A staple on beginning farms and in backyards everywhere is the chicken, and why not? Chickens are easy to care for and provide us with delicious eggs and meat, not to mention entertainment as they scratch around the farm. The good news is their usefulness doesn’t end there. Besides being excellent at giving us food in the form of eggs, they can also help with another type of food: the contents of your garden.
The very nature of chickens is that they like to scratch and dig, rooting around to consume delicious bugs. If you allow them to do this in your intended garden space, their natural behavior will actually help get that ground tilled and ready to plant. This will save you the work of doing so yourself, not to mention the fuel, wear, and tear involved when using machinery. Sure, it may take them a little longer but they will be performing a great service while free ranging at the same time. If you wish to focus their efforts on a specific area, a chicken tractor or poultry netting will help keep them working where you want them until the job is done. What about the manure they leave behind, you ask? Well, about that…
One thing you can count on when it comes to chickens is that what goes in must come out, and when it does, you should use it in the garden. Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen which makes it great for the garden. If you clean the coop or pick up manure piles from free range areas, the ultimate destination should be the garden where manure will help your garden grow. If you need a place to locate your chickens’ manure but the garden isn’t quite ready, add it to the compost bin where it will work just as well until it ultimately winds up in the garden.
Speaking of compost, you can also let your chickens spend some time directly on the compost pile. For open, easily accessible piles where they will not become trapped, chickens can actually help turn compost by scratching and rooting through it in search of tasty morsels to eat. Compost piles do need to have accumulated enough time to warm up, however, as a fresh compost pile will not be quite as appealing as one that has had some time to attract bugs. Rather than you yourself turning compost manually, let them do it for you. Perhaps they’ll even add some manure directly to the pile while they work.
Best of all, you can pay chickens for all this beneficial garden work in mere scraps. Many of the food scraps from your kitchen that you might ordinarily throw away will make a fine feast for your chickens. Since chickens are omnivores, the list of foods they will enough is quite long. Their willingness to consume just about anything that comes their way is also great for keeping the feed bill down and keeping food scraps from going into a landfill when they can still serve a purpose. Be sure not to feed chickens anything that has spoiled or gone moldy, but if it is in good shape, give it a go. There is a list of foods chickens should not be fed so you might wish to avoid those but in a lot of cases chickens have the sense to avoid what is unhealthy or does not appeal to them.
Since so many of us have chickens on our farm, it just makes good sense to get the most out of them. The very nature of a chicken is very useful to a farmer, which is likely one of the many reasons they have been seen on farms throughout history. Sure, those delicious eggs are a big part of it, but nature’s design of the chicken makes them valuable to the farmer in more ways than one. If your chickens haven’t been living up to their farm work potential, there is no time like the present to change that by putting them to work in the garden.
Learn more about raising chickens at: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/information-about-raising-chickens/