5 Ways to Put Your Backyard Hens to Work For You 31


Feed your chickens for free

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!

Backyard hens are great for providing eggs (and sometimes meat), but did you know they can actually save you time with your yard work?Put them in the garden.

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.


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31 thoughts on “5 Ways to Put Your Backyard Hens to Work For You

  • kathy

    my garden is far from my chickens.( we only have 4) . we have trying to figure out how to keep them in the garden cant free range due to stray dogs. im very interested in your portable fence. could you share how you built it?

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      Actually, we’re using hog panels that we will (eventually) be using for pigs. It’w WAY overkill for the chickens, but it is working. You could replicate easily, though. It’s just four panels, about 4’high by 8’long. We’ve strapped them together at the four corners to create s square. Any materials on hand you could repurpose?

      • KayDee

        Don’t your chickens go over the top? Mine would! I only have 3 chickens so made a chicken tractor; lots and lots of ideas on the Internet for that. Since I don’t have many and live in the city, I made one out of wire cube panels (those versatile things you can make cubbies, bookshelves, etc out of), only 3 panels x 3 panels wide, only one panel high, secured with not only the knobs that came with it to attach them to each other but reinforced with zip strips. I live in the city so don’t have them out of the backyard for long periods of time; needed something extremely light and portable.

        • Kris Bordessa Post author

          Their wings are clipped, so no. Brilliant idea with the wire cubes!

      • Michael Johnson

        go to http://www.kencove.com I think that is right they have an electric net fence that I use you can get the smaller one for like $90 then you just have to get a fence charger. Very portable and light weight it works great best thing I have done for my hens. I have my tractor in the fence and move it about once a week they are free range with limits. great product.

      • AmandaonMaui

        Do you not have issues with mongoose where you are? Here on Maui we have mongoose problems. They killed 3 of our chickens. We’re going to have to make our run/tractor with chicken wire to keep the mongoose out.

        • Kris Bordessa Post author

          Yes we do! I’ve resorted to trapping and…dispatching. Keeping the gulch near our house clear of vegetation seems to help, too.

    • Stephanie

      We connected 1/2″ water line into 2hoops and attached them to 36″ high welded wire fence using zip ties. Our portable fence is round and lightweight and we just tip it in end and roll it to move it where we want it next.

    • Dawn

      We used 1/2 inch pvc for a frame and wrapped it in black poultry fencing with a tarp over the top for shade and protection from the Hawks 🙂

  • Ric "The Turtle" Ryan

    Totally loved this as I had been considering chickens and ducks for a while.  This post sold the deal especially as I have an area I need cleaned up and they are the perfect candidates for the job.

  • Jaimie

    This is the end of my first year raising chickens and we even got four babies this year. I am so excited to put my hens in my garden after the harvest is over. They are going to get good and fattened up for the winter!

  • Marge

    Interesting comment about grass clippings, I have been using them for a couple of years without problems. The girls sure love digging and scratching the new mown grass clippings.
    I prefer straw but I have found that it will mold if allowed to build up. I take it out of the yard and spread it on a pile for later use in my garden
    I think chickens are the greatest and most rewarding birds. The girls become quite fond of me and like to be petted and held.

  • Tamara

    I clicked on this link expecting to see a small harness and someone trying to get chickens to all pull in the same direction at once.

  • Bramble

    I made my chicken tractor out of pvc pipe. Covered it with that new plastic web fencing, and tied it all together with plastic ties. My hens loved it. They were a great help digging up hard areas in the garden.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      We’re in the planning stages of making something similar!

  • Ruth Ann Lee

    Our flock knows just what to do, when we move firewood, they are right there, looking for snacks. We split wood last fall and there were some pieces that held larvae of some sort. The hens did not care , they pushed us out of the way to get some yummies!!

  • Candi

    We have a crazy, lazy semi-system….. We put the cow manure and all yard waste in the compost. Everyday we throw all the kitchen scraps on top of the manure. Anytime we clean out a coop, hutch, or barn, run-in, etc – we add it to the ever growing, compost-pile. Our chickens spend almost all their time as the cherries on top! Not only do they have enough food at their feet to last them til spring…. They are happy, busy, chickens turning and churning all that compost. I love chickens.

  • Dena

    I was wondering, since some foods are toxic to chickens, do you leave those out of the compost pile ? because my girls would eat anything I put out there, even if it’s bad for them ?

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      I have kind of a casual attitude about this. I mean, I wouldn’t put POISON in there, but I don’t worry too much about it. My hens tend to just not eat what they don’t like. And avocados are supposed to be toxic, but wild chickens here eat ’em all the time.

  • Lee Ann Lynn

    I have a half acre i let my chickens free range on in good weather. That’s nearly every day in the summer. There is now very little grass out there. Hehe they are little lawn mowers with wings.

  • Marsha Watlington

    I’ve thrown kitchen and yard scraps in with my chickens for several years. I use the dirt from the coop in my garden. The problem is, the soil is full of weed seeds. I thought my chickens would have eaten these seeds.

  • Gracie

    We learned at recent WestinPrice mtg that digging too deep in your garden is what brings the majority of weed seeds to the surface, let your girls do the hard part, as they won’t go that deep.

  • Kathy

    The biggest trouble that I have is making sure that they lay consistently in the cooler months. After 10 years of experiments, Ive pretty much got it down pat – http://bit.ly/1A8mLB1

    • Rheal

      I live in Canada central Winnipeg Manitoba to b exact. It gets damn cold out here its nick named Winnterpeg for a reason I have heat lamps in my coop,but still see a significant decline in eggs in winter. got any secrets you would like to share? please feal free

  • Jenny

    You obviously haven’t got silkies! They only dig where I have already turned the soiland it is easy digging ( we are on sand anyway). They certainly don’t eat scraps! Only freshly picked vegetables and fruit. But they give lots of love and company!