What would a farm be without chickens? They may be the quintessential farm animal and farmers know that they are so much more than just a source of eggs. Now, gardeners in many areas of the country are discovering the benefits that these animals can bring to their yards. Even gardeners in urban settings are often able to raise chickens and they are becoming increasingly popular gardening buddies!
Chickens are omnivores which means they will eat both meat and plant material; in other words, they will eat just about anything! This makes feeding your chickens a great way to keep your kitchen scraps out of a landfill. It will also save money on chicken feed too. They are particularly partial to vegetable parts that we typically don’t eat including beet and carrot greens as well as leftover parts of broccoli stems. The shells from their eggs can make a great source of calcium for them as well!
A by-product of raising chickens is the manure. My father has told me stories about cleaning the chicken coops at his grandmother’s house on Long Island and while it was not a fun job he recalls that her vegetables were huge and delicious. It is no wonder as chicken manure is a great source of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. One chicken can produce enough manure to help fertilize a 50 square foot garden patch each month and mixing a pound of chicken manure with 40 pounds of chopped leaves can make a nutrient rich compost.
While chickens produce lots of manure for a compost pile they also can help you turn the compost over which keeps the heating process going. They search through the pile for insects and while they won’t turn over the whole pile they can do up to 6 inches in a day. This searching for food in piles can also help you spread out mulch too and if you are trying to create a new flower bed just spread chicken feed on the area you are looking to till and the chickens can do the work for you. Just one chicken can till 50 square feet of sod in 4 to 6 weeks.
Chickens can also play a role in making your yard a safer place to garden. Let them out in the yard in the early evening and they will eat lots of nuisance insects particularly ticks which can carry Lyme’s Disease and mosquitos which can carry diseases such as West Nile Virus. They also feast on slugs and will dig in the ground for grubs. There may be no better tool for natural insect control than a chicken but it is a good idea to keep an eye on where they are working. Since they will eat just about anything they will make a meal out of your vegetables and perennials if allowed to do so.
Finally, if you live somewhere other than a farm you’ll want to check with your local governmental agencies before you introduce chickens to your yard. Some locales have restrictions on owning such animals in residential areas and it may be a good idea to talk to your neighbors to be sure they are ok with your plan too. Offering to share your fresh eggs with them is a great way to get their buy-in!