buckwheat ate left to mature, the chickens can feast on an abundance of seeds loo. Afterwards, live chickens will obligingly do the digging in for you while you work elsewhere.
Poultry manure has long been regarded as the mow desirable animal manure among organic gardeners, ranking top in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When combined with straw or other bedding materials, it not only adds nutrients to the soil but organic matter too.
Fresh chicken droppings, often referred to as ‘hot’ manure due to the high nitrogen content, should be composted first before it can be used at a fertiliser. Adding fresh manure directly to your plot may burn plant roots and seedlings or make your perennials grow so fast they become thin and weedy. The odd dropping courtesy of your working flock won’t present a problem as they will be working well ahead of the planting season and the droppings will have a chance to decompose.
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, particularly as nitrogen is a challenging nutrient to manage on your plot. Applying excessive amounts of nitrogen to certain crops such as tomatoes will result in mainly leaf growth and little fruit.
To some degree, your hens will help you mow the yard, particularly if they’re confined into a little region. Fowl will not eat everything and are grazers though – a combination of grasses and legumes such as clover are the most palatable forage. Chickens like their forages comparatively short; younger and more succulent plants have a tendency to be thus more palatable, less fibrous and shorter. You’ll still need to mow the grass, but not quite so often.
Your feathered army can make the back-breaking chore of scarifying the lawn fade into a distant memory. Their scratch will de-moss and aerate the yard you’ll be amazed at how much thatch they could locate and remove! They’ll also break the thatch down into pieces that are decomposable and smaller. But it’s not all this type of rosy picture.
More information about chickens for your garden you can find here.