Chickens are the most valuable animals we can have in our lives and in our gardens or backyard. However, there are some drawbacks and benefits we still need to consider when letting our flock roam freely. For example, chickens provide an abundance of natural fertilizer that contains a lot of nitrogen. If your garden needs that, you can think about a free-ranging garden or backyard. So, will you be putting chickens inside your garden fence this fall?
Chickens like humans want to have fun when searching for food, so they are most useful in the garden when they can find tiny pests to eat, providing you with organic pest control for your garden. Among other things, chickens also aggregate the soil instead of you. Garden chickens are excellent compost shredders. With a couple of tips and tricks, your garden can thrive quickly. In exchange, you will have fresh and delicious eggs, vibrant garden chickens, and an array of plants that can make every garden a place of continuous joy and wonder.
Keeping chickens in the garden or backyard comes with a bit of responsibility and challenges that will occupy your gardening adventure. The main thing to be aware of is that chickens like to pluck plants and move mulch. But, unfortunately, they also want to dig holes everywhere. That's why a few good practices for maintaining harmony between your flock of chickens and the garden are beneficial for every chicken breeder.
Garden chickens at different seasons
Seasonal differences must be taken into account when you want the chickens and the garden to coexist. You will also have to learn when it is crucial to keep your garden chickens away from your green patch, and this means there are a few windows in a year when your flock can peacefully coexist with your garden plants without much harm to their growing parts.
Spring: is a great time to apply compost to your garden that has been curing over the winter in your composted patch. New plants are tender and can be easily damaged by chickens scratching or pecking, so be careful to protect your newly sown seeds and stocks of emerging perennials. Chickens in the spring, especially after a long winter, are curious and like to look for tasty and tender emerging shoots. Damaging of those, as you know, substantially destroys the plant's new growth. So quite quickly, you can remain without a plant to grow.
The free-range garden chicken solution uses temporary fencing or other physical wired barriers for vulnerable areas around your newly grown plants and soon to sprout seeds.
Summer: In the summer, plants will be already settled and have much bolder stems and roots, so fencing around is not needed so much. Ripening crops, though, will need protection during their peak production. So, what do garden chickens need in the summertime?
The solution for the free-range garden chickens is avoidance of heat and tasty crops. The heat in summer means that we need to have an air circulating shade that allows chickens to rest and cool off. We also need to provide fresh water at all times in and out of the coop. If we look out and pick crops before chickens get to them, then we are okay. If not, we again can fence off those plants in peak production and let chickens roam where the plants are already out or barely in the production of fruits.
Autumn: is a perfect season to put the garden chickens to work and let them help with groundskeeping. Instead of tediously weeding and cleaning up beds after the growing season, the solution is to let your chickens roam through the whole garden and let them eat the remaining of the garden in its passing. In short, let the chickens do the work.
The solution for the free-range garden chickens is freedom. First, the fencing can come down in the regions being protected as crops are gone. Second, the compost from the spring can be used as mulch to protect plants and soil from winter rain and cold.
Winter: when the garden is in full abeyance, you can allow chickens full access to the garden all winter long.
The solution for the free-range garden chickens is freedom and protection from the cold. There are fewer or no delicate plants in the garden this season, and insects are in abundance. Chickens can eat those insects, and by searching for them, they can scratch the soil, providing oxygen to it. Like in the summertime, chickens must have access to fresh water and housing to protect them from the cold and snow.
In all seasons, you must not neglect the regular food for garden chickens, so weeds and rotted fruits should get tossed to your hens daily. If your chickens produce extra manure, you can put this into compost, where the compost will slowly and safely turn into fertilizer. Of course, you will have a less nitrogen-rich version. You must consider what your garden needs, and if it needs less fertilizer on one end, then chickens should stay away from that area. You can even ground eggshells and toss them into the compost to produce acceptable soil additives for excellent plant root health.
Chickens and the garden are natural partners for more healthy, sustainable gardening. There are many ways to go about it. We will quickly discuss a few issues in detail so you can better manage your free-range garden chickens.
Pros and cons of having chickens in your garden as a part-time free ranger
· Having garden chickens means a happier and healthier flock than chickens confined to enclosed quarters.
· Better pest control in your garden or orchard. Chickens love bugs, and they are quick to eat them.
· Fertilized garden.
· With the help of your flock, you can quickly compost your household waste. Chickens eat a lot of food, so they help turn our leftovers into quick manure that can quickly compost.
· Replacing machine tillers by leaving your chickens long enough in one garden spot, so they remove all vegetation and air out the soil.
· They can spread mulch efficiently. Chicken can level a large mulch pile very quickly and efficiently, so you do not have to. If you want to spread mulch or compost, you can make a pile of material where you need leveling and then close your chickens in with a fence. When they are done, you can remove them and start gardening in that area.
· Manure issues. Too much or too little? You always have to balance the number of chickens in the garden and remove manure from it if necessary. Make sure that your chickens' manure is put away regularly and composted correctly. If waste is left to pile up in a garden, it can attract flies. In addition, manure produces excessive ammonia, which is unhealthy for chickens to breathe and creates a very unpleasant odor. If manure is left not composed, it can also pollute the soil and water when it rains in the raw state.
· Rodents: Rotting vegetative materials may attract pests such as rats. Putting food scraps in an open composting system can easily create a rat habitat that is hard to exterminate. Food scraps can be given directly to the chickens in an exact place where they are or must be placed in closed systems like bins.
· You need to keep a careful watch on the garden and protect plants for a while. Chickens love to make holes and peck at small plants. All you need to do is keep a close eye on them or make fences that protect your vegetation.
· Chicken training and acclimation. Some chickens are perfect garden companions, and some are not. Recommended breeds for free-range garden chickens are Leghorn, Australorp, Wyandotte. Other chickens you might want to train to eat slugs, for example, or bugs that were not in their diet before. Some chickens will not be used to vegetation, and you will have to direct them on how to behave in a garden setting. Once you train them to have a perfect balance in the garden, you will be able to leave them unsupervised for a more extended time, assuming that you secured your garden from predators that can invade your garden or coop. You can read an article about chicken safety here. Suppose you already own an automatic chicken coop door. In that case, you may consider buying another one for the main entrance to the garden for safety purposes and ease of gardening, where chickens can enter your garden.
With a little bit of planning and making room for chickens' through the seasons, allowing nature to do its course, you can manage to have chickens in your garden or green backyard for an extended period. Have a pleasant chicken garden experience!