I saw a TV programme today about a woman who was turning her ornamental urban garden (6ft x 20ft) into a mixed ornamental/food garden. She reserved a space for a chicken coop to hold two hens. The hen hut was about 2/3 the size of a small garden shed, and the fenced outside area was about 1.5 x the size of a single bed. She was clearly looking after the hens well in most ways, but I felt that the area was rather small for the hens to roam in - she wasn't letting them roam around the rest of the garden regularly (I guess they would dig up her crops).
So my question is this: what areas of a garden and what types of plants could I let chickens roam around/in which they won't destroy? Your answers will help me decide if I can have chickens in my new garden. I wouldn't be happy keeping chickens in a small fenced area most of the time, so unless I can regularly let them out to roam a bit, I probably won't get any.
I have raised chickens since I was a child. My dad used to have me pen them up during garden season. I have found my chickens love eating anything orange, yellow, red or green. They eat any worm, bug, toad, frog, or mouse they can catch. They are ruthless in our garden. They don’t seem to bother things that are about twice as tall as they are. We turn them in the garden when we are done with it.
The best place to pray for a good crop is at the end of a hoe!
I haven't tested this, but I have always thought that raised beds in a small space, complete with vertical supports that also keep the chooks out of the beds, would work. That way, you grow sacrificial crops on the edges of the beds, including stuff they love that might drape down the sides of the bed, and they can have the full run of the pathways around the beds, likely eating any tasty volunteer plant (what some uncharitably refer to as weeds) and all the stuff Christopher mentioned.
I think that compost bins adapted for use as Black Soldier Fly Larvae incubators, or other insect-based composting, would make sure there's plenty for a couple of hens to do in a smaller space without getting destructive.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
I only have 5 beds, but I build little movable polytunnels to go over them to keep the chooks out. This allows the chickens to eat the weed sin the paths (and the woodlice and slugs), but not my veg starts!
Also keeps the cats off, but they do use them like trampolines/hammocks.
I like your mobile poly tunnels as chicken/cat guards
So, just to confirm - I could feed slugs to my chickens (along with other food, too)? In my current garden I often find slugs and don't know what to do with them - I hate squashing them! It would be great if I could just put the slugs in the chicken coop Will they eat snails, too?
My chickens will eat little slugs, and slug eggs, but they won't touch the big ones. Snails they will eat if I squash them- but otherwise they can't get into the shells. My gastropod population has gone down dramatically since having chickens, not instantly but over a few years as less mollusc eggs and baby slugs make it to adulthood.
I've heard ducks are better for slug/snail control- but I've never kept them.
My raised beds at 4.8m * 1,2m, the little tunnels are 1.6*1.2- so a third of a bed- which makes them small enough for me to easily move. Some have aphid-mesh on, some butterfly-mesh, some fleece (the cats shred these)- so I can move them around according to weather/veg. Having wooden bases means there's no loose mesh- so the hedgehogs don't get trapped (I have a problem with stupid hedgehogs here). In winter they stay in use but I weight the corners down with bricks. I keep intending to try polythene ones- but never have.
I have a section selected for a couple of chickens and a couple of ducks in the future (maybe. I hope. ) I have planted a mulberry in that area in the hopes that the birds will eat the extra fruit. I also plan to have Katuk, dandelion and moringa on the perimeter.
One of the mini-designs I submitted for my Diploma in Applied Permaculture was about free-range chickens.
It's entitled "Free-range Chickens : Observations of their needs, multiple functions and beneficial relationships with examples of their use in a Permaculture garden design" and covers a lot of the ways in which you can use chickens in a garden and around a smallholding. It's long - 27 pages but as with everything I publish, there are loads of photos.
I hope you don't think I'm being pompous by including a link to the PDF and suggesting that it might be an interesting read.
Thank you - yes, I will have a read of your assignment, it sounds very interesting. I've heard that chickens are very useful in a variety of ways in a garden, though I've never had any myself. I just want to be sure that my garden is suitable for them before buying them - I don't want to give them a miserable existence just because they are useful!
Irene, what a wonderful report this is! I found it extremely helpful. You gave me many ideas. My chickens are just one year old now, and last year they were confined and no trouble in the garden. This year - I need to work fast to keep from fencing them in somewhere or worse, keeping them in their run. I have used some lightweight sticks where I planted a row of turnip seeds, and I have chicken wire laid over the beds. But I have been at a loss to figure out how to protect seedlings that need to be planted shortly.