Chickens make gardening better, easier, more productive, and fun!
From providing compost to making it lots more fun to weed, your chickens benefit your garden and even make some of the heavy-duty gardening chores easier and a bit more exciting.
Chickens make gardening better in so many ways! Here's how:
Chickens Create Compost
Cleaning out the chicken coop will provide nutrient-rich manure and bedding material that you can compost to supplement the soil in your garden. Chicken manure is a "hot" manure, so fresh manure should be composted before it is put on your garden.
We use a deep litter method in our coop. We also spread the coop bedding into the chicken run when we clean out the coop, and from there it goes into the gardens. Compost from chickens definitely makes our small garden more productive.
READ MORE: 8 Tips for a Healthy Flock of Chickens
Chickens Turn the Compost Pile
As a chicken keeper, you probably already know that chickens are great at composting. A free-range chicken will naturally scratch and turn over leaves and dirt so they'll do the same with a compost pile filled with food scraps looking for edible plants and bugs. This natural turning saves you the work of having to turn a compost pile.
Chicken-powered turning or "aeration" of the compost pile speeds up how quickly compost is ready for use.
Our compost pile is right in our chicken run, so that our chickens have easy access to the pile even when they are not let out to free range.
A better arrangement might be to have a fenced compost area within the garden itself, in which you could have a small chicken coop of chickens working to compost. In fact, the Vermont Compost Company uses over a thousand chickens to create commercial compost.
Chickens Are Great Pest Control
Chickens eat squash and cucumber beetles, assorted bugs, little slugs, grubs, and many other pests in your vegetable garden plot. While there are beneficial bugs for your garden, even a small flock of healthy chickens will serve as pest control to reduce the levels of detrimental insect pests.
Fewer pests definitely makes gardening better! This variety in their diet also makes fresh eggs better: that deep yellow or orange yolk is the sign of a diet with plant matter and insects as well as a good chicken feed.
Obviously, you may want to keep chickens out of a newly planted garden to protect your plants. Instead of chickens running amok in newly planted gardens, where they might tear up new plants or seeds, fence them out of the garden at that time.
The best times to have your chickens patrolling in the garden are before planting season and then again after the season is done. Bonus: they'll probably gobble down weed seeds too.
Another option is to create a chicken tunnel around the garden for your backyard flock using chicken wire, so they can patrol the perimeter for pests without making peck holes in your prize tomatoes and Swiss chard. Something to think about when you are creating new garden plans!
Chickens will also contribute to apple orchard insect control. Chickens reduce the amount of fruit left on the ground and thereby break some pest life cycles and risk of disease. The same can be said with berry orchards and other fruit farms.
Chickens Can Till the Garden
Did you know chickens can be one of the best gardening tools?
Harvey Ussury, in his book "The Small-Scale Poultry Flock" (Chelsea Green 2011) writes about how he uses what he calls "tiller chickens" to till under-cover crops. His chickens break new garden ground and prepare garden beds for planting.
Using either fencing or a chicken tractor, Mr. Ussury puts his chickens to work right in the garden. Not only do garden chickens or tiller chickens turn cover crops and clear new garden ground of any sod, they add chicken manure fertilizer directly to the garden soil as they till. See some tiller chickens in action here.
Planting cover crops and then having chickens till the plant matter gives chickens access to their very own chicken garden. You can plant cover crops in garden beds just the width of a chicken tractor. As they till under the cover crop, you move the chicken tractor to fresh areas to till and prepare new ground.
Chickens Make Weeding Fun
Once thing backyard chickens do not do is weed gardens (but oh, how I do wish they would). If you would like a flock to weed your garden, look into getting some weeder geese. Less weeding would be amazing!
However, pulling up weeds is a lot more fun when you can bring a wheelbarrow or two full of fresh green juicy garden weeds and grass clippings to your chickens. My garden is definitely the better for it.
In my pre-chicken days, weeds would take over the garden and I would want to burn it all down to the ground. Nowadays, I regularly pull weeds for the chickens and as a result the garden is well-maintained even in August. It's no longer a chore, instead it's a treat to give weeds to the chickens.
So there you go! These are five ways chickens make gardening better--we didn't even include the benefit of the fresh eggs from raising chickens! Compost, insect control, tilling, and helping with the once-dreaded chore of weeding: Chickens are really beneficial in our garden.
Are you a chicken owner? Do your chickens make the garden better? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos by Daphne Cybele unless otherwise specified.
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