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 Greenhouse


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).

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!

After the greenhouse the chooks are let into the berryhouse where they’ll weed beneath the raspberries and currants and clean up over wintering pests and grubs.