Pammy Riggs, the author of ‘Keeping Chickens’ for Dummies, looks at gardening with chickens and other poultry.
Let half a dozen adult hens have the run of the garden, and they will take over completely, scratching up your best plants and making dust baths in the dahlias.
Spotting exactly where you dig and plant, they are always first in the queue for juicy morsels turned up by your trowel and selfishly snipped the delicate beginnings of your seedlings before they have a chance to mature into something edible or pretty.
It may sound like a match made in hell, but with some forethought, gardening with chickens or other poultry can actually enhance your gardening efforts.
Gardening with chickens: the chicken tractor
If transforming the pests in your garden into free eggy food is your idea of fun, build yourself a ‘chicken tractor’- no mechanical parts needed.
Build your chicken house and run to useful proportions. With a raised bed system for veg growing at four feet wide (1.23 metres in new money), plan the run for your hens to be the same and drag it (tract = draw) along.
Any beds not in immediate use can be systematically ‘worked over’ by sharp-eyed chickens and manured along the way. Gardening with chickens needn’t mean the destruction of your flower beds!
If you want some inspiration to build one, take a look at Modern Farmer’s Chicken Tractor 101.
Crafty growers devote a plot to chicken friendly grains and seeds, allowing the birds to self-harvest at little cost. Lazy days ahead while the hens do the work; just pick up the eggs as they go!
An orchard is the natural habitat of these jungle fowl ancestors, safely scratching in dappled shade heaven.
Allow a handful of chickens to rake out the old grasses and balance the pests.
Keeping chickens in small gardens
Many of us have relatively small back gardens these days, so if you find yourself wondering whether you can keep some chickens in a small space, then Anne’s article “How Much Space Do Chickens Need?” should help you decide whether it’s possible to squeeze them in.
If you would like your chickens to free-range in your garden, but you need to keep them out of certain areas, then you could fence them out of an area, using poultry netting such as this one from Omlet that Tim reviewed.
Ducks are worth considering
If gardening is about neat flowerbeds and a perfectly smooth lawn, then perhaps a discrete ark housing a couple of teeny tiny, sweet little light-on-their-webbed-feet Call ducks is all you can tolerate.
Move the ark daily, so the lawn does not become poached, and let the little ducks free whenever it is safe to do so.
These little dears will soon understand which territory they are allowed to patrol and can be kept off sensitive areas with a low barrier. Use them as living garden ornaments as well as efficient natural sluggers.
Ducks are bright and herdable; train them to return to their compound if you are suddenly called away from the garden with a splashy washing up bowl of clean water to play in. Who could resist?
Geese, perfect, natural grass-mowers
For mature orchards, where quelling the grass has become a chore, employ some geese’s grazing instincts to do the work.
A pair of geese for every half-acre of grass will usually do the trick. They are also very observant and will alert you to anything unusual going on. Geese can be quite vocal, especially Chinese geese, so make sure there are no nearby neighbours who might first object to the noise.
Poultry can fit into an organic or chemical-free garden, allowing us to consider natural and sustainable food production from our plot. Every gardening situation can be assessed with poultry-keeping in mind, large or small. Gardening with chickens can be a lot of fun!