Why Are Chickens Good For Gardens?
Chickens have been a natural source of organic fertilizer since their existence began. Chickens provide nitrogen-rich manure to naturally enrich your garden soil. In addition to providing fertilizer, free range chickens also lightly till the top inch of the soil. This light tillage, chicken scratch really, allows your seeds to better germinate and root out.
During this process chickens are also able to quickly get pest populations under control by consuming insects in their adult forms, as well as eggs, larvae, and pupae stages. Machine till practices often damage the natural soil structure that is ideal for plant growth and perpetuate pest issues. Ideally, chickens are used to prepare planting areas as well as create a continued source of compost material throughout the year.
Why Are Cover Crops Good For Chickens?
Cover crops provide chickens with a natural, organic, and nutritious source of feed. They eat the top growth of the cover crop they take in the high density nutrients found in young plants and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer. As they do this they lightly till the top of your soils preparing your planting area for seed sowing. Because their tillage is very superficial the root systems of the cover crops are allowed to break down, further contributing to a nutrient-rich soil with a healthy soil structure.
After your cover crop has reached 3-5 inches tall, introduce your chickens to the growing area. At this stage the plants are at their optimal stage for chicken digestion. As the plants grow beyond 5 inches, their carbon composition become less digestible. It is important that your chickens aren't introduced to the growing area until the crop has been established. Introducing the chickens too early will result in a poor crop.
Best Cover Crops For Natural Chicken Feed:
- Annual Rye
- New Zealand Clover
- Grain Grasses
Ideally cover crops and chickens are used as pieces in a larger picture. The soil is key in creating a healthy, productive garden. Together cover crops and chickens work to produce the nutrients needed for your main-season garden crops, preserve soil structure, reduce soil erosion over time, control pests, and increase the organic mattercontent and water retention properties of your soil.
Fast Facts About Chickens In the Veggetable Garden:
1 Chicken produces 8 lbs of manure a month = enough to compost 1 cyd of leaves
Balanced manure and compost mix: 1 lb chicken manure for every 45 lbs of leaves
Chickens till 50 square feet of sod in 4-6 weeks
1 Chicken = nitrogen fertilizer for 50 square feet of garden in a month
Chickens can eat ¼ to ⅓ lbs of food waste in a day = flock of 6 consuming 60 lbs of food waste in a month
Chickens can de-bug 120 square feet a week