Working with Birds

Chickens have helped me garden for years.

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by Dave Perozzi

Chickens have helped me garden for years.

That statement may invoke images of hens gently setting seeds into the ground or munching on weeds. As idyllic as that would be, it’s not reality. Chickens would rather eat those seeds and munch on the tomatoes. And if you don’t keep them out of the garden during germination time, they’ll devour the seedlings!

Their work happens before those seedlings sprout. After fall’s killing frost, and after I set a grate over the garlic mulch to keep happy hens from stripping it away, I open the garden gate. Roaming chickens break up cold-killed organic matter, scratch it into the soil, consume a bug or two, and then top it all off with nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

That potent manure kick-starts decomposition and then mellows before planting time. It dissolves with precipitation and filters downward, offering nitrogen alongside decomposing roots from last year’s vegetables. And chicken claws scratch up the surface perfectly for my seeds. The birds help self-sow crops, such as amaranth. And those seeds they do eat? Often, I didn’t need that many seeds anyway, and the chickens helped me avoid thinning seedlings.

Everyone benefits from this process – except perhaps the bugs and a few surface-level worms. My chickens engage in their natural habits of scratching, foraging, and dust-bathing while eating nutritious plant parts that don’t make it into our meals. We don’t have to heed the rule of “compost the chicken manure first,” because Mother Nature does that. And the chickens greatly reduce my workload.

  • Updated on Mar 9, 2024
  • Originally Published on Feb 23, 2024
Tagged with: Backyard Chickens
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