Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gardening with chickens

I loved my compost pile.  It's a great way to turn kitchen scraps, garden waste, weeds, grass clippings and leaves into valuable fertilizer for the garden.  The only problem was our dog at the time.  Maggie was a great dog, but she loved to dig through the compost.  Her favorite things to eat were whole corn cobs (looked great coming out the other side!) So the pile was fenced making it difficult to turn the pile so everything would break down into that black gold otherwise known as compost.

But then I got chickens.  Throw the kitchen scraps, even meat which is a no no in regular compost piles, into the chickens and they gobble it right up, and given you great eggs in return.  My chickens come running when I am carrying anything because I might have scraps for them. Chickens love to graze on grass but I am limited space wise in what sort of grazing I can give them.  I have 2 fenced areas that I can open and shut doors to allow them to graze.  But the spaces are small and the chickens only get about a week's worth of grazing on each area, then the area must rest for about 2-4 weeks depending on the weather so there is enough green for the chickens to graze again.  Here's one area that I have let them on for a day or two. My neighbor dumps his grass clippings on our property so I can feed them to the chickens.  They love them and I know he doesn't use any chemicals on his lawn so the clippings are safe.
Here is the other area that has been resting and regrowing.

My chickens also serve another purpose.  They are the protectors of my garden.  Including the grazing areas, about 90% of the garden is surrounded by chickens.  The chickens patrol this area eating bugs, keeping the weeds down, and keeping out the mice, voles, and bunnies.  I have seen the chickens kill a mouse that gets into their pen.  I am not sure what they would do to a rabbit, but I don't think the rabbit would stick around long enough to find out.  Here is the back side of the garden with its chicken run. 
In the fall the chickens get all the leaves raked into their pen.  Over the winter we sprinkle chicken scratch on top of the leaves and the chickens stay occupied for many hours scratching around for the grains and any bugs they may find.  In the spring I have a pretty nice compost ready for the garden.  And I didn't have to bag up my leaves for the trash or burn them or have to get them shredded and have to keep turning them to get compost.  And the compost is evenly mixed with rotted chicken manure.  My garden loves it!
Even the goats help out in the garden.  Their bedding is perfect for mulching and is premixed with a pelletized natural fertilizer AKA goat manure.  While we could milk our does if we bred them, they do a nice job in the brush control department and they are just plain entertaining.  And last fall when we had the snowstorm that brought  down all the branches the goats were in charge of cleaning up.  We put all the branches in the goat pen and they goats stripped all the leaves off and then the bark.  Kept the goats busy for weeks and we saved on hay. 

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