Use Your Chooks!

Brown shaver chicken Ediblebackyard NZ

Chickens were born to weed + bug hunt. The very jobs I dislike. So in a beautiful win – win, we help each other out. I grow lots of greens for them and they clean it all up for me and prep for following crops. The secret to a happy life is to get everyone on the jobs they love, don’t you agree.

Make the most of your chicken labour force and integrate them into your food garden in as many ways as you can. There are so many wins here. For the chook – fresh bugs, a new playground and soil cloaked in green, not dusty or muddy. For the gardener – fertilising, weeding and pest control and perhaps best of all, another layer of diversity. Layer it up gardeners – keep threading in as much variety as you creatively can.

My Set-up

Once upon a time I moved the chooks about in a mobile house. It was fab, but too much of a mission by far. As I got older and wiser I changed it up and created rotational runs that came off the main chook house by connecting the vegetable garden, berryhouse and greenhouse to the central chook run with sweet little chicken doors. Far easier to close and open doors than lug a mobile run about.

chook weeder

I contain the chooks in the area I want them in, with a super simple system – by pegging bird net (I use my fruit tree nets) to wires that stretch overhead. Happily these wires already existed in the greenhouse (the wires I attach my tomato strings to), and the berryhouse (the wires hold the birdnet roof up). All we needed do to complete the system was stretch wires above the vegetable beds.

I hold the nets in place by laying planks along the bottom. As chooks are mostly head down bum up, they’ll most likely escape in the lower parts.

Chickens waiting at the gate between the run and vegie patch

There are many ways to protect the crops you don’t want massacred. Tuck them away under high cloche hoops and birdnet or put the cloche up over finished crops and pop the chooks inside the cloche! Create cleverly crafted temporary fencing or use electra net are awesome options too.

Over time you get savvy at planning what gets planted where in line with when the chooks will be arriving in an area.

Chooks in the Winter Greenhouse

mustard winter greencrop

Every autumn I sow a mustard greencrop in the greenhouse beneath the still growing tomatoes and peppers. Mustard for soil is like lemon juice for livers – a deep cleanse, (or biofumigant if you want the techy term).

I don’t chemically sterilise my greenhouse soil or go through the rigours of emptying it all out and filling it with fresh stuff. I treat it the same as my outside garden and rely on crop rotation, weekly biological sprays, loads of fresh compost, mustard greencrops and the chooks to keep my soil hearty and well.

The potential for problems in the artificial environment of a greenhouse is high, so even if the season has been trouble free I still clean up with mustard to put my best foot forward.

chooksingreenhouse

Come July, when the mustard is thigh high and the tomatoes and peppers are done its time for the chooks to do their bit. I open the wee door in the back of the greenhouse, and let the chickens amongst it.

chook on greenhouse clean up duties

A fresh adventure, clean ground (so important for top chook health), a dry warm place through the cold months and a tonne of fresh bugs is fair trade for incorporating the mustard into the soil, weeding, gobbling hibernating grubs and leaving behind their soil building doings. Its not long before the mustard greens are shredded and turned into the soil for a hit of nitrogen and a load of humus building material which makes for stronger crops to follow. Hello beautiful soil!

chooks in the berryhouse

After the greenhouse the chooks are let into the berryhouse where they’ll weed beneath the raspberries and currants in their constant hunt for bugs and genetically driven desire to shake their booty. This leaves the greenhouse free for its annual scrub down. Because, believe it or not, by then its time to get ready for spring. Creeps up on you, doesn’t it?

Comments

  1. Hello Kath
    Thank you for all your sound advice and encouragement.
    I too always planted mustard in my fallow beds, to cleanse the soil, until I read the book ‘Mycorrhizal Planet’ which told me that mustard, and some brassicas, inhibit the growth of mycorrhiza which we now know are so vital to the health and well being of plants and trees
    . Can you comment on this please? Kind regards, Yvonne.

    • For me its about all things in balance Yvonne. One sowing a year as an autumn cleanse and I’m a happy chappy, there’s no way I’m sacrificing brassicas 🙂 The key thing is to garden in the way that feels right for you. happy gardening Kath

    • In response to the mustard / mycorrhizal thing, I have read that trees and perennials prefer a fungi dominated soil, whereas annuals prefer a bacterial dominated soil…therefore the inhibition of fungi by brassicas not a problem. I could be wrong though that information is a few years old!

      • On the job my friend! Yes fungi for trees … woody type mulches et all, bacteria for vegies… compost made with soft leafy stuff. Not outdated, bonafide 🙂

  2. Julia O’Sullivan says

    Hello Kath,
    When you put your chooks in you tunnel house to eat all the weeds, do you still feed them pellets and wheat or just let them eat the plants and bugs?

  3. We’ve recently added a couple of chooks to the garden, but they seem very reluctant to come outside! I know it’s been cold, but even on sunny days, they prefer lurking in the coop to coming out to scratch and peck and all that good chickeny behaviour.
    The top hen spent the first couple of years of her life in a sort of aviary set-up, which may explain her reluctance, but now the formerly fence-scorning escape-chicken spends most of her time indoors as well!
    I’m trying to lure them out with food, but so far not much progress.

    • Is it muddy outside I wonder. Is there a dog eyeballing them or some such that’ll be freaking them out. What is it they dont like? The best way with an animal puzzle is to sit and quietly watch them and get on their page – the simplest things can make a difference. Perhaps shut them out of the house for a few hours a day so they can get used to it. Or add a couple of new young pullets – they’ll be out amongst it for sure!