Egg layers in and of themselves are a great addition to any homestead, large or small. And is there anything better than fresh eggs? But what if, in addition to the eggs, your backyard chickens could provide an extra hand (or foot, as it were) in your gardening efforts? Taking advantage of their natural desire to forage is a smart way for gardeners to get a little bit of free labor, and your hens (and the rooster) will love it!
Let your hens scratch and peck their way through your planting areas before you plant your crops. They’ll help eliminate pests in the soil and quickly knock down the weeds, making garden prep easier on your back. And if you’re planning to add any natural amendments to the soil—manure, compost, blood meal—sprinkle it on the ground before you move the girls in and they’ll distribute it for you.
Let them work your compost.
If you’ve had a compost pile for any amount of time, you know how it teems with bugs and grubs (and here in Hawaii, cockroaches — ick). It’s a veritable chicken buffet! Those creepy crawlers are a great natural source of protein for the hens. And in their efforts to find those delicious little nibbles, they’ll scratch through your pile, helping to break it down even faster. If your compost is ready for use and you’ll be spreading it in an area that doesn’t need to be protected from chickens, all you need to do is put the compost in a pile where you want it. In no time flat, the chickens will have it spread out for you. I’ve written before about how my chickens help me with composting and I just can’t see any down side.
Have them shred for you.
Chickens confined to one area can still be a big help in your gardening system. When the garden generates lots of leaves and small trimmings, instead of putting them in the compost pile, toss some into the chicken pen and let your girls go to town. Entertainment for them, and nice shredded yard waste mixed with chicken manure for you. (Once it’s all shredded, you’ll need to set this lovely mixture aside for a month or so to age in order to avoid burning your plants with the fresh chicken manure.) Be aware that grass clippings in the chicken coop are a bit of a grey area. Some people think that cut grass can lead to sour crop, but others have had no issue. I’d use caution here.
Let them tackle tough yard areas.
This is something we’re working on right now. We have an area of very aggressive grass with lots of clumping roots that we need to eliminate. I like to move a few of my hens into a portable fenced area, so they can happily scratch and gobble up what’s there, all the while loosening the roots and eliminating a ton of work for us.
Hens turn kitchen waste into eggs.
It’s good to be reminded once in awhile that through the miracle of Mother Nature, they’re transforming waste into something edible in a single step. You could compost those scraps, but by feeding them to the chickens, you save on feed and get an egg for the breakfast table the next morning.