Keeping chickens is a topic that has a lot of interest for many reasons, and it is easy to find information on how to keep them in your backyard.
We won’t clog the internet any more than it already is on how to keep chickens, but we can share what we have found to be other very beneficial things that backyard chickens can do for you for free.
The extra bonuses the chickens have up their sleeves are beneficial to the whole family’s wellbeing and fantastic for your garden production. Let’s get to them.
Can chickens do more than lay eggs?
The daily activities of chickens can be taken for granted, but if you take time to observe what they do to fill the day, there are several traits that we can harness as gardeners. The list below shows how chickens are beneficial to us in the backyard.
- Chickens can help you get started with self-sufficiency.
- They can create incredible garden soil.
- Chickens can help you make special fertilizer.
- They can break the breeding cycle of pests.
- Chickens can help with mental health issues.
That is just a small list that should get us on the way to explaining the many benefits of keeping chickens in the backyard.
Can Chickens help with Self-sufficiency?
Chickens are critical to self-sufficiency. They are considered the gateway animal to independence in permaculture design, and the listed traits above should explain why.
As with all of the information on this site, we share observations from our personal experiences with many topics. Keeping chickens to be more self-sufficient could arguably be the most important to explain.
Self-sufficiency can mean different things to many people, and for a simple entry into this way of life, it can easily be relegated to just one aspect of our lives.
It can be easy to say that you are self-sufficient in eggs, lettuce, and oranges. It doesn’t matter what you are self-sufficient in because all that is important here is that it demonstrates that it is possible, which is a vital first step.
Keeping backyard chickens could be considered the central hub of a multi-spoked wheel, with each spoke being a part of your life support processes within your home and yard.
Each individual spoke flows from the chicken outwards, and many spokes flow back to the center at the same time. It is this dynamic that can give benefits that are far more valuable than just eggs.
Are Chickens Good For Gardens?
Chickens and gardens go very well together, and the chickens can benefit your garden by building the soil for your garden if you let them. (Article on soil building here)
This process takes some planning and effort, but the results can be repeated yearly for as long as you keep chickens.
The secret here is keeping the chickens locked up in a secure, comfortable pen for most of the day, allowing them to turn over the soil in the pen constantly.
They scratch and dig for insects and worms hiding in the soil, and depending on what you place over the soil surface as a litter bed will result in the makeup of the soil you remove periodically as you need it in your garden.
Good quality straw is a good start with the ground cover in the pen. The more natural the litter, the tinier life forms will move in, and the more the chickens will turn it over.
Encourage the chickens to dig with clean, chemical-free material. The straw sprayed with chemicals by the farmer will deter the soil life and potentially retard the digging.
Weeds that have not gone to seed are also good to place in the pen.
A way to look at the pen is to see it as a compost/soil creation unit, and the more your raw materials are fed into it, the more end product you get back.
You control the speed and the recipe. If the weeds have gone to seed, consider putting them in the pen. The chickens may eat the seeds, or they may mix into the soil and germinate again in your garden beds when you take soil from the pen.
This does not have to be a problem. The weed seedling can be pulled from the garden and thrown back to the chicken pen for another pass, and it will eventually break the weed cycle while creating better soil for your vegetables.
It is just a different way of seeing the problem as a solution. Once you know the connection, it is impossible to see anything as a problem but as another benefit. There are a few problems with this process.
Weeds will not be the only plant germinating in the garden beds as vegetable and fruit seedlings will also pop up everywhere, like in this post here.
Is Chicken Manure Safe for Gardens?
Chicken poo is safe once it has dried and won’t burn the plants in the garden.
Too much of a good thing is always bad, and chicken manure is the same. The quality of chicken poop can differ as well. This comes down to what you feed them.
If you feed your chickens commercial pellets, there is a chance of added antibiotics, which may harm soil life. This is something we should work on building and not harming.
We are not trained in this; however, it seems logical that something added to feed intended to kill bacteria will do precisely what it is planned to do.
Gardens without bacteria are deserts. No plant wants to live in that place. Try to obtain organic feed for your chickens, as the benefits to you will increase as garden productivity ramps up.
Our gardens here grow on chicken power, and this subject is very close to our hearts, and it’s not because we love chicken poo.
We do love it, but not in a weird way. Chicken manure is an excellent opportunity to become more self-sufficient in food growing if you plan out a strategy to collect and store the manure for use at a later time.
We have an article that explains in great detail why you should become very interested in chicken poo. Link here.
Can Chickens Clean my Garden from Pests?
Yes they can, but not in a good way.
For a chicken to eat every grub or caterpillar in your garden, the chicken would have to be able to patrol the garden beds constantly and only, let me say that again…. only…. eat the bugs. Chickens love kale more than you do.
They will demolish a healthy mature plant in a few hours. A bunch of chickens will eradicate the plant.
I am not a believer in the chickens keep your garden bug-free mantra. Objective evidence of sitting and observing has shown me this fact in real time.
The simple truth to breaking the cycle of the bugs is you must be diligent and remove the bugs by hand and feed the bug to the chickens. The plants in your garden get to survive and produce for you. If you let the chickens near the garden, vegetable production plummets.
We recommend you keep them separated. For more information on the different sizes of backyards and how to keep chickens for the most benefit, see where you might be placed. Click here.
Keeping Backyard Chickens is Good for the Mind.
There is something very peaceful in sitting on your lawn and watching chickens roam. We do this occasionally when we have the spare time to let them out of their pen, and we can steer them away from the vegetable garden beds when they get too close.
They happily cluck and converse with each other, bringing you back to the simple things in life. Chickens don’t get tangled up in the madness that the human side of events seems to become.
They are content to move about, pick at the grass, and chase any insect they encounter.
For anyone suffering health issues of the body or the mind, sitting with the chickens should calm the spirit, if only for a short while.
Chickens will go about their day unconcerned by your presence and are happy and content just to be themselves. If you have chickens or are thinking of getting a couple, put aside a few minutes now and then and watch them in their pen.
Have a coffee with them. They are great company and very grounding. The notion of a self-sufficient life is very rewarding when moments like these are spent appreciating just what you have in your backyard.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.