Beyond The Economics of Keeping Chickens (part one in this series) is the reality of chickens in the garden. Before starting this venture, I believed gardening and chicken farming went together perfectly: The chickens would eat the slugs and other pests, while providing natural fertilizer for the garden. It turned out our chickens would never eat a slug though, ever. It's the rare chicken that will- they don't seem to like the sticky texture.
|Chickens, not eating slugs.|
This was a hard blow to my synergistic fantasy, but I maintained that the chickens were still providing valuable, nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the garden. Here's what would happen, though: Every time we let the chickens out, they would travel all over the yard, destroying every bit of garden and every tasty plant they could. They leveled my raised beds; they killed an entire bed of asparagus by repeatedly digging it out; they ate the beneficial worms and left the slugs to destroy any remaining tender plants; and literally every day they would kick all the mulch off the beds and onto the paths that I tried to keep clear.
|Hand feeding some fresh greens.|
Some people, with better vision and perhaps better sense than myself, plot their garden beds all together so they can effectively be fenced off from maurading chickens and other garden pests. I, on the other hand, have planted food crops in every section of my yard, making fencing off the garden an impossibility.
Because of this garden destruction problem, for a couple of years we reluctantly kept our hens confined to their ample chicken run. They were still technically "free range" although their quality of life could not have been as high as whey they really got out into the yard every day.
|Our chicken shanty|
This is not healthy for chickens- they need frequent dust baths in dry soil to clean themselves and keep the mites away, and they are more likely to contract other illness or parasites if they're constantly in wet conditions. We did our best to keep them dry, including adding wheelbarrows full of fresh woodchips to the run anytime it needed it, but it's been a constant battle that the mud always seems to be winning.
|We used to spend time in the run with the hens, before it was a mud pit...|
In the dry season (July - September) the run would be the opposite extreme: dry and dusty, and we'd be adding woodchips to try to keep the dust down. Literally everything in the vicinity of the chicken run would get coated in a thick layer of light brown dust... until the rains returned. When I felt bad for the hens, I would let them roam free in the yard, where they would again destroy everything they could.
I do love having chickens, for so many reasons, but this article is about why we've decided not to keep them anymore. Surely we'll be in a place sometime in the future where we can keep chickens again - some place where the yard is big enough to keep a rooster or two for fertilized eggs for a fresh supply of homegrown chicks, and a couple of runs that can be rotated out, allowing the plants and invertebrate life to return to the soil. Or maybe at the next place we live I'll be wise and plan a garden that can be fully fenced off, so the chickens can roam free with minimal damage...
For now, we'll stick with raising rabbits, and focus on growing vegetables in a way that we really haven't been able to do for the last several years, now that our attempts won't be foiled by a pack of ravaging, but well-intentioned, hens.
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Hens And The Garden: A Tragedy
4/ 5Oleh Mellow