Anyone who visits the farm usually figures out pretty quickly the close relationship between our chickens and the success of our vegetable garden.
It’s a little bit of a twist on the which came first argument – the chicken or the egg? Except in this case. it becomes, what’s more important – the garden to the chickens? – or the chickens to the garden?
Raising chickens and great gardens go hand in hand. The two are one of the finest examples of sustainability and permaculture you can find. In fact, when asked what is the single best thing you can do for a great garden – Mary and I quickly respond with “get a few chickens!”
The Garden’s Benefits From The Chickens:
Insect and Bug Control: In the early spring and again in the late summer and fall – we turn our little flock of chickens loose in the garden to scratch, claw and roam about.
The benefits are endless! First, they devour countless insects, ranging from tiny aphids to enormous tomato and cabbage worms – keeping our insect population to a minimum. Second – many insect lay their larvae just below the surface of the soil – waiting to hatch the following year and take a toll on our crops. By letting the chickens roam and scratch about – they eat and destroy many of these.
Fertilizer: The chicken manure and straw that we clean from their coop is a main ingredient in our compost. The high nitrogen level of their manure helps to heat up our piles quickly and provide tons of nutrients to our plants in the garden and landscape. We also use the manure and compost to make our compost tea – an all natural and organic fertilizer that helps our plants grow strong and increase production – and keeps us from using commercial fertilizers.
Weed Control: Chickens are one of the best natural weed suppressors around. As they scratch and claw about – they are also taking in and eating hundreds, if not thousands of weed seeds that have blown into the soil. Gobbling them up keeps the following year’s weeds in check – and the garden nice and tidy.
The Chicken’s Benefits From The Garden:
As much good as the garden gets from our little feathered girls – the girls get back from the garden. The bugs, worms and seeds they devour complement their diet and help them to produce beautiful eggs – as well as keeping our feeding costs down.
Chickens love to scratch around and will consume small bits of rock and grit that aid in their digestion. They also need to “dust” themselves with dirt on a regular basis – which is a form of a dry bath that keeps them clean and free of mites. The garden soil provides them an endless supply of both grit and dust – making them happy residents!
Speaking of their diet – the chickens are also the recipients of garden left-overs throughout the spring, summer and fall months. As we clean out our rows of spring lettuce or snap peas – we will toss them to the chickens, who gladly devour them in seconds.
And then of course – there are the benefits to us.
Beyond the great fertilizer, pest control and weed control our little feathered friends help us with – and beyond the fantastic garden results their fertilizer helps us to attain – they supply us beautiful fresh eggs every day.
If you have never had a “farm fresh” free range egg – do yourself a favor and try one. The taste is amazing (yes, there is a BIG difference), and it’s a great feeling knowing that the eggs on your plate, or in the cake you baked are from happy chickens. Chickens that get to roam about in the fresh air – and see the sun come up and go down every day. And that may be the best benefit of all!
Not to mention – they really do have their own personalities, and are a blast to have around.
Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!