Chickens can be part of the Useful Garden and they're fun to have around! They're the clowns of the garden and I love to watch them scratch at the ground then scoot backward to see what they've uncovered.
When one Girl finds something the rest pursue her to take it away.
Chickens use their beaks to explore their environment and they love shiny things - a ring, bracelet, buckle, a button. A painted toenail! Beware the hard peck of a curious hen!
And they lay incredible, edible eggs. A chicken will lay an egg every day or every other day. I don't eat my Girls. They're pets and provide a sufficient amount of service by remaining alive.
My Girls eat many weeds. They don't eat all types but they do love dandelions, cheat grass, fox tails, and elm seedlings when these first sprout in the Springtime. They also do a lot of weeding by scratching out newly sprouted seedlings.
Chickens are great for pest control. Their scratching disturbs the soil and exposes eggs and small larvae to dehydration or consumption.
Chickens also eat lots of worms and bugs. They love earwigs, box elder bugs, crickets, flies, and more. Sadly, they don't like squash bugs.
I've heard that chicken manure makes very good fertilizer. I think it does. My gardens thrive on this free fertilizer...just don't add it in until it's decomposed a bit or it could burn tender plants.
During Winter when I clean out the coop I dump the poo and straw from the coop onto the soil of my raised veggie bed where it can break down and seep into the soil. In Spring I till it in, then plant.
I also toss the coop gleanings under roses and other plants while they're Winter-dormant. It's a good addition to a compost pile, too.
Chickens are companionable with each other and whoever feeds them. They love treats! The quickest way to make friends with a hen is to hand-feed her tasty tidbits.
I am their rooster! Well, not really. However, from a chicken's world view I perform some (not all) of a rooster's role in the flock.
A rooster will protect his hens. He'll uncover tasty treats for them then stand back and watch the hens eat. He stands guard watching out for attacks from above - hawks or other large birds of prey - and sounds the alarm at which all the hens scurry to hide beneath shrubs.
When I dig in the garden my hens are usually nearby watching to see if I unearth a plump, juicy worm. If I do, I'll call the Girls and whoever gets to me first gets the prize!
Yes, I love chickens!
In the late afternoon I'll let them out of the back garden where they roam during the day into the front gardens which are more manicured. They love to nibble on my organic lawn which - with bugs and worms and good feed - gives their egg yolks a rich orange color and adds to the omega-3 content.
Chickens are diggers and will excavate sizable holes to get at tasty critters to eat. They'll also create holes for dust bathing. They'll make hills and dales of your bark or gravel mulch. And they'll poop on your porches and walk ways (let it dry then sweep it into the garden). These are reasons why I only let them into the front gardens in the late afternoon - less time for destruction, mischief, and pooping on stuff!
In early Spring and late Autumn (after the harvest) I let them into the kitchen garden to eliminate pests. I don't let them in while things are growing and ripening lest they peck at ripe tomatoes and squashes, eat my lettuce, and flatten the arugula!
You can have chickens as part of your Useful Garden. Fences make good controls if there's areas of your gardens you'd like to keep chicken-free.
A three to four-foot fence is usually adequate for fencing chickens out. Some of the smaller, fleeter breeds can fly over low fencing. However, the larger heavier breeds tend not to have much flying capability.
I love chickens! Judicious management of the time allowed in sensitive garden areas and decorative fencing will enable you to have the benefits of chickens in the garden without the drawbacks.